Maps and Genealogy

Finding all about our ancestors is what it's all about. And most of us create great charts of ancestors and can tell something about the town they lived in, what they did for a living and what goods they owned when they died. We seldom can point to a house or piece of property and say that our ancestor once lived there. But there are maps that might help us find an ancestor's property. And while we might be able to find a deed to the property, understanding what the deed implies about the property's location might leave us as ignorant as before. But a map can precisely point out the location in terms we can visualize and understand.

Certain old maps may exist that will help us. Some authors have written books in which they have created maps from a reading of the land grants and subsequent land transactions. Many town histories show where the early settlers lived. These are best found by searching for the history of the town in question either through a library catalogue or on the Internet. Perhaps a genealogy of the subject family would provide a map.

However, there are maps that were prepared specifically to locate people and their houses. Most extant maps (at least in the US) come from the late 19th century. There were several companies that prepared maps for tax purposes. The most widely known maps were prepared by F. W. Beers and Co. in the latter third of the 19th century. Many were recently republished by several companies, generally in a county volume, but many as individual maps.

They are available for sale, can be found at certain libraries and, in some cases, on the Internet. For instance, the University of Massachusetts has scanned all of the Beers maps for Hamden, Hampshire and Berkshire Counties in Massachusetts and they are available on the Internet. Some other colleges and universities have done the same. The Orlando Public Library has the following Beers Map Volumes:

Saginaw County Michigan, 1877 and Ulster County New York, 1875. They may be found in the Genealogy section and they can not be checked out.

No Beers maps were found in the Lake County Library System.

F. W. Beers wasn't the only company preparing maps in that period. An index for the State of Maine lists the following mapping companies:

Sanford, Everts & Co.; Roe and Colby; S. F. Colby & Co.; Caldwell and Halfpenny; Lee & Marsh; Gillette and Huntington; Comstock & Cline; George N. Colby & Co.; J. Chase, Jr. Searching the Internet for any of these companies will yield sources for maps. And while it's beyond the scope of this article to list all of the map sites that can be found through the Internet, a few example of what's out there may be instructive.

Here's a listing of Pennsylvania maps.

Some New England maps are listed here.

Actual maps of Otsego County, NY are available at this site.

See this site for a listing of maps from all over the world as well as a collection of rare books.

For an outstanding collection of Michigan maps from 1875,try this site.

Go to this site for an extensive map collection including many old rare maps.

The original lot owners in many Vermont towns are shown on the Lotting Maps found at this site.

Minnesota has a large collection of historic maps here.

There are 15,000 maps on line and David Rumsey's collection here.

This page last updated on December 5, 3007.

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