06 November 2006

Historic Maps for Genealogy

Have you seen the ad on TV: a man is walking along with his GPS enabled cellphone, a friend takes it from his hand and he freezes not knowing which way to turn? When its handed back he continues on his way.

The value of maps is something neophyte genealogists quickly discover. How do I find that cemetery? What are the surrounding parishes I need to search as I can't find my ancestor in the home parish records? Which building now occupies your ancestor's address from the 1880s, it surely wasn't a multi-storey car park then?

As most of my searching is in the UK, especially England, I keep to hand a current UK road map, I have a 2006 version of the AA Easy Read Britain map. In Basingstoke last month I saw the 2006 version at drastic discount now the 2007 edition is on sale. Also I keep to hand the Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers. Although expensive it is a good Christmas list item.

These days your favourite internet map sources may be sufficient. I use Google Earth, Google Maps, Mapquest, Multimap and the Ordnance Survey get-a-map. Despite its poor image quality the old Maps site for the Ordnance Survey is a keeper.

What I would really like is a site that let me click on a location on one map and be taken to the same location on a variety of other maps for different years. Is this something Google might try?

While it doesn't seem that Historic Map Works will quite do this, it goes quite a way in the right direction for detailed historic maps. It claims to be "the first GIS-linked, address-searchable map of 19th and early 20th century America. You can search our collection of over 100,000 antique property maps. Our collection of contemporaneous directories can be searched by family names, occupations, or addresses from the past 250 years." The site's current offerings, available to view free for the remainder of the year, are mainly for the US Eastern seaboard. Some Canadian, mainly Ontario, additions are promised.