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Maps a critical part of family history

Michael Ritchey, community and content coordinator for FamilySearch Wiki, gave a lesson on the value of using maps at the Conference of Family History & Genealogy at Brigham Young University on Wednesday."What most people don't realize in research with maps is your ancestors

ARE there," Ritchey said.

Ritchey told a class at Brigham Young University's Conference on Family

History and Genealogy about the many new map resources available online.

"Five years ago if you needed to do map research for your ancestor, you

pretty much needed to go to a university library," Ritchey said.

"That's not true anymore. You can do map research in your bunny


And most of the maps are free.

Ritchey recommended starting a map search at the new FamilySearch Wiki (By putting in the search term, "United States Maps" all the resources

he discussed in his presentation are listed).

He began with two major collections he said would knock your socks off.

The David Rumsey Map Collection: This

"massive" free collection of maps is a favorite of Ritchey. It requires

a special browser to access its search function. He recommended

choosing its new LUNA Browser.

__IMAGE1__As Ritchey displayed a map from Philadelphia, it suddenly became clear

the value of searching maps. By looking at an ancestor's city or

neighborhood, a researcher can find clues for other records in local

churches, cemeteries, schools and hospitals. Other maps can show county

boundaries, roads and major towns — all potentially important

information for finding records or adding color to family histories.

Ritchey then displayed a close-up of a map of Bedford Street in

Pittsburgh. The detail included outlines of property, buildings and

homes — and included the names of the people who lived there.

"Perfect!" one class member said. "Oh wow!" another said.

"When I tell you your ancestors are in there, I'm serious as a heart

attack. This is real. Your ancestors actually in maps," Ritchey said.

"They are in here. You should be using maps."

The maps also help with what Ritchey called research by association.

The other people named on the map were neighbors. These are the people

who knew each other, went to school and work together, intermarried and

acted as pallbearers.

Another free "massive" collection is the Library of Congress American Memory Collection. Ritchey recommended looking at even obscure-sounding categories such as "Cultural Landscape." He showed one

map from that collection that had farm boundaries and, again, the names

of the residents. "So not only do I get my ancestor's name, I get the

boundary of his land," he said. "So here's a lesson for you. As you are

looking through these map collections online, particularly when you

see a link you don't understand, have a look — you might find gold."

  • Ritchey recommended three other major map resources:

The University of Texas' Perry-Castañeda Library Map CollectionThe Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library

The last resource touts 800,000 maps and free search functions

(including a GPS search), but charges $1 for downloads of map images.

"Although I'm really big into 'free,' I'm also into 'way cheap,'

Ritchey said, "and when it comes to being able to access a map and pay

only a buck for it online instead of making a trek to a university

library . . . wow, I'm going for this."

Ritchey also discussed finding maps at Family History Libraries and

finding historic boundary changes with AniMap at

and SiteFinder at (although he preferred purchasing the integrated CD that can be purchased that

includes both AniMap and SiteFinder.

The last site Ritchey mentioned was Images of Early Maps on the Web. The site had no search function, but displayed links

to multiple collections of maps on the web. "It's so massive," he said.

So why maps? "They are now online, most are free, and your ancestors: They are in there," Ritchey said.