You may have noticed that a cousin-discipline to genealogy is geography. Maybe that’s why the words look alike. They are related!
You don’t have to be a genealogist for very long before geographic questions of where, how far, and proximity raise their topographic heads. And the very best method to find these answer is a map, preferably one with county names, because, as we all know, genealogy is all about the counties.
For those looking for county maps, have I got a tool for you!
The Red Book
The Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources (yes, the color of the book is red) edited by Alice Eichholz, published by Ancestry, should be a staple resource in every genealogist’s library. In sum, it is where to find any resource. If you’re looking for military, church, vital records, maps, land or probate records, or even some background on the area, this is the source for you. It is packed full of the best sources and respositories to find anything you’re looking for to answer a genealogy question. The book is organized alphabetically by state. If you want information on Missouri resources, you can simply open to Missouri chapter at the end of the “M” states. Among the many references within each state-chapter, you’ll find a table of counties, when they were founded, if the county is a child of another county, and most importantly – when the county started keeping records by record type. When did they start keeping birth, death, marriage, land, probate and court records! It makes quick work of what would otherwise be a painfully tedious process of record discovery.
The County Maps inThe Red Book
One of the best resources within The Red Book are the county maps. For each state you willl find a clean, clear, black & white, perfect-for-duplication, state map with each county clearly marked. NOTE: this county map reflects the counties as they are today. For more on the changing county boundaries, you’ll want to consult the table mentioned above or other resources the breakdown of county (and state) lines over time. Nonetheless, the contemporary county map affords us a wonderful tool to identify county locations, county proximities to cities, other counties, landmarks, nearby states and much more. I was recently looking at a family that came from Wayne County, Kentucky, and moved to Tennessee. What could have seemed like a huge migration from one state to another was put in perspective with the aid of the map. Wayne County, Kentucky is on the Tennessee border!! The family could have moved just a couple miles and changed counties and states! (see above)
But wait, it gets better! Digital maps.
The Red Book, with its wonderful county maps, is available online – for free – on Ancestry. That’s right, you don’t have to subscribe to Ancestry to have access to this wonderful tool. Check it out here. Further, within the digital version of the book are digital versions of the county maps. You can right click on the map, choose “save as,” name the file whatever you want, and choose a location on you computer to save it, then hit “save.” You’ve just added a perfect county map to you ancestor’s story to help tell the tale.
For those interested in a map that tells an even more personal story, you can open your new digital map in Microsoft Paint (a free accessory program that comes with any Microsoft Office package), and mark up the map. You can highlight counties, draw migration routes, color-code families and their locations. I used a map like this to eliminate possible ancestors based on location. I had several “John Browns” that could be the ancestor in question, but they were scattered across the state. Mapping which counties they were in and looking a their locations relative to the rest of the family helped me eliminate options and shorten the research process.
A Quick Note About Copyright
You may be concerned that I’m advocating breaching copyright rules in using these maps. I’m not a copyright attorney, but I believe the intent of a copyright is to prohibit the profiting off of another’s copyrighted work. As long as you don’t claim these maps as your own product and publish them in your manifesto for sale on family history, I think you’re fine. Go ahead and use them for supporting documentation. I think the authors would be pleased.
In Summary –
It only takes a few minutes to go online or pop open The Red Book to find answers and save yourself countless hours of frustration in knowing where your ancestors were. So take the time, pull up the map, save it in your family archives. You’ll be glad you took the extra step to tell their story geographically as well as genealogically.
Have you used county maps before? What did they tell you about your ancestors’ lives?