Ever since maps were first carved into clay tablets in ancient Babylon, historians have relied upon them to provide a snapshot of a place at a particular time. For genealogists, historical maps are a window into where ancestors lived, worked and traveled. Maps bring context to genealogical research challenges and can help you scale even the tallest brick walls.
The David Rumsey Map Collection website, named for the noted map collector, looms large in the online cartography world. The site has digitized more than 33,000 maps, globes and atlases over the past 25 years. And while the collection focuses on rare 18th- and 19th-century maps of North and South America, it also features maps of Asia, Africa and Europe.
You can gain quick access to your map of choice with the website’s innovative MapRank Search application. Thorough indexing of data accompanying each image enables pinpointed searching. You can view maps in incredible detail—and even multiple maps from different time periods side by side—using the website’s LUNA software. You can even create customized map collections by saving groups of images. Follow these steps to become a Rumsey Collection power user:
Though you could begin your search by entering a keyword into the search box on the home page, try the more robust interactive MapRank Search tool. From the menu under the View Collection tab, select MapRank Search. At the bottom of the next screen, click the Launch MapRank Search button.
Enter a keyword(s) in the MapRank Search box and click the Find a Place button. In this example, as the place name is typed, the search tool suggests locations included in the map index that most closely match the entry.
The modern-day map will instantly display the location. In the right-hand column, you’ll find a results list of historical maps. Before you take the time to browse them, narrow your search by time frame. Below the modern map is a time-slider tool. Slide the left button to select a starting year and the right button to select an ending year. Your results list will be refined to maps of your specified location that were created within that time frame. If desired, narrow further by entering additional text into the What or Who search box, or by selecting a map scale from the dropdown box.
Click a map in the results list to see it displayed on the screen. An incredibly thorough source citation will display in the column on the left. Hover your mouse over the map, and a zoom tool appears. After you click to zoom, a small thumbnail viewer will appear on the right-hand side. Click on the highlighted portion and drag it to move your position on the larger map. To position the viewer in a convenient location, hover your mouse along the edge until crosshairs appear. Click, drag and move the thumbnail. Rumsey’s maps display in high resolution, so don’t be shy about zooming in as close as necessary to see detail.
Once you’ve displayed a map, a new option to register for a free account appears at the top of the screen. Although you can use and download digitized maps for free, extremely high-resolution maps are available only to registered users—a worthwhile benefit.
To sign up, click the register link at the top of the screen. After creating a username and password, click Submit. Once logged in, click the Export icon and select from the range of download resolutions. Unregistered users can upload up to Medium size, but as a registered user you can upload up to Extra-Extra-Large size. The higher the resolution, the more disk space the file will require on your hard drive; however, higher resolution allows for better zooming capabilities.
For further manipulation, click the Add to Workspace option at the top of the map. Your map will open in a new window in the Luna Workspace environment. Click on the corners of the image to enlarge. Click and drag the map to move it within the viewer. Here you can add annotations to your map, which you also can color code and make public or private. If you know HTML, you can even add effects such as bolding and italics.
The site lets you embed annotated maps on websites and blogs in a web widget, or share them with others. At the top of the screen, click the method of sharing. Embed This allows you to create a web widget, and Share This provides a unique URL for your annotated map, as well as publishing options for a wide range of social media outlets and email.
See a full video demonstration of how to find free maps on the David Rumsey website here:
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From the March/April 2013 issue of Family Tree Magazine