Historical Research Maps: Plat Maps

Historical Research Maps: Plat Maps

  Image courtesy the University of Iowa Libraries Map Collection. Curious what your ancestor's hometown looked like? You're in luck, because a group of government records were created specifically to document land ownership. Governments create plat maps (also called cadastral maps or survey plats) to define and account for parcels...

 

Image courtesy the University of Iowa Libraries Map Collection.

Curious what your ancestor’s hometown looked like? You’re in luck, because a group of government records were created specifically to document land ownership. Governments create plat maps (also called cadastral maps or survey plats) to define and account for parcels of land. These maps—such as this 1930 one, from Lee County, Iowa—depict one unit of land (such as a township) and all of the plots within it. They also typically divide the land into standard administrative units for record-keeping purposes.

Like other historical maps, plat maps give genealogists a detailed snapshot of a community at a given time. They’re often labeled with landowners’ names, pointing to deeds and other land records. Other details might include the square footage for a plot (giving insight into an ancestor’s economic status), the crop grown or number of dwellings constructed on a plot.

Plat maps weren’t uniformly created, making them somewhat more difficult to find than other kinds of maps. The Bureau of Land Management, the federal body in charge of public land surveys, has digitized surveys and plat maps for several states, but the collection’s coverage is spotty. The David Rumsey Map Collection, Historic Mapworks and the Library of Congress collection offer some plat maps. Many county atlases, which you can find at large local libraries and state archives, are based off of plat maps and therefore contain similar information. A Google search for plat map and the name of your ancestor’s town, township, county or state should turn up links to resources.

Want to learn how to use old online maps in your research? Check out the Applying Old Maps to Family History webinar from genealogy expert D. Joshua Taylor.
 
A version of this article originally appeared in the May/June 2016 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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