I’ve always loved maps. In fact, one of my prize possessions is an historic Missouri map, printed when Oklahoma was still called Indian Territory. The map hangs in my office, not far from the pile of gazetteers stacked on my desk.
Maps are invaluable to genealogists; not only do they help track boundary changes and follow historic byways, they also reflect our country’s growth, as new states were carved out of old territories, and rough roads cut through what had once been the wilderness.
Maps also help locate exact county borders—a plus if your family (like mine) lived in an area that was within spitting distance of three different counties.
Want a feel for your ancestors’ world? Look at a period map. For example, in 1800, most of the continent was owned by European powers. How weird it would have been to know that if you crossed your state line, you’d be in a smaller version of France or Spain.
I highly recommend hunting up period maps and adding them to your genealogy software. And don’t be surprised if the maps provide a clue or two to your family migrations.
Three of my favorite sources for old maps are:
U.S. Territorial Growth (scroll down from the top of the page)
Library of Congress Map Collections, 1500-2004 (search for the hand-drawn maps by George Washington)