Research Guide – US & State Maps

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US & State Maps Guide

Genealogy maps are an excellent source to help you investigate your genealogy. Historical maps can indicate who owned specific property in the state and which towns held the county seat at the time.  This information is a valuable starting point for your research pointing you to the right location of records.

  • Solving Research Problems with Maps – If you have started your family research, you might have experienced trouble with trying to identify city borders and names that have changed over the course of time. This can make it difficult to understand where your ancestors’ information is kept. Because historic maps were usually commissioned by the county seat, they often display information about the county, including town names. Reading a map from the time period you are researching can help tremendously in solving these problems by leading you to the correct town records. It can also give you other leads, such as the location of city directories or old post offices.
  • Choosing the Best Map – If you have a large source of maps to choose from, try starting with the area where your ancestors resided and looking for the maps with the most detail.  You can determine a lot by seeing if the area was still rural or more developed, and how far it was to the nearest city.  This can shed light on your family’s lifestyle and occupation. Were they farmers who lived in the country, or merchants who traveled often to a nearby city?  A map can give you an idea of what occupations were possible.
  • Researching Beyond Maps – Once you have some basic details from your map research, you can use it to search through other historical sources. You can often find details about births, deaths, and marriages at the local library. By reading obituaries or news articles that might be stored on microfilm, you can find the names of other family members or insights into your relative’s daily work or community involvement.
  • US Maps are a Great Starting Point – The most overwhelming aspect of researching family history is deciding where to start.  However, getting started is the key. Each piece of history that you uncover offers new leads as your family’s story takes shape. State Maps are an excellent resource to start your journey. The basic information about borders and towns can save you time by directing you to the correct records to begin your investigation. The work gets easier and more interesting as you follow each lead and learn more about the background of your own story. The value of preserving your family history for future generations is unmeasurable.

Types of Maps Being familiar with the area in which an ancestor lived is essential to family history research. By using maps, you can learn more about the name, location, and history of the city or town in which your ancestors lived. This, in turn, can help you uncover new record sources for your ancestors. A number of different maps may be useful in your family history research, depending upon your specific research needs and goals:

State Maps

Types of Maps


Political Maps

The type of map most genealogists are initially familiar with is a typical political map that’s present in most commercial atlases. Political maps generally show locations of city, towns, and counties, and might have some physical features such as rivers, streams, and lakes. The characteristic of a excellent political map is an simple to use, detailed index. Political maps may be crucial to a researcher’s mission to find the counties which include the records of an significant ancestral town.

Even though topographical maps are usually a lot less utilized by quite a few genealogists, their particular significance shouldn’t be diminished. Topographical maps, also referred to as relief maps, generally display important physical features in addition to contexting other locations being specific with all the places of major towns and frequently county boundary lines. These types of maps usually not simply feature a mountainous area but could also, generally through using colors and shading, present the researcher along with some idea of how high the mountains are. Furthermore there is likely to end up being an precise and complete outlining of bodies of water, sometimes even incorporating the course of flow on rivers and streams.

An excellent topographical map for any area of ancestral research could potentially cause someone to look at possible locations of records in a entirely different light. Rarely a researcher will have a whole new picture of an ancestor’s homestead when placing the property in the context of its physical surroundings. Plus the county seat of the nearby county could turn out to be a most logical place to check for a few vital, church and other records as it was definitely less difficult to cross an unseen county boundary line than even just a modest range of mountains in the course of some periods of time in one’s family’s history.

Surveys, Plat Maps, and Land Maps

Family history researchers can often find exciting information in old ownership maps and play maps. Those maps indicate landowners in a certain place at a certain time in history. In general, most land ownership maps were done on a county level, but that wasn’t true in every case. Most of those maps will at least give the names of land owners. They may also state the number of acres owned, the crops harvested on the land (if it was farmland) and whether the land was farmland or forest. The amount of dwellings and buildings and their types may also be listed, along with other important structures in the area, such as churches, courthouses, and major roads.

The researcher can use plat map information, such as townships, ranges, and sections, to locate tax and deed records about their ancestors. It’s also worth noting that ethnic groups tended to settle in the same area. So, looking on maps may yield other relatives, or neighbors who shared the same town of origin in their home countries. Researchers may find those cross-connections useful tools for filling in the branches of the family tree.

Ward Maps

Ward maps can be helpful to researchers who are trying to locate census records for years that were not indexed that relate to large cities. A ward map generally shows boundaries of each ward in a given city in a given year. For example, let’s say that the researcher is trying to find an ancestor who lived in 1870 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The researcher should start by looking at the city’s 1870 directory and recording the ancestor’s street address. Then the researcher can locate that address on the 1870 Indianapolis ward map.

It is much faster to scan the page headers of an unindexed census for information and then apply that information when researching a ward map, as opposed to searching the entire city for the ancestor in question. This research method also helps when an ancestor is not listed in a census index, but it is believed that they lived in that particular city at that particular time.

Often, city directories include ward maps in the back or front, as supplemental pages. Public libraries often have their own town or city’s directories on file. They may also have directories for surrounding cities and towns. Larger collections of directories can also be found in state libraries, often on microfilm. Cartographic collections in certain institutions may also include ward maps.

Fire Insurance Maps

Fire insurance maps can provide unusual and interesting information for researchers. For example, in cases where dwellings are re-numbered, a fire insurance map may be able to help the researcher pinpoint the old dwelling in question’s new number. Such maps can also be used to determine which institutions in the area an ancestor may have visited and spent time in. Some possible institutions to consider are: Schools, Churches, Grocery Stores, Department Stores, Lumber Yards, Laundry Facilities.

Each of those organizations may have records, and those records could include information about the ancestor in question. Fire insurance maps can also indicate how an area grew and changed, in general.

Atlases and Road Maps

Atlases and road maps tend to be very basic, but they can still yield some useful information. For example, they can show what present-day were like in a given time period. They can also show proximity between two towns that the researcher may be interested in. So, the researcher should begin by looking in a road atlas for the name of the town where the ancestor lived. If the town name can’t be found, the researcher can consult a historical map for more information. Online websites may also yield useful information about the location of a given ancestor at a certain point in history.

Topographical Maps

Province, County, and Parish Maps – Researchers may not find all of the information that they need in simple road maps and atlases. So, the next good step is to explore local maps from a given time period. They often show such details as cemeteries, major landmarks, county roads, and other important features. Those sorts of maps can be found in government and county offices, generally.

Topographical Maps

The nice thing about relief or topographical maps is that they show the true lay of the land, so to speak. That includes streams, valleys, rivers, mountains, hills, and more. They also display important landmarks and roads. Topographical maps can often indicate how people migrated and settled the land. They can also provide information about ancestral properties, buildings, local cemeteries, and other important buildings and features.

Surveys, Plat Books, and Land Maps

The government generally maintains property and land records carefully, since those records indicate changes in ownership of a given piece of land. So, those records can provide vital historical and ancestral information. Plat books and land maps generally list a property’s owner, as well as surrounding neighbors and other useful items. They can be obtained from town halls, county courthouses, historical societies, and other repositories.

City Directory Maps

Genealogists tend to use city directories to fill in information that would ordinarily be found in census records that are missing. However, many of those directories also include maps, which can show the topography of the region, including rivers, roads, and railroads. Also, roads and streets that are no longer in existence today or have changed names can often be identified by comparing city directory maps.