M is for Maps

Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet Challenge… M is for Maps! What do maps have to do with family history? Maps can mean a lot to research – after all, how can you find the history of your family if you don’t know where to look? Maps can help us look in the right direction in many different ways. Here are some of my favorite kinds of maps or map sites that I use in my research:

Google Maps – Besides helping me find my way between a myriad of places, I use Google Maps to look up all sorts of locations in my family history research. I can use it to see a town in Europe – or to see if that town name actually exists. Or, I can look up a census address to see if the house is still there, and if a “Street View” exists I can even see how the location looks today. For cluster research, I can create a custom map and “pin” all of the locations of a particular family or group of neighbors.

Historic Maps – I love historic map sites! What genealogist doesn’t? One of my favorites for my hometown research is the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network interactive map viewer. I can see past maps of the city layered on top of today’s map (using Google Maps). My favorite is the 1942 Land Use map that includes businesses, factories, churches, and more. With this old map, I can literally walk around the neighborhood of my ancestors and “see” what they saw as they walked the streets of Philadelphia. (See my previous post, Fun with Maps in Philadelphia, for more on the site.) Old maps of Europe were essential to my research to determine country borders – was it Poland or Russia? Bavaria or Austria?

Factories in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia, 1942

Pinpointing a town with maps – Sites like the JewishGen Gazetteer (formerly called the ShtetlSeeker) can not only show you a town on the map, but show you towns within a ten-mile radius. You can also search for a town name phonetically, which is  useful for misspelled town names. The Gazetteer contains the names of one million localities in 54 countries in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Learn more about it in my previous post, ShtetlSeeker: It’s Not Just for Shtetls Anymore.

Surname Maps are a very different sort of map that also have a place in family history. Several sites allow you to create a map of surname distribution in a particular country. The maps are usually based on current data, such as census records or phone books. Such maps can lead you to potential relatives back in the old country or even validate your place of origin. I try to use a surname map in each of my Surname Saturday posts to illustrate the name’s distribution. Frankly, they are really just plain fun. I recently entered a rather unusual surname into a surname map-maker for Poland and found a total of one person with that name – in exactly the same town my ancestor came from. Hello, cousin?

How have maps helped your family history research?

[Written for the weekly Family History through the Alphabet Challenge]

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6 thoughts on “M is for Maps

  1. The link to Multimap maps (U) doesn’t work as Multimap has been folded into Bing.

  2. Thank you so much for the link to the interactive map viewer–totally awesome. And I hadn’t seen the 1855 Philly map … just found my great-grandmother’s childhood home on it and a little alley, no longer in existence, called Drum St., that must have been named for my ancestor William Drum, who owned lots of real estate in the area.

  3. Pingback: Family History Through the Alphabet - M is for ... | Genealogy & History News

  4. That GeoHistory Map Viewer is great! Your screen shot really caught my eye. I have two ancestors who lived on Richmond St. and worked nearby. I might have even found a clue there to a wife’s family business.
    I’m so glad I am going through all your Alphabet series of posts. Thank you!

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