As you may know, I’m a map freak and have been one all my life. In fact, if you were sitting in my office right now, you’d probably notice the historic Missouri map hanging next to a Howard Terpning print called “Before the Little Big Horn.” When I was a kid, I was the designated map reader on family vacations. On a trip to London, my mom marveled that I never got lost. How could I? I had a map.
In addition to getting us where we want to go, maps track boundary changes. And, in their own way, they reflect a nation’s history. Think about the globe sitting in our 1950s classroom—how many of those African countries still exist? I sometimes wonder how globe makers can stay in business—the world changes too fast to keep up with new names and changing boundaries.
Our ancestors’ world must have been the same. New states were carved out of old territories and brand new roads cut across what had once been the frontier. I think old maps are one of the best ways to get a real feel for their world. Look at a territorial map for 1800, for example, and you’ll notice most of the United States was owned by other nations.
What do you think it was like for your 1800 Tennessee ancestor to know that just across the boundary line was land that belonged to France? How would it be for me to know that as soon as I crossed the Colorado River from California that I’d be in land owned by Germany. Weird, huh? I can relate, of course, because Mexico is 20 minutes south of my home.
If you’re interested in looking at territorial maps, I found a couple of great Web sites that will help you find them. I’m planning on adding these maps to my genealogy software program. Then, when I print out a family history, I can also print out a map of what the world looked like during my ancestor’s lifetime.
• US Territorial Maps 1775-1920
• US Territorial Growth
Scroll down from the top of the page.
• Maps of the Northwest Territory
• Map of Dakota Territory