Southeastern Colorado Genealogical Society

How Maps Can be Useful

From 'Using Maps in Genealogy' Fact Sheet, Publication 099-02 (Sept. '02 US Department of the Interior - US Geologica Survey)

Maps are one of the many sources that you may need to complete your family tree:

In genealogical research, maps can provide clues to where your ancestors may have lived, and where to look for written records about them. Beginners should master basic genealogical research techniques before starting to use maps.

Once you've gathered as many facts about your family history and customs as you can, turn to maps to uncover more specific information or to help solve your historical mysteries:

Old and new maps can help track down facts about a branch of your family, but how? In the United States, birth, death, marriage, property, and other kinds of records are usually kept by the county. If you can name the place where an ancestor lived, new or old maps of that place will also show the county seat where you can check to see if useful information about your ancestors can be found.

Old maps are especially useful because they may list the town or area where your ancestors lived towns that are no longer in existence or those who have changed their names. Many towns, cities, counties and even countries have had their names changed over the years.

Though the names have changed, some of these locations may be found on old maps or in old gazetteers. The names of some of these locations may be found from lists of abandoned post offices, in local histories, local government records (microfilmed or the original, old and dusty), clippings from old newspapers (or the old newspapers themselves), old city directories, old county atlases found in the libraries of a town or county in the region you are searching.

Finding the Right Maps:

To find useful maps, you must have strong clues where and when your ancestors lived in that location

The best maps for genealogical purposes are maps that show good detail around the area where your family lived; and maps that show the location of the area in relation to the county and/or state boundaries.

A plat book in the town hall or county courthouse, or an old fire insurance map may show an outline of your ancestor's house and its placement on the ancestor's property. Such maps should help you picture the place where your relatives were born, resided, attended school, worked, shopped, voted, traveled over land or water, courted, married, raised families, and were laid to rest. Plat books also show the location of cemeteries which might be close to the family house.

Later maps of the same area might help you find relatives of later generations cousins, etc.

Maps usually suggest some pattern of settlement and movement, while ruling out others. Topographic and relief maps show hills or mountains that would impede migration or access to other areas. Rivers, not bridged in your ancestors' time could also have been an impediment, but also a travel way to market, church, school, and even a migration route to another area.

Maps that cover large areas may suggest various kinds of trade, employment, and social, recreational, and other interactions among the peoples of neighboring towns or settlements.

Careful analysis of such maps can expand the scope of your research beyond the narrow scope of the immediate neighborhood of the family.

More Information:

Web site on mapping, geography, and related topics at USGS Maps, Imagery, and Publications

Contact Us

Southeastern Colorado Genealogical Society, Inc.

P.O. Box 1407

Pueblo, CO 81002

Monthly Meetings

Our monthly meetings are held on the first Saturday of the month with a Genealogical Studies class at 12:30 pm to 2:00 pm and our Program from 2:00 pm - 3:00 PM

You do not have to be a member to attend - Everyone is welcome.

Call 719-250-5782 for more information or to schedule a ride.