Randy Majors is the inventor of the Historical US County Boundary Maps tool genealogists use to trace their ancestors’ county boundary changes (we at Family Tree Magazine think it’s so useful that we made it one of our 101 Best Websites for 2016).
AncestorSearch, which lets you run genealogy-specific advanced Google searches, is another one of his creations. Our intrepid reporter Sunny Morton tracked him down to ask a few questions about maps and genealogy.
Q. What inspired you to develop the county boundaries tool and AncestorSearch?
A. Both were born out of my own genealogy research: thinking there have got to be better, quicker, more efficient ways of performing tasks I do repeatedly.
Q. What’s your professional background?
A. In college, I got degrees in geography and GIS (geographic information systems) just as that technology was moving mainstream. I spent much of my early career developing interactive, computerized mapping tools for the energy industry. When I became interested in family history more than 10 years ago, I just applied my skill sets and interests in mapping and programming.
Q. So you love maps?
A. I’ve been interested in maps forever. You know how other kids have lemonade stands? I had a map stand in third grade.
Q. Have you had personal research success success using your tools for genealogy?
A. The county boundaries tool has mainly helped me overcome mistakes. How many of us have discovered we haven’t found something because we were looking in the wrong place?
With AncestorSearch, I’ve taken six or seven family lines back at least another generation. Despite how much is available on the big genealogy websites, it’s funny how often something is buried on a site you don’t expect. And a lot of people have messaged me about people they’ve found using AncestorSearch, including living lost cousins.
Q. What’s the Let’sWalkTo tool on your site?
A. That one is not related to genealogy. It’s literally just another example of something I was interested in. My wife and I like to walk everywhere. When we go out to dinner we rarely drive, either where we used to live in Manhattan, NY, or now in Denver, Colo.
When I’m traveling, I use this tool, too. You enter your preferred walking distance and the address, and get a list of restaurants and bars to click on. You can filter for a specific type of food or entertainment and by price point. This is just a mash-up of walking distances and restaurant information on Google Maps, but it’s so useful.
Q. Tell us about a map hanging on your wall right now.
A. Manhattan in 1836. Only the southern tip was populated and there was only forest land where Central Park is. I can see that a building that’s now several blocks in from the water was actually on the shoreline; so many of the old rivers are now partly filled in. This map reminds me how this island has been so hugely transformed.
Randy and Sunny teamed up on a May/June 2017 Family Tree Magazine article about using old maps to solve genealogy research problems. Get your copy of this issue today in Family Tree Shop: It’s available both as a PDF download or a print magazine!