More About Maps


Contributing Writer
Janet Wahlberg

Last month I promised more about maps, often an underutilized resource for assembling your family history. If you take the time to locate you family on the maps, you can track them from one place to another and get a better picture of their lives. Did they move because of political changes, repression, famine, economic opportunity, or just a sense of adventure?

One map resource is the Sanborn Maps. These were created to allow the fire insurance industry to better assess the value of property before placing a value on it. They are large scale maps that detail where structures are, including such information as gas lines, fire hydrants and natural structures such as canals, rivers, etc. In addition, color coding indicates the primary building materials used to construct the buildings. These maps are a wonderful tool that allows you to recreate the neighborhood that your ancestors lived in.

Have you ever wondered where others who share your surname lived? You can search on Ancestry and Family Search for distribution maps. Also, John Grenham’s website provides a terrific surname distribution in Ireland from 1848 through 1864.

Type “maps for land records” and any additional information such as specific country into Google or your search engine of choice. I typed in Germany and got many sites to choose from. If you are doing research in Ireland during the years from 1840 through 1860, you might want to look at the Griffith Tax Records. In addition to finding a record of land that your ancestor either owned or rented you can look at the maps associated with the land records that will pinpoint their location.

Google Maps make it possible to take a peek at some of the places that your ancestors may have lived. In some cases, you might be able to view the house that your great grandparents lived in. Just type in an address. When you have adjusted the map to your satisfaction, click on the Earth View located in the lower left corner and then play around with the buttons on the lower right corner. Among other things, you will be able to get a street level look at the various properties.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit Grand Manan Island off the coast of Maine and New Brunswick, Canada. My family had lived there in the early 1800s. I contacted the local Historical Society prior to my visit to alert them to my specific interests. One of the items that they prepared for me was a map of the lots that my various family members had owned. There were no remaining structures for me to visit. I was, however, able to travel to the sites and envision what their life might have been like on this small island. I challenge you to get out there and map your family!

Next month, “The Frozen Grandfather”, a Brick Wall broken.

To read Janet Walberg’s previous genealogy columns or to delve deeper into her writings and insights for searching out and recording your own family’s genealogy, please go to and visit Janet’s own web page.