Why genealogists are in love with maps (and you should be too)

Why genealogists must use maps


I’m not going to bore you with the long story of my DUH-moment with maps; suffice it to say I spent years looking for something in the wrong county. A glance at a map would have saved me a lot of grief.

I know a lot of people are in love with GPS for good reason. If you’re lost or in a new city and need to find your way around, GPS in the car or on your phone is great. But when it comes to genealogy I’m a map-girl all the way. Here’s why:

  1.  I don’t think we have a sense of how our ancestors moved from Point A to Point B unless we look at a map. Was there a mountain range, a river, a deadly stretch of land to cross.  If your folks were down in Texas, look up Staked Plain and I think you’ll see what I mean. I wrote something for my new Ancestry.com Workbook (to be released in January) about tracing the journey of one branch of the family. I had to pull out a map and actually trace their journey down one river and up another and then another. Looking at it on a map gave me a real sense of what they must have faced.
  2. In the United States, county boundary lines changed multiple times over the course of years. For example, Shelby County, Illinois was originally part of Fayette County. Fayette County was once a part of Bond, Clark, Crawford, and Jefferson counties.Crawford was part of Edwards. Edwards was part of Gallatin, and Madison (IT). And so on. If you can’t find someone where you think they should be, look at a map and find surrouding counties or – in some cases – another state. Kentucky was once part of Virginia.
  3. When you’re traveling, either on a genealogy road trip or just for fun, look at a map and see if you can trace how close your road is to original American highways. Get out a map and a highlighter and trace the famous American migration routes such as the Great Valley Road, Braddock’s Road, Zane’s Trace, the National Road, and the Natchez Trace.Are you on or are you paralleling one of the country’s original roads. And, as you drive along a river, pull out a map to see where the river goes. You’ll then see how your ancestors moved from one place to another. Rivers were roadways.

When you’re researching someone in your family tree, get your hands on a period map that covers the time period in which they lived. It will tell you so much more about their world than any GPS ever could.

If you’re not sure where to find those old maps, come back here on October 18 to read my blog post on my favorite historic map resource websites. OR, Click here to save 5% on Family Tree’s Historical Map Collection. If you use the coupon code MAPS5: Save 5% Off Historical Maps Essential Collection with coupon code MAPS5  ***This discount is only available 10/9 – 10/15/16.

Of course, pictures say more than words. My family lived in Virginia in 1795. This is a Virginia map of the same time period. Doesn’t it give you a much better sense of what it was like to live there than any modern map or GPS? Click the image to see it full size.

1795 map of the state of Virginia

Map is from the David Rumsey Collection.

I receive several requests a day for assistance with genealogy research. If you would like to receive research pricing information please contact me using the Contact link at the top of the page. I look forward to working with you.

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