Where was that located, and what year is that map? Do we have a map with that town on it? Just a few questions genealogists want to know when they find the location of their ancestor. I love to travel. I immediately try to find out everything I can about the area I'm going to. What was the area like when my ancestor was there. I keep a map in my car at all times, not because I get lost, but I want to know where I'm going and what is in between going and getting places. I keep a North American road atlas and an almanac with geopolitical maps of the world at hand beside my reading chair. I keep all kinds of state maps, a world atlas, and several historical atlases are at my desk at all times. I keep filing boxes on the shelves of my desk overstuffed with a eclectic collection of maps.
I bring this up because maps are very important and can be quite useful in genealogy. They are essential tools of the genealogist or family history researcher. Maps are useful in showing us exact locations of places, county boundaries, when counties were formed, travel routes, and migration trails of our ancestors. When researching with old county atlas maps, they can give us a real knowledge of the community that our ancestors lived in. Who their neighbors were, where the churches, schools, cemeteries, and country stores were, and how they got there.
I find that using topographical ones are my favorite. It takes a little effort to really get a feel for interpreting the map, but the time is certainly worth it. My first map was of Crowley's Ridge of where the homeplace was; I study it in detail. Later on, when families members began to tell me stories of the area I could picture an image of how it looked during that time.
Look at the features on the map and ask yourself how does this affect my life. The hills, waterways, sunken lands, bridges, gins, grist mills, distance between neighbors, schools, creeks, and churches would have impacted your ancestors' lives. Does the ridge funnel the wind and rain over your land? Does the ridge block out the sun in the morning and evening?
Now take a topographical map of your ancestors' area and try to see how the location was likely to affect them. It can be like a time machine taking you back in time. It is the next best thing to being there, and hopefully you will want to visit there to find out how your ancestor lived.
I enjoy using county maps. They can be found at your local libraries, county tax assessor's office, area museums, and archives are usually well endowed with all kinds of maps. Your local Conservation Authorities frequently have topographical maps of their areas. There are several internet addresses that feature historical maps, but they are not the same as holding the map in your hand and being able to see the area as a whole. As you begin to study these historical maps, I hope they help you to better understand your ancestors and how they lived. Anything that helps us to better understand ancestors will only enrich the story that we can tell about them.
I welcome all comments, queries, and suggestions at: firstname.lastname@example.org attn: Ms. Sylvia Evans.