Research Tip of the Week

Maps add extra context to your research.

tip Tuesday graphic

Each week I try to provide a research tip. This week my tip is about maps. Maps are an important genealogical tool. They add extra context to the lives of the people we research. I have used maps heavily in my blog series about Fred L. Jacobs to help explain the landscape of battles.

Looking at a historical map of an area and time that your ancestors lived can help you get a better understanding of their day-to-day life. Did they live in an industrial area? Perhaps they lived on a farm.

Was the area dominated by a certain profession such as coal mine workers in a coal town. Perhaps it was a coastal area dominated by shipping and seafaring trades. Looking at a map can show the landscape and provide clues. Examining the area in which ancestors lived provides depth to genealogy research.

West Virginia Archives & History: MAPS &emdash; Ma066-14

Did your ancestor live in a wealthy area or a poverty-stricken area? By looking at a map, you might better understand if they were from a more well off area. Or a map might explain why every son in a single family enlisted in the military. That was the case in one branch of my family where the options were coal mining or war.

Maps open the door to other clues.

Using maps can also reveal information that might not be otherwise be obvious otherwise. Proximity was important in an age where people may not have traveled far during their lifetime.

Is there a church near where they lived that they may have attended? That might suggest a place to search for records. Schools and cemeteries are two other things that looking at the map may reveal. Maps are valuable because they can help direct your genealogical research on a local level.

1920 Flint, Michigan map
1920 Flint, Michigan

Maps can be helpful in locating other relatives. If you have two people and you are trying to determine if they may have crossed paths in life by comparing locations on a map it may be possible to decide if it was probable that two individuals knew each other. Maps can provide information to help us weigh the quality of other evidence we are faced with during research.

Where are some places you can get an idea of where your ancestors lived?

  • Census records
  • City directories
  • Draft cards
  • Vital records

Here is a great guide to using maps in genealogy that is really recommend.

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