For centuries, maps have been the preferred choice of travelers the world over. They not only serve as reliable guides to desired destinations, they also assist the user in getting his or her bearings straight.
But beyond direction and bearing, maps enrich the genealogist's journey through the roadways and byways of personal history. From fire insurance maps that provide minute detail of our ancestors' homes, to election maps that detail boundaries of registered voters in large cities, you're sure to find a research path you've not yet considered.
These county atlases often list the landowners by name with their location pictured on the map. Some atlases give information pertaining to the occupations of the property owners; still others list the number of acres of land for each property.
The Library of Congress houses one of the largest collections of county atlases in the United States. You can access information on these records at www.loc.gov. Simply search the library catalog by name of county and state (under the keyword search).
In addition, searching at state archives, genealogical and historical societies, and public libraries can lead to additional copies of atlases for research purposes.
These maps show not only views of cities and towns, they sometimes indicate areas of future development. An 1890 map of Childress, Texas, is a good example. The map portrays an industrial town; many people and horses fill the streets as thick clouds of black smoke bellow from the smoke stack of some industrial center of the town. At the time the map was created, though, the town was still under development.
Panoramic maps are readily available to researchers. The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., has a collection that can be accessed onsite or online at www.loc.gov. Select M under Index A-Z and scroll to Maps. Then click on panoramic maps.
There are more than 12,000 communities represented in this vast collection of some 660,000 maps. Both small and large communities are included.
The Sanborn maps cover a broad period dating from 1867 to 1961, although most date after 1876. Occasionally, maps for most of the larger metropolitan areas of the United States were updated. It is not unusual to find numerous editions for some cities.
These maps are full of useful information for genealogists. Researchers can tell where their ancestors' properties were located within a given community. Sanborn maps do not name property owners except in some cases where the names of businesses are used on the maps, but any researcher equipped with a good city directory (especially a reverse city directory) will be able to learn property owner names.
Sanborn maps provide information such as the height of buildings and the number of stories; whether the structure had a basement; even the locations of doors, windows, and elevators in buildings. In addition, researchers can discover street and property lengths and widths as well as the building's use. Sanborn maps may also reveal how the business was powered or heated, and what sort of fuel was used.
This map collection is readily available for easy access. The Geography and Map Reading Room of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., contains a Sanborn collection that is nearly complete. Most state colleges and universities have the Sanborn maps available for their own states. Additionally, researchers can find the Sanborn collection in state libraries, historical and genealogical societies, and sometimes even at local libraries.
To order individual maps directly from the Sanborn Map Company (now owned by Environmental Data Resources, Inc.), visit the company's website at www.edrnet.com.
Road Docket Maps
Years ago, when properties were surveyed and additional roads were needed to lead from one public road to another, it was necessary to petition the court to have a new survey performed on each road being considered. Enterprising businessmen and residents petitioned the court to survey the entire length of the proposed road. The documents attached to the petition included a rough drawing of the area in question.
Included on these maps were the names of the landowners along the entire route of the proposed public road. Also listed were businesses located along the project's path. Mills, taverns, and other structures were generally listed at either end of the proposed road as well.
Most of these maps date from the mid- to late-eighteenth century and are a great source for genealogical information. The best way to locate such records is to inquire at your local county courthouse in the county clerk's office or at your local state archive or historical society. Also, the Family History Library has microfilmed many of the road docket books and maps. You'll need to conduct your search first by county and explore what's available from there.
Beginning in 1884, registered voters in New York City were listed in the supplemental record by street address and broken down into election and assembly districts. The corresponding maps show the boundaries of the districts by borough, making it relatively easy to find family members in election records.
When you find an ancestor's name in a supplemental record, contact the Bureau of Elections for the correct borough and request the voter's application details. The election maps for New York City are located in the public library in Manhattan. For other large cities, consult the local library.
World War I Draft Registration Maps
In large cities, it was essential to have maps produced that indicated the boundaries of the individual draft boards. Sometimes these maps and corresponding written boundary lines were recorded in the local newspapers. The maps were an important part of organizing the boundaries of larger cities. For instance, there were more than 200 boards for New York City alone.
The maps are available at the Family History Library on microfiche and represent most of the larger major cities in the United States such as Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York. Ancestry has made many of the actual registration cards available online, but for researchers looking up numerous names in one area, these maps are a great asset. The maps will assist researchers in finding their ancestors and possibly other siblings who were eligible for the draft. Each map is organized into board numbers, so with the use of a good city directory researchers can find each person they are looking for by first using the maps to determine the proper draft board, and then viewing the actual registration card online.
Putting It All Together
Years of research into Ephraim's business enterprises yielded several maps that contain valuable information about him. Ephraim was a successful businessman operating a general store from 1875 to 1880 in Mohnsville, Pennsylvania. Later, his business grew to include other lines of commercial activities. By the turn of the twentieth century, Ephraim had a profitable business making and selling wooden boxes.
The 1898 panoramic map of Mohnsville, Pennsylvania, illustrates how much his business had grown. In 1907 the citizens of Mohnsville petitioned the county courts to change the name of their small community to Mohnton. With this approval in hand, the small village of Mohnton continued to prosper.
By the early part of the twentieth century, Ephraim Werner was still employed in his chosen line of work. The 1912 Sanborn map depicts his business. By 1920 Ephraim had sold his property and moved his business to Reading, Pennsylvania, where he remained until his death in 1922.
Whether you are trying to solve research problems or are simply gathering information to provide interesting and unknown details about your ancestors, a variety of map resources will prove to be a challenging addition to your family history.
Michael L. Strauss, AG, a professional genealogist and lecturer, is accredited for the Eastern States Region. He works as a research associate at the George Tyler Moore Center for Civil War Studies at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.