#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Maps

While researching my ancestors, I often turn to maps, if for no other reason than just to see the lay of the land.

I remember early in my genealogical journal, I attended a society presentation on maps, and I jotted down “BLM GLO.” That’s what you can type into Google to find the records of the Bureau of Land Management General Land Office.

I wasn’t sure if I would find any of my family members there, but lo and behold, I did. My 3rd Great Grandfather Origen Thompson received a land grant of just a smidge under 80 acres in Baldwin County, Alabama, in 1862.

A person I believe to be my 4x Great Grandfather, Isaac Pitman (at some point the family name became Pittman) received a land grant in what is now Holmes County, Florida. It’s the same area where my 2x Great Grandfather, also called Isaac, was born 12 years later. The close-up here is from Google maps, an approximation of the area highlighted on the BLM GLO office website. It’s a great property, close to the Choctawhatchee River, as well as being close to the Ginhouse Branch. Of course, they wouldn’t have had the roads and highways in 1821, which makes the rivers that much more important for trade and travel, as well as you just need water.

I found my 2nd Great Grandfather William F. Hahn’s address in a Pensacola City Directory, and was able to find the precise location on a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, which gave me an idea of the home’s construction. Although it was in what is now a historic area, the house is no longer extant.

One kind of map that’s been particularly helpful is the county line tool from the Newberry Library. It shows you how county boundaries changed over the decades. That’s great information when you’re looking for records from a particular time frame. That property of Isaac Pitman’s, for example, started out in Washington County. In 1832, it became Jackson County. In 1848, it became Holmes County. Just looking at the family on the 1830, 1840, and 1850 Censuses, it looks like they moved, but it was just the county lines shifting.

I’ll leave you with a couple more of my favorite map sites:

If you don’t know where to start, Old Maps Online is like a search engine for maps dating back hundreds of years. You might not always find exactly what you’re looking for, but more often than not, you’ll find something useful.

The U.S. Census has a map with all the counties laid out. It’s slightly zoomable. It’s particularly good for looking at counties along the edges of states, since our ancestors often traveled across state lines to get married or do other business, and in some cases, they moved back and forth as well. Quite a few of my ancestral lines zigzag from Florida to Alabama and back again over the years.

About Taminar

When I grow up, I want to make movies and write books. Now in my 50s, I wonder if I'll ever really accomplish the dreams of my youth. I have made two short films, one for a college film-making class, the other for an MTV-sponsored contest. I have written short plays that have been produced, and a few short stories and reviews that have been published. I also perform and direct for community theatre. My working life has included stints in local TV news, public relations, retail management and cashier, and for a couple of years, I made the rides go at Walt Disney World. I have two cats and a husband.
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3 Responses to #52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Maps

  1. Eilene Lyon says:

    I’m glad you found some ancestors on the BLM site. It’s such a wonderful resource.

  2. Barb LaFara says:

    Another site I like for old maps is davidrumsey .com Thanks for sharing!

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