Search billions of records on


From the Green Valley News, Wednesday August 3 2005, page B6

Genealogy Today, by Betty Malesky

Maps can be used as genealogical tools.

Maps are often overlooked as genealogical tools. The right map can often help solve a genealogical problem as well as help to visualize where a family lived in the context of their county, state and country.

When a family lived close to a county line look for records in the next county as well. It may have been easier to visit the closest county seat to file a birth or death record rather than traverse a mountain or ford a creek to the county seat of residence. The family may have attended church in the next county. Sons and daughters often married neighbors in the adjacent county. The same is true for those living close to a state boundary. Boundaries have always been more obvious on paper than on foot or on horseback. Ohio and Indiana and Vermont and New York are two examples where changing state boundaries often necessitate a search on both sides of the state line.

The county seat usually houses birth, marriage, death, land, tax, probate, and court records. Many counties had several splits in the course of their history. For instance, Wyoming County, Pennsylvania came out of Luzerne County in 1842 and Luzerne out of Northumberland in 1786. Northumberland was formed from parts of Lancaster, Berks, Cumberland, Bedford and Northampton Counties in 1772. Whether records are retained in the original county or moved to the new county varies by state.

The University of Arizona Library has an extensive map collection available to the public. See the online catalog on the Tucson/Pima Library website, Click the "Catalog" link, then "U of A." A useful reference located via the U of A catalog is the Historical Atlas and Chronology of County Boundaries, 1788-1980, a five volume set showing the changing county boundaries of numerous states.

In the latter half of the 1800s many companies published county gazetteers and atlases. Competition was so keen that a detailed county atlas appeared for virtually every county in the United States before 1900. Many of these old volumes are still marketed today through used book dealers while others are being reprinted.

State libraries, universities and historical societies often have historic atlases covering their areas of interest. In the New Jersey State Library, I recently found an original 1855 Atlas for Warren County with my ancestors’ Oxford Township residence clearly marked. The road still exists and while their house is gone we were able to determine where they lived by following the old map.

Today many maps are reproduced online. The excellent Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection housed at the University of Texas, Austin is at Click on "Historical Maps" and select from thousands of links to United States maps as well as other parts of the world.

Maps can also be found on Or a Google search using a state and county or town name and the words historical map may return enough results to keep you busy all day.

Could a map help solve your genealogical problem? A current road atlas might provide some insight, but a century old map may be as close as your computer screen.

Return To GVGS Home Page Previous article Next article Newsletter Index Valid XHTML 1.0

This page last modified on Saturday, 23-Dec-2006 19:59:40 MST