Genealogy #OffTheGrid

Are Maps Becoming A Thing Of The Past?

One of the first tools I used as a young teenager seeking the truth about my family history was a map. With the help of the librarian, I was able to retrieve an old folded and faded map. The local newspaper originally printed an article containing the sketch during the 1880 decade, over 90 years before my discovery. The blurry document portrayed many clues and hints about the early years of my hometown. It also documented the land parcels of my ancestors. Many years have passed since that day of treasure hunting, and I have yet to find a reproduction of that original printing. The data is no longer available locally as the newspaper archives were distributed back to the publisher during the early 1990s due to lack of storage proclaimed by the library. The local newspaper sold in 1996 and the new owners prohibited any viewing of the original archived editions. Today, the map is not accessible using any public platform.

Fortunately for me, I was able to make a copy of the map on the same day I became aware of it. I have often wondered how many others were not so fortunate. Years later, my research would lead me to mistakes made with the 1880’s article. I was able to prove incorrect boundary lines and surname misspellings. Although the map and the commentary both had their flaws, the treasures revealed were priceless. Can this be said of map outlines in general regardless of age, substance, and region?

(photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Several factors come into play with the question. First, where did the map originally derive? Answering this question will lead to the timeline and the setting. Name the surveyor or author. Obtain more knowledge by studying their previous works. What purpose did the map serve by its creation? The answer will provide the proper setting while allowing details to emerge from the crucial factors used in constructing the sketch. For example, military maps will lean more toward modern road routes and precise waterways. Second, what is the subject matter? By using the case mentioned, military sketches are primary tools for genealogy. Regardless of the period, military graphs are much more accurate with the immediate landscape. If the subject matter pertains to a county, then the details are concentrated on the business sections or the most popular areas. Third, how does the material tie into your research? Determine the benefits of studying the map. If you have family members residing in the area, the material is of utmost importance with your investigation and deserves further analysis.

Local independent maps are my personal favorite. They seem to tell a story with every detail. 18th-century landscape sketchings are among my favorites too-if they contain a legend pointing out the oaks from the pines and the creeks from the rivers. I also compare maps from one surveyor to another during the same dates of origin. An example of this would be Thomas Kitchin versus Thomas Jeffreys in North Carolina and Luke Munsell versus Samuel Lewis in Kentucky.

Final word maps are just as essential as census records if one takes the time to research and study them. The treasures within them can be priceless, if not today, possibly one day in the future.

2 replies »

  1. Carol,

    Yes, the importance of maps. I’ve always found them most helpful as well. They are the efforts of people at the time to manually portray their world to themselves. And, in the case of military maps, since victory or defeat and lives either lost or saved depended upon their accuracy, their value is immense.


    Liked by 1 person

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