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Using Historical Maps to Learn About Your Ancestors

(From Kimberly Powell’s Weekly About Genealogy Blog 4-21-2015)

Many family history research problems can be solved with the use of maps, atlases, and gazetteers. Historical maps can help you find and picture where your relatives were born, resided, attended school, shopped, voted, traveled over land or water, courted, married, raised families, and were laid to rest. Maps can help you locate your ancestors’ neighbors and family members, pinpoint county courthouses or town halls where records may be located, provide insight into migration patterns, and can even be used in conjunction with other genealogical records to distinguish between two individuals of the same name. Just think about all of the genealogical clues you might be missing!

View and Search Historical Landowner Maps & Atlases Online
Historic land ownership maps and county atlases show who owned land in a given area at a given time. Also displayed are towns, churches, cemeteries, schools, railroads, businesses, and natural land features. What’s really cool is that you can access many digitized historic land ownership maps and landowner atlases online.

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Understanding and Using Map Scales
To fully understand and use historical maps, it is important to understand the map’s scale. Learn what the scale numbers mean and how to use this information to accurately identify the real-world size of land plats, objects, etc. on a map.

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Step by Step Easy Land Platting
One of the best ways to study local history in general, and your family in particular, is to create a map of your ancestor’s land and its relationship to the surrounding community. Making a plat from a land description may sound complicated, but it is actually very simple once you learn how.

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Ten Don’t-Miss Historical Map Collections Online
Whether you’re looking for a historic map to overlay in Google Earth, or hoping to find your ancestor’s town of origin, these online historical map collections offer don’t miss resources for any genealogist. Find topographic, panoramic, survey and other historical maps, many available for free online viewing and downloading.

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DIY Historical Map Overlays in Google Earth
Whether you download a historical map from an online digitized collection, purchase a historical map on CD, or scan one yourself at home, it is really easy to overlay the map on Google Earth and see your ancestor’s property as it exists today.

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Exploring Sanborn & Other Fire Insurance Maps Online
Dating back to the mid-1800’s, fire insurance maps were originally created to assist fire insurance agents in assessing potential fire risk, and setting insurance premiums. Thus, they document a wealth of detail such as the size and shape of buildings, locations of windows and doors, and construction materials, as well as street names, and property boundaries.
While big cities were a large target for fire insurance plans, small towns were mapped more frequently than you might expect. In many cases, historical fire insurance maps document structures and even towns that no longer exist.

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