1. Confirm boundaries.
Did your ancestors live where you think they did? Maybe not, if you’re looking up their residence on a modern map.
2. Survey the neighborhood.
“Anything that shows up on a federal topographical map tends to stay there forever, even if there’s nothing there now,” says Davis. This includes cemeteries, churches, roads and other local landmarks. “Roads especially change less than people might think. Engineers put roads in the same places for the same reasons over the centuries.”
3. Find ancestral addresses.
4. Plot the family property lines.
Confirm the location by looking for lot numbers on neighborhood or subdivision plat maps, which show property boundaries and owners’ names. Pierre-Louis says that plat maps can date to early times in New England and in states without federal land sales. Original maps may be on file in local town or county offices or, rarely, online at a county auditor’s website. You also can compare the lot descriptions to any maps you do find online. Pierre-Louis suggests checking the Historic Land Ownership and References Atlases database on Ancestry.com, a collection of historical maps and atlases from 1507 to 2000.
5. Identify migration paths.
- American Migration Patterns
- American Memory Map Collections
- Atlas of Historical County Boundaries
- BillionGraves Cemetery Map
- Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records
- Clan Lands Maps (Scotland)
- David Rumsey Map Collection
- Earth Point
- GenealogyTools.net Deed Platter
- Geographic Names Information System (GNIS)
- Historic Mapworks
- Historical Boundaries of the United States, 1783-1912
- History and Geography of Europe and the World
- JewishGen Communities Database
- Library of Congress Civil War Maps
- The National Map: Historical Topographic Map Collection
- The Overland Trail
- Paper Trail
- Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection
- Plat Plotter
- Public Profiler: Great Britain Surname Distribution Map
- US Census Bureau Thematic Maps
- USGS Aerial Photography Single Frame Records Collection
- USGS EarthExplorer
- USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer
- Vintage Aerial
- Compare what you learn about your own family research with maps of common migration routes of the day—then look for records along that path.
- A man-made landmark present on earlier maps may be added to later maps even after the landmark is gone, which can be helpful but also misleading. When possible, compare earlier and later versions of maps.
- You may not realize how close some relatives (or potential kin) lived to each other until you map them. Even if they came from different states or counties, they may have lived just across the border from each other.
- Best Websites for Finding Historical Maps video class
- The Family Tree Historical Maps Book
- Genealogist’s Google Earth Premium Collection