Last week while working in the library, I found a piece of information that led me to a new area of research in Tennessee. As I started with a basic census record search, I used a map of Tennessee counties to determine which results were relevant to my search.
Maps are an essential part of genealogical research. They help us understand the records and where the records are located; provide community information such as the location of churches, schools, and cemeteries; assist in the discovery of travel routes and the transportation taken; and identify the exact address or parcel of land for an ancestor.
The type of map that is needed will be dependent on the research objectives. Keep in mind that boundaries changed over time and that a current map will not work when researching during earlier periods. Maps need to show the area as it was when an ancestor lived there.
Some types of maps that will aide in genealogical research are:
These maps show boundaries and jurisdictions and can be in the form of national, state, county, or city maps. The maps will change as boundaries change. Start with a state map that is broken down into counties. Eventually a county map divided into townships and towns will be needed.
These maps show how people get from one place to another. They include railroad, highway, and other road maps. It is OK to start with a current road map to identify an area but at some point a map made closer to the time period when your ancestor lived will be needed.
These maps show the physical features of an area including water, mountains, valleys, and plains. Genealogist are usually reluctant to use topographical maps thinking that they are not all that useful for research. The physical features of the land shown on these maps could have had a huge impact on how and where an ancestor lived. That makes "topo" maps extremely useful for genealogy research.
Land Ownership Maps
Usually held by counties, these maps show who owned land in a specified area. Assessment and township maps are a few of these types of maps. They can aid in identifying and understanding family and friend connections.
Fire Insurance Maps
Most of the fire insurance maps in the United States have been made by the Sanborn Maps Co. They contain detailed information about buildings to assist the company in assessing fire risk. These maps have been done for most urban areas starting in late 1800s and continue today.
These include maps and charts that show evolving geopolitical boundaries. They are priceless in understanding historical events. Available are general world atlases as well as atlases specific to a country, county, or city.
Additional types of maps that are useful for genealogical research are census maps, ward maps (often found in city directories), postal maps, and Ordnance Survey maps (England and Ireland). There are others as well which are too numerous to list here.
Online mapping sites like Google Maps and MapQuest might help in finding geographic locations but do not provide historical information.
A map is a visual tool that will help you to gain a greater knowledge of the area in which your ancestor lived. I would have been lost during my trip to Saggart, Ireland if I had not been using the area Ordnance Survey map for research. With the map I was able to pinpoint the cottage where my Garbally ancestors lived, the paper mill where they worked, the church they attended, and the local cemetery. Because of the map, I felt like I had been there many times although it was my first visit.
Maps are available in most libraries and archives. Those facilities closest to the area of research are more likely to have maps specific to that area.
Some maps have been scanned and are available on the Internet. A few of the many Web sites which are helpful for finding online maps are CyndisList (www.cyndislist.com/maps.htm), Library of Congress, American Memory Map Collection (www.loc.gov/rr/geogmap/gmpage.html), and U.S. Geological Survey Maps (www.usgs.gov). There are also numerous companies online that sell historic maps.
It is impossible to do sound genealogical research without maps. Incorporating them into your genealogy will advance and enhance your research.