Using Historical Maps for Genealogy

You may be wondering how historical maps can help you research your family. The answer is maps can help you locate the places where your ancestors lived and give you context for the records you are finding.

They are valuable because they depict what the land was like where and when your ancestors lived there and reflect what people knew of that area at the time.  They are particularly helpful for understanding ancestors near the top of your family tree who immigrated from other countries.

Maps can help identify political boundaries, place names, parishes, geographical features, cemeteries, churches, and migration/transportation routes. Historical maps are especially useful for understanding boundary changes or finding communities that no longer exist.

Where to Find Historical Maps

Now that you know why maps are useful, you need to know where to find the best of what is available. Some of the best places to find detailed historical maps online are listed below:

David Rumsey Historical Map Collection
David Rumsey began building his collection of historical maps in 1980 and now it contains more than 150,000 maps and is one of the largest private map collections in the United States.  His collection includes maps of the entire world, from the 16th to the 21st centuries.  David Rumsey has made it his mission to digitize his collection using high end scanning equipment and make them available online.

Library of Congress Map Collection

The Library of Congress makes much of their impressive collection of digital historical maps available online.

Old Maps Online
Their website was created by Klokan Technologies GmbH, specialists in online map publishing and in applications of open-source software.  Old Maps Online has indexes to more than 400,000 maps.

This is thanks to their collaboration with many archives and libraries who share their desire to openly provided their content online to the general public.  Their user interface has you type in a geographic location in the search box at the top of their web page and displays a current map of that destination and on the right-side displays historical maps of that location you can choose to display.

Map History
The Map History website contains searchable index to more than 1,200 websites containing digitized maps.  It serves as a clearing house for map collections on the Internet.  You just type in a search term in the search box at the top of the site and see what is available.

It may be difficult to find exactly the right map for the time and place you need, but it is well worth your time to dig deep in your search.  Good thing there are so many good resources for digital maps on the Internet.

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