Pastfinders February 10, 2005

Maps can be a big help to the genealogist or family historian. Most often they can be used to locate a home where an ancestor lived or can be used to track their progress, usually westward but also north or south. They can also show the structure of the town where they lived by showing buildings and their function, street widths and other physical characteristics. Sometimes, even more can be gleaned by an examination of maps as the following example shows.

Pearl Cochrane Brown published a book entitled “Cinq Maisons and Reminisences—“ in which she covered the history of the Dills from their arrival in Nova Scotia to her residence at the feudal farm called Cinq Maisons where she said the Dills first lived on arrival from Ireland. There were three brothers- David, John and half-brother Mungo. She was descended from both David and Mungo. I descend from David so this book was guide to my family history. Here’s her story in brief.

Col. Joseph Scott received a large grant of land in Hants County, Nova Scotia and brought the Dill brothers out of Ireland to be tenant farmers in 1784. David was married in Ireland and his 7 children were born there. When David died his land was split among his sons.

Such a statement would cause a serious researcher to seek records in Ireland for the marriage and birth of the children. But a land grant map of Hants County which showed Col Scotts Land Grant also showed two grants of 500 acres each to David, John and Mungo Dill. Records showed that the grant was made in 1784. It didn’t seem likely that 3 farmers from Ireland would be granted 1000 acres as soon as they got off the boat. In fact, the deed for the grant says “Starting at a stick and stones in front of John Dill’s house—“. Thus it would seem that the Dills were in Canada before 1784 and were living on the land that was granted to them. The grant that they received had originally been granted to Keightly Day but was escheated in 1781 and reverted to the Crown to be granted again. Were the Dills tenants of Keightly Day or perhaps squatters on Crown lands? That has not been resolved but because of the information gleaned from the maps, further research in Nova Scotia turned up marriage bonds for all three brothers. A bond doesn’t prove a marriage took place but it does indicate that the potential groom was in Nova Scotia at the time. The bonds were dated in the early 1770s. Further research turned up a marriage record for David Dill and Jane Walker on January 3, 1774 at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Halifax, Nova Scotia. John was also married there a year earlier. The maps changed the entire focus of my research.

Col Scott died in 1800 and left Cinq Maisons, now called Five Houses to his widow, Margaret, and his son, Michael. In 1802, David Dill rented Five Houses from the widow and the son and in 1811 David’s four sons bought the property. Further maps showed how the sons divided the property.

The above is one example of how maps aid a family researcher. The balance of the program included local town maps on a CD and an atlas of maps that were found on ebay showing my wife’s great grandfather’s house in Montague, MA and the family’s subsequent houses in Brattleboro, VT . Go to ebay and enter a location or a surname and see what you can find. We then covered Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps and looked at an 1894 map of Orlando. We covered the Geographical Names Information System (GNIS) database of locales that includes cemetery locations, the Bureau of Land Management Government Land Office records of sale of public lands and , finally, land lotteries in Georgia.


Nova Scotia Land Ownership Maps were made by Ambrose F. Church starting in 1864 and they are available from the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources. They are available by county. Also, Land Grant Maps are available from the same source.

Piper Publishing has many Beers Maps for Massachusetts on CD. Soon it will have Vermont, New Hampshire and some new York. $35 to $40 for a complete state atlas. Beers maps show every house and the name of the owner.

Gleason’s Old Maps. Not all are land ownership maps. You have to print out an order form and mail it in. Other map sources are,, and book publishers such as .

Ebay is a great source of genealogical information. Go to and in the search box type in the location if you’re searching maps or a surname if you’re looking for genealogical data such as a diary or bible.

University of California at Berkley has a write up about Sanborn Fire Insurance maps and has a list of libraries around the country that the Library of Congress sent Sanborn Maps to.

Library of Congress statement on Sanborn Maps. They are available at the Library but not online.

This page from the University of Virginia tells you how to read Sanborn Maps.

Click on Read Sanborn Maps


University of Florida has a collection of Sanborn Maps that are available online. Clermont is not listed but many Lake County Towns are. We’ll look at Orlando in 1894.


The US Geological Survey has a division that coordinates the names of geographical locations. It’s the Geographical Names Information System (GNIS) and it has over 2 million geographical names in its database. One of the items it lists is cemeteries. Use this page to find all of the cemeteries in your state or limit it to just a county.

This is a list of State Files

The Bureau of Land Management has a web site where you can find out if your ancestor every bought public land. You can get a description of the land online but plat maps are available online from only a few offices.

Georgia had several land lotteries. This site will lead you them. The actual records were published in a book and are not available on the Internet.

Obviously, we could not provide direct links to every map site on the Internet or indicate sources for maps from every location. We tried to show what types are available and how they can be used. More specific information can be found through a search engine such as Google. Try a map type and a location such as Beers New Jersey or Sanborn Chicago. Try a major University in the State of Interest. Ancestry, available through the library has an historic map collection that is in the process of being moved within the web site. Also check the Library of Congress, . Most will be in the American Memory section. And the National Archives has maps and data available, more appearing on the Web each day. Try See also under Articles on this web site a previous article on Maps and Genealogy that has links not referenced here.