You will find the complete show notes for the topic discussed in this episode at the show notes page here.
This episode is brought to you by:
In this episode we cover a plethora of strategies that will give you access to loads of free genealogy records and resources. We cover:
- How to follow the path of least resistance to find what you need for your genealogy research.
- The best ways to find free genealogy records online.
- What you need to know about the genealogy industry that will help you save money.
- How you can bee-line your way to the free records that are to be found at each of the big subscription genealogy websites (Ancestry, MyHeritage and FindMyPast).
- Two Google secret searches that can help you locate free genealogy resources.
- How to search online to find free records offline.
- A clever way to get free help with your genealogy brick wall.
Companion Video and Show Notes
This topic comes from my YouTube video series Elevenses with Lisa episode 21. You can find all the free Elevenses with Lisa videos and show notes at https://lisalouisecooke.com/elevenses.
Genealogy Gems Premium Members have exclusive access to the 5-page downloadable show notes handout in the Resources section of the Elevenses with Lisa episode 21 show notes page here.
Premium Members also have access to all of the archived earlier episodes. To access the Elevenses with Lisa Premium Member archive, log in to your membership at https://genealogygems.com and under in the main menu under Premium go to Premium Videos and click on Elevenses with Lisa.
Elevenses with Lisa Episode 21 – Free Genealogy! Watch the video and read the full show notes here.
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Our ability to find our ancestors is rooted in two important pieces of information: the locations where they lived and the time frames in which they lived there. This means that old maps are essential to our genealogy research.
The good news is that there is an abundance of free digitized old maps available online. One of the best resources is the David Rumsey Map Collection website. There you will find over 100,000 free digitized historic maps. These maps span the globe and centuries. They are perfect for bringing geographic perspective to your family tree.
In this episode 36 of my free webinar video series Elevenses with Lisa I’ll show you how to navigate this ever-expanding free website. Watch the video and then follow along with the show notes in this article. Here you’ll find answers to questions such as:
- What’s the best way to find maps at David Rumsey’s map website?
- What is the difference between the search tools (Luna Viewer and MapRank Search)?
- What are the advanced search techniques for finding the old maps?
- How can I download maps at DavidRumsey.com?
- Is it OK to use the maps from DavidRumsey.com in my family history projects?
Rumsey Historical Maps in Google Earth
As we discussed in Ways to Use Google Earth for Genealogy (Elevenses with Lisa episode 12) there are approximately 120 Rumsey old maps available for free in Google Earth. You can find them in the Layers Panel under Gallery. Each map is already georeferenced as an overlay for you.
You can also create your own overlays in Google Earth using Rumsey Maps or digitized maps from other sources. I cover this step-by-step in chapter 16 of my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.
Best Strategies for Finding Free Old Maps
Once you’ve exhausted the few hundred old maps in Google Earth, head to the David Rumsey Map Collection website. Rumsey’s collection includes over 150,000 map, over 100,000 of which have been digitized and are available for free on his website.
Copyright and Use Permission
You will probably be anxious to use these wonderful old maps in a variety of ways. The Rumsey website provides clear direction on copyright and use permission. Go to: DavidRumsey.com > Home Page > About > Copyright and Permissions.
The good news is that generally speaking, you are free to download and use the digitized maps for your own personal use.
The Best Way to View the Maps
There are several ways to view maps:
- The Luna Viewer: Browse and search 100,000+ maps
- The GeoReferencer: Help georeferenced maps, compare maps overlays
- MapRank Search: Browse & search 6000 maps by time & place
- Google Earth: 120 maps in the Layers panel, 140 can be added
- Google Maps: 120 maps included
- Second Life: View some in 3 dimensions and at a huge scale. Location: Rumsey Map Islands. Includes a welcome center with hundreds of maps, and a 600 meter tall map cylinder showing hundreds of maps.
- The Collections Ticker: Pop-out distraction!
- Insight Java Client: Downloadable workspace
Of this list, the best two tools to user are:
- The Luna Viewer: Browse and search 100,000+ maps
- MapRank Search: Browse & search 6000 maps by time & place
I will show you how to use each. Note that in these examples we will be using a computer to search the site rather than a mobile device or tablet.
The Luna Viewer: How to browse & search the maps
In the main menu under View Collection select the Luna Viewer. Under Luna Viewer click the Launch Luna Viewer button.
Tips for keyword searching:
- In most cases it helps to start with a fairly broad search to see the full range of available maps
- Be cautious with abbreviations. “MN” does not return “Minn” or “Minnestota”.
- Advance search provides you with the use of full Boolean operators like “and,” “or,” “greater than,” “contains,” and others.
- After a search, to return to the full collection, click on “show all” under the search button.
Let’s look at an example of using the keyword search in tandem with the Refine column. If you search for New York City, you will be searching all of the data associated with the maps. Since many maps may have been published in New York City, you will likely see many maps for other areas. You can improve this search by going to the Refine column and under Where clicking on New York City.
The Refine column will show you the first five options in each category (What, Where, Who, When). Click More to reveal all of the additional refining options in that category.
From the returned results, click a map to view it.
You can select multiple items in the Refine column to filter more narrowly. Remove a filter by clicking it under Remove at the top of the Refine column.
Like genealogical records, old maps may include several pages. Look above the blue BUY PRINT button to see the number of Related maps. In my example of a map of the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City, there were two map pages available. Click Related to display all of the available pages.
DavidRumsey.com Advanced Search
The Advanced Search feature can be found in two locations:
- Inside the search box – click your mouse in the box and select Advanced Search from the drop-down list
- At the bottom of the Refine column on the left side of the screen.
Advanced Search gives you more control over how you search. Let’s look at an example by searching for Sanborn fire insurance maps.
Searching for Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
The David Rumsey Map Collection website includes many Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. These maps were created for insurance purposes and provide an incredible amount of detail about individual buildings and dwellings in a given neighborhood.
I recommend using the Advanced Search feature to search for these maps. This is because over the years the name of the company as publisher changed.
How to Find Sanborn Maps:
- Click on Advanced Search at the bottom of the Refine column
- In the “find all of these words” section, click Fields and select Publisher
- Type in Sanborn
- On the results page, go to the Refine column and Who click More
- There are at least six variations of the Sanborn publishing name.
Old Map books and atlases often include valuable historical text often called historical sketches. You can find these using the Advanced search. Search for the exact phrase Historical Sketch. Run this search and then in the Refine column under Where select an area of interest.
How to Download Maps from DavidRumsey.com
- Click the map from the results list
- On the map’s dedicated page click the EXPORT button at the top of the page.
- Select the appropriate size from the drop-down list. (Larger maps may take a few moments to download)
- Typically the maps will download to the Downloads folder on your computer
Tips for Selecting Download (Export) Map Size:
Save space on your computer and future headaches by selecting the correct size map for your use. If you plan on using the map to create an overlay or create a nice large print, select the largest size possible ( I recommend at least Extra Large for creating map overlays in the Google Earth.) This will ensure that the map doesn’t appear fuzzy when you Zoom in. High-resolution is also recommended when printing. For example, if you plan on including the map in a book about your family’s history (for personal use, not for resale) a high-resolution map will print crisp and clear. Maps for use on the web or something like a PowerPoint presentation would be fine at lower resolutions.
MapRank Search at DavidRumsey.com
The MapRank Search “app” at the David Rumsey Map Collection website allows you to browse & search 6000 maps by two important criteria: Time & Place.
There are two ways to find the MapRank Search:
- In the main menu under View Collection click MapRank Search. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click the Launch MapRank Search
- Scroll to the bottom of the home page until you see Featured App – MapRank Search, and click the Launch MapRank Search
How to Find Maps Using MapRank Search:
- Start with entering the location name in the search box (in the upper right corner) and click the Find a Place
- The location will appear on the modern-day map. The old maps that match the location will appear in the column on the right, prioritized starting with the map that most closely matches what you searched.
- Below the modern-day map, move the time slider levers to narrow in on the desired time frame.
- Note that the old maps in the results column will change based on the specified time frame.
- Broaden the location if desired by zooming out a bit on the modern-day map. Note that the results list will change as you zoom.
- Hover your mouse over a map in the results list and notice that a reddish-brown box will appear the selected map and will also appear on the modern-day map. This indicates the area of the map that the old map covers. This will aid you in selecting the map that will suit your needs.
- Click a map from the results list and it will open in a new browser tab, although some maps will appear as an overlay on the modern-day map. In that case, click the Luna Viewer button to go to the page where the map can be downloaded.
How to Compare Modern-day Maps with Old Maps
Whether you have found the map by searching with the Luna Viewer or the MapRank Search you will eventually find yourself on the page where the single map is displayed. On the left is the source information.
In the upper right corner of the screen click the View in GeoReferencer button. You will be taken to a page where you can view the old map overlayed on the modern-day map. In the upper right corner move the slider to make the old map transparent so that you can compare between the two maps.
Recap: Comparing the Two Best Search Tools at DavidRumsey.com
– 100,000 maps
– Search, then refine
– Sometimes glitchy interface
– 6000+ maps
– More control with time slider & map
– Map results list ranked by closest coverage
Live Chat Q&A: Answers to Your Questions About David Rumsey Maps
One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.
From Megan: What is the difference between Google Earth and My Maps?
From Lisa: Google Earth is a free software download. This is where I create what I call family history tours. They are a collection of data points and media that come together as a research tool and storytelling tool. My Maps are created in Google Maps. I prefer creating in Google Earth because it offers more tools and options, and it’s where I keep all my mapping work.
From Gwynn: Heard in the past Java Client might have security holes has this been fixed?
From Lisa: Read more about the latest on Java Client at the website’s FAQ page.
From GeneBuds: Must set up account to use Luna Viewer?
From Lisa: No, you don’t have to have an account to use the Luna Viewer. “Registering for an account allows you to save your work and preferences, search external media, create Media Groups and Presentations, customize your settings, create annotations, and upload your own content.” As I mentioned in the video, I prefer to do all my work in Google Earth.
From Gwynn: Sanborn Fire Maps: Where do I find the Key to the symbols? Are they the same from year to year or do they change?
From Lisa: Here’s the main resource page for Sanborn maps at the Library of Congress. You will find specific information about interpreting the maps including Keys and Colors here.
From Karen: If you are specifically looking for plat maps for our US farmers would you put the word plat in the search field?
From Lisa: I would use the Advanced Search and enter the word plat in the “Find all these words” box. Click the plus sign to add an additional “Find all these words” field and type in the name of the location. If that doesn’t deliver the desired result, omit the location and just search on the word plant. Then, on the results page, go to the Refine column and under Where click More. Then you have a nice list to browse. You might spot a map that includes your location. TIP: When you find a result, be sure to check the Related number at the top of the page so that you didn’t miss any additional pages of the map.
From Mark: Lisa and Bill, is the intro music something that you all wrote?
From Lisa and Bill: No, it’s by a talented musician named Dan Lebowitz. Our goal this year was to learn to play it ourselves 🙂 We’re glad you love it as much as we do!
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Elevenses with Lisa Episode 35 Show Notes & Video
Original air date: 11/26/20
Viewer Voices: Genealogy Success Stories
When you’re faced with a genealogy brick wall hearing short stories of how others have kicked their research into high gear may be just what you need. In this episode I’m sharing how viewers from the Elevenses with Lisa family have put into practice what they’ve learned from the show. Click to watch the video and follow along with the notes below:
Thankful for Elevenses with Lisa Viewers
This episode aired on Thanksgiving Day 2020. And yes, even though it’s 2020, there’s a lot to be thankful for. I’m certainly thankful that you join me here each week. We’ve covered a lot of ground together in the last 34 hours or so. So, this special episode is all about you. I don’t get to hear your voices here on the show, But I do hear from you in many ways: Email, Voice mail, and even letters in the mail.
Voice Mail Line: (925) 272-4021
Mail: P.O. Box 531, Rhome, TX 76078
Let’s take a look back at some of the episodes and hear from you about how you’re using what we talk about here on the show.
Applying Google Lens
Elevenses with Lisa episode 27 was all about how Google Lens can be used in a variety of genealogical applications.
In that episode I gave the example of how I used Google Lens which is built into the free Google app on my iPhone to help identify an unusual item I had inherited from my great grandmother.
The ornate metal item which came in two separate pieces turned out to be a shelf accessory for an old cast iron stove.
Jennifer wrote in with some ideas about that shelf:
“What really had me smiling was the “plant shelf,” which turned out to be an accessory for a stove. I cannot be the first to think upon seeing it that there was a different punchline. I was waiting for you to say that it was some kind of a traveling toilet seat to carry to a strange outhouse. What a letdown!!!”
Karen in Oregon had another theory about the shelf:
“I just watched your Google Lens program and wanted to share with you that I might have a different take on the little “shelf” that you showed. As soon as my hubby and I saw it, we both thought that it was a “speakeasy”. That is a type of ornament that was on many a front door back in the day. The part that you have would have been the inside half.
It would have been attached to the front door, over a hole, and when someone came to the door, they would open the outside part and you would open the drop down part on your side and you could talk to one another. So, you would know if it was a friend, someone delivering a package, a Fuller Brushman, etc. These were very common. We actually owned a small Inn in Manzanita that was built about 1945 and had similar art deco type “speakeasy” on each outside door.”
I ran a Google Image search on speak easy metal (image right) and can certainly see the resemblance. However, the weight of the shelf plus the fact that it opens down rather than to the side (like a door speakeasy) leads me to believe it is indeed a shelf.
Mary French was one of many people who immediately put Google Lens to work:
She writes “I am a new (Genealogy Gems) Premium Member in the early process of organizing photos and researching my family history.
My parents were born and raised in North Dakota. I came across a photo of my mom at age 6 in front of a sculpture/fountain and used Google lens to discover that it was taken in front of the “Fountain of the Atom” in 1939 at the World’s Fair in New York. What a gem! Thank you for all of the great information.
Waylande Gregory was commissioned for the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair to produce The Fountain of the Atom. It was comprised of four elements: earth, air, fire, and water surrounded by eight electrons, four male and four female. He described the electrons as “elemental little savages of boundless electrical energy.”
Tip: Search YouTube
There are several interesting videos available on YouTube when you search for 1939 World’s Fair New York fountain. Results include old newsreels, home movies and promotional movies.
A room with a view:
Cristen Strubbe sent in this photo. She watches Elevenses with Lisa on her smart TV.
I think most smart TVs this day come with a YouTube app in the menu (on my TV I have to go to Input 3 to access it.) Then you can just search for Elevenses with Lisa. Better yet, Subscribe to the Genealogy Gems channel (click the red subscribe button at our channel) and make sure you’re signed into your YouTube account in the app. Then you can easily navigate to our channel in your Subscriptions.
Since I have an Apple iPhone, I find it also quick and easy to pull up YouTube videos in the YouTube app on my phone and Airplay them to my TV.
You can see a framed piece of art above Cristen’s lovely river rock fireplace mantel. Cristen writes: “The artwork is a beautiful charcoal owned by my mother-in-law, Jane Strubbe, who was with the Ladies Art Auxiliary of Stanford University. She was very Art knowledgeable and intimidating as heck! She left it to me and I just love it.”
Cristen wondered if that beautiful cathedral was a real location. So, while she was watching episode 27 on Google Lens she grabbed her phone, opened the Google App, tapped the Google Lens icon in the search bar and captured it with her camera. Google Lens knew exactly what it was!
Cristen writes “After having google lens tell me this is the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral I continued snapping photos with google lens.
Next was my grandmother cookie jar, which I knew was Staffordshire but didn’t know it was so sought after (not a chance I am parting with it though).”
The jar is adorable. I don’t blame her for now wanting to part with it!
Learn more about using Google Lens for family history at the Episode 27 show notes where you can watch the video and read the step-by-step article.
How to find Elevenses with Lisa show notes on your phone:
- Go to https://lisalouisecooke.com
- In the blue menu at the top tap the three horizontal lines MENU icon
- Tap Elevenses
- Scroll down and tap the desired episode
- You will then be on the show notes page for the episode where you can also watch a replay of the video.
Surprising Things Viewers Have Been Finding in Google Books
Elevenses with Lisa episode 30 was called 10 Surprising Things You Can Find with Google Books.
Margaret Ma got busy after that episode and found some surprising things too! She writes, “I have really been enjoying Elevenses. The recent Google Books episode just came in very handy.
My grandmother (Frances Summers), long deceased, took a European “Grand Tour” in the summer of 1926 when she was a young, fun single woman of 25. I had a couple dozen photos of the trip in her old photo album, pretty well documented, but she never talked to me about the trip at all.
Just recently in the bottom of an old memorabilia box, I found a manila folder with 20 single spaced typewritten pages by Grandma where she wrote stories about the entire trip! OMG, Genealogy Gold!
The stories are so entertaining that I am currently working on typesetting the text and photos into a hardcover book to give to family this Christmas.
I have been trying to add supporting details to Grandma’s trip and stories and I turned to Google Books. She had saved a souvenir passenger list of her tour, so I knew the tour company’s name was Gates Tours. I put it into Google Books and got hits on print ads in a couple magazines. But of course, Google is all about ads to sell you stuff so up also popped an ad for a 1925 Gates Tours to Europe informational brochure for sale on eBay. One year off but close enough! I bought it and it is spectacular.
I confirmed that the Tour itinerary I had first reconstructed from passport stamps and her text was mostly correct. The Gates Tours brochure is full of quirky 1925 turns of phrase like “Comfort Without Extravagance” that I plan to use here and there in the book. But what caught my eye the most was the description of why an American should visit Europe. The 1925 text is very Eurocentric, as it was at the time, but the sentiments could apply equally to Asia, Africa, Scandinavia, etc. I just thought it expressed really well why we have connections with our ancestral homelands, and by extension why we seek the genealogy of our ancestors.” (Watch the video at the 20:54 mark in the episode 35 video.)
I couldn’t agree more. I thought it would be fun to take a video tour pulling together the brochure text with the actual photos from Margaret’s Grandma’s real-life experience. I created the video using a software program called Camtasia. You can learn more about it here (and using our link helps compensate and support this free show at no additional cost to you. Thank you!) If you’re looking for a quick and free way to make a similar video, watch Elevenses with Lisa episode 16 called How to Make a Video with Adobe Spark.
Making Family History Videos with Adobe Spark
And that brings us to Episode 16 on How to Make a Video with Adobe Spark. After watching that episode, Karen Harrison got to work creating a short video paying tribute to her family’s visit back in 1989 to their “old country”, Norway. This will inspire all of us to keep on reaching out and making connections in preparation for our next trip. (29:01 mark in this episode 35 video)
I love how she intermixed photos, home movies and text titles. If you asked your kids ‘do you want to sit down and look through all our old scrap books, or would you like to watch this 2-minute video?’ I think I know what they’d say: video! And that’ why videos is wonderful for telling family history stories.
A Family Bible Adds Hundreds of Names to the Family Tree
After watching Elevenses with Lisa episode 29 on finding and using family bibles for genealogy, Sue Gregg wrote in to share her family Bible story. She writes, “Many years ago, I was postmaster in a small town where I knew pretty much everyone and everyone knew me and that I was ‘into’ family history with some of the families that had lived in the area.
There was a public sale held one day at a very old farm just up the road from my post office and the next day a neighbor came into my office and showed me a very old Bible she got at the sale.
She said it had ‘family info’ in it and thought maybe I could recognize some of the names in the Bible.
There were 6 pages of info, 2 births, 2 marriages and 2 deaths. Nothing looked familiar until I saw on the death page a name and a date that I knew from other research.
My main research was for the Gregg family and this was a James Gregg, died in 1864 from Civil War injuries and here it was recorded in this Bible.
I looked a little harder at names and dates and discovered that the bible had belonged to Susan Gregg Bryson born 1824. This date matched what I have been told by my family connections, except that I was told her married name was Murray, not Bryson.
Turns out she married the Murray after her Bryson husband died at Andersonville prison in 1864 (also recorded in the Bible).
So, in the Bible was all this information about the very family I had been searching for 30 years. I was able to add 400+ people to my records which I had suspected were connected but had no proof and here it was!
I was able to copy the pages of the Bible, but the woman would not sell it to me. She wanted it because she was moving a log cabin that was located across the street from my post office because the date of the log cabin was about the same as the Bible, 1860’s and she planned to place the Bible in the log cabin after its move to a new town as a decoration!
When Genealogy Opportunity Knocks
Longtime friend of the show Dana Van Wormer Schreder watches show the show wherever she is. In fact, during the summer she sent me this photo of her watching while she was camping!
Recently Dana called in on the voice mail line and shared a very special road trip. On that adventure, she learned a very valuable lesson from her supportive husband and in the process found genealogy gems.
Using her voice mail and a few photos she sent in I created a little video to tell her story. (39:42 mark in the episode 35 video.)
Family History Wall Display Inspires this Viewer
Many times over the last 35 episodes I’ve shared not only my family history wall displays but yours as well. I thought we’d wrap this episode with another wonderful display, this time from Pamela Fane in Canada.
Pamela writes, “On our office wall I have displayed photos from my father’s English & Welch roots, my mother’s Scottish and Irish roots and my husband’s Russian and Prussian roots.
To earn a place on the wall the photo must be antique, and I must know the names of the people in the photos. As you can see I have room for more applicants.”
I love how the display not only celebrates her family and her own accomplishments in finding them, but it serves as inspiration to find more!
She also has a nifty idea for ensuring that future generations don’t have to work as hard to determine who’s who. She says, “I have labelled every photo on the back and included what I know about each person and family in an envelope attached to the back of each photo frame.”
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