Atlas of Historical County Boundaries is Full-Service Again

The Newberry Library’s online Atlas of Historical County Boundaries is finally fully updated and interactive! Read the good news here–and my preference for using the powerful geographic data that drives the Atlas.

The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries at The Newberry Library’s website has been undergoing upgrades for quite some time. Genealogists who rely on this fantastic online resource to research  old county boundaries in the U.S. have been able to access the basic data that drives the map (dates and geographic boundary changes). But they haven’t been able to use the popular interactive map. Great news: the Atlas is finally fully interactive again.

Changing Boundaries Reflected in the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries

Understanding changes in county boundaries over time is key to doing genealogy research in the United States. Boundaries have changed repeatedly–and some dramatically. County governments typically keep important genealogical sources: vital records, court records, land records and more. We need to know which county would have housed our ancestors’ records during specific time periods so we can find the records we want.

What’s New at the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries

According to the Newberry Library’s press release, users can now:

  • view a base layer map that allows an overlay of boundaries on top of cities, towns and other geographic features;
  • zoom in and out of maps and expand the view to full screen;
  • select a date of interest from a drop-down box with all border change dates for that state; and
  • view information about border changes in a hover box that changes as users hover over different counties.

Here’s what the new interface looks like:

Google Earth Pro vs. the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries

It’s great to see improved functionality on the Atlas site. But after reviewing the update, I still think the experience of using data from the site is superior in the free Google Earth Pro (GEP) program. To use the entire data set in Google Earth Pro, simply download the KMZ data file onto your computer,and when you click to open the file, your computer will detect the KMZ format and know to automatically open Google Earth Pro (as long as you already have GEP installed on your computer.)

download files at Atlas of Historical County Boundaries

Using the file in GEP allows you to use the data in conjunction with the rest of your genealogical information (such as placemarks indiciating places lived & schools attended, historic  map overlays, embedded old family photos and home movies, etc.). This provides a more integrated genealogical research experience. Learn more by clicking here to watch a free video I’ve made about using Google Earth for genealogy.

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Premium Podcast Episode 166

 Premium Episode 166Highlights from this episode include:Listener’s share their research experiences3 Top Tips for Handling Unforseen DNA ConnectionsBeginning Swedish ResearchAtlas of Historical Geography of the United States: Book Meets TechA brief History of... Read more

The Bombing of London in WWII: Check Out this Interactive Map of The Blitz

An interactive map lets you explore The Blitz: the intensive Bombing of London by the Germans in 1940-1941.

bombing of London the blitz 4

View from St. Paul’s cathedral after the Blitz. Wikimedia Commons image; click to view.

We see the images often in WWII-era movies. Londoners hunched in tube station tunnels during air raids. Children evacuating the city by the thousand. The Blitz was a period of intensive bombing of London by the Germans that began in September 1940 and continued through the following June. Now we can explore exactly where and when all those bombs fell at a new interactive website, Bomb Sight.

bomb sight screen capture“With Bomb Sight you can discover what it was like in London, during WW2 Luftwaffe Blitz bombing raids, exploring maps, images and memories,” explains the site. “The Bomb Sight web map and mobile app reveal WW2 bomb census maps between 7/10/1940 and 06/06/1941, previously available only by viewing them in the Reading Room of The National Archives.”

As you can see from this screenshot, the site is map-based. All those red dots you see are bombings. (Can you imagine bombs falling that thickly in your own neighborhood?) Different icons reveal the type of bomb. Click on them to learn more about that event. You can even view historical images of that neighborhood and read stories and memories relating to that area. You can ask to map to show you only the first night of the blitz, a weekly look or an aggregate (all-inclusive) view, like the one shown here.

Though you can search visually, you can also enter a street or postcode to look at a specific area. Zoom in or out; explore different map layers for different types of information.

These maps were created from 559 map sheet originals that were declassified in 1971 but are very fragile today. So this site represents a fantastic new free resource that hasn’t been widely accessible to the public. It’s stunning to look closely at a neighborhood and see how densely the bombs fell. It’s also stunning to pan out to the widest view and see SO many dots. So many bombs. So much destruction.

Immerse Yourself in The Blitz: Everyone Brave is Forgiven

Everyone Brave is Forgiven cover image

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by British novelist Chris Cleave  is a story about love and war during some of the longest sustained bombing campaigns of World War II. It immerses readers in the harrowing experiences of The Blitz, as civilians frantically piled their children onto trains headed for rural parts unknown, then spent the next several months running for underground shelters whenever the bombs came. You’ll read about children who gradually snuck back into the city, only to find themselves homeless and orphaned. You’ll careen along with female ambulance drivers who dodged explosions and ruins during air raids as they raced toward smoking ruins. But amidst all this devastation are stories of love, romantic and otherwise, and stories of bravery, amidst moments of fear and panic. This Genealogy Gems Book Club pick was an instant New York Times best-seller, and for good reason! Click here to pick up your e-book or print copy.

More Great Map Resources

Was This My Ancestor’s Neighborhood? Using Google Earth for Genealogy

Best Websites for Finding Historical Maps video (available to Premium website members)

5 Ways to Enhance Your Genealogy Research with Old Maps (available to Premium website members). Below you can watch a free clip from this video on using Sanborn fire insurance maps (and yes, there are fire insurance maps for London: they date to 1792).

Genealogy Gems Premium MembershipAbout Genealogy Gems Premium Website Membership
The video class you just caught a peek of is one of the perks of Genealogy Gems Premium membership. For one low annual fee, members can watch more than 2 dozen Premium member-only videos on genealogy research strategies, organization, technology tools (like Google, Google Earth, Evernote, Dropbox and cloud computing) and more. And we keep adding new videos regularly! Premium website members also have access to our monthly Premium podcast and all archived episodes. Click here to learn more!

thank you for sharingThanks for sharing this post with others who will want to learn more about the bombing of London during World War II. Just email the URL or post this article on your favorite social media channel.

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Premium Podcast Episode 136

Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast
Episode 136
with Lisa Louise Cooke
Download the show notes

Highlights from this episode include:

  • A comparison of Google searching v. Google Scholar for genealogy–and then another comparison of Google Scholar and PERSI, the Periodical Source Citation Index;
  • An excerpt from the Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with author Helen Simonson on The Summer Before the War and a quick hypothetical look at how we might research ancestors who lived in the same time and place as the book is set;
  • A great online tool for mapping ancestral properties and suggestions for solving those computer error problems we all hate;
  • Insights and stories from Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard on gathering family health information as part of your overall family DNA picture;
  • The new David Rumsey Map Center at Stanford University in California.

In the News: Rumsey Map Center

David Rumsey Historical Map Collection (website)

David Rumsey Map Center at Stanford University

National article on the new Center, with stunning images

More gems on David Rumsey’s map collection:

New Pictorial Maps in David Rumsey Map Collection 

10 Maps for Family History at the David Rumsey Map Collection

Souvenir Map for Early Airline Passengers in David Rumsey Collection

Action-Packed WWII Maps Helped Homefront Families Follow the War

Premium reminder: Premium Members also have access to Lisa Louise Cooke’s video classes on using old maps for genealogy: 5 Ways to Enhance Your Genealogy Research with Old Maps and Best Websites for Finding Historical Maps.

Record Spotlight: WWI Records at

Royal Sussex Regiment recordsHow to Find Your Family History in Newspapers

Lancing College Register

Chailey, Sussex in WWI website

British Newspaper Collection on (get the ultimate education on researching in old newspapers with How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers by Lisa Louise Cooke)

New Premium Video:
Exclusively for Genealogy Gems Premium website members
Getting Started in Genetic Genealogy

Tech Tip with Lisa click here for step-by-step, illustrated instructions on how to use it

Mailbox: Google Chrome Errordownload backblaze

Q: “Where can I get help on my Google Chrome error?” (or other computer problems)

A: Search for answers to computer problems on Google.

For the problem she described, I recommended search terms like Google “Chrome” “404 page error” PC Windows 10. 

For a different problem, use search terms such as:

  • The web browser;
  • the error;
  • the computer you use;
  • the operating system your computer uses.

Put the words and phrases that are the most important in quotation marks, as shown above. That way, Google will only return web page results that include the word Chrome and the phrase 404 page error. However, don’t put any words or phrases in quotation marks unless you know for sure that is the correct description.

You will likely see web page results that come from a Help Desk type message forum where people can get help with computer problems. And that’s where the answers will be posted.

Genealogy Gems Book Club Interview: Helen Simonson on The Summer Before the War

genealogy book club Helen Simonson Summer before the war Major PettigrewThe Summer Before the War Helen Simonson coverHelen talks about writing The Summer Before the War, the much acclaimed follow-up to her internationally best-selling first novel, Major Pettigrew’s First Stand. You’ll hear about the characters we loved and how she researched the time and place: East Sussex at the outset of World War I.

This interview and book recommendation is just one in an ongoing series! For more great book titles and interviews, see the Genealogy Gems Book Club webpage.

GEM: Google Scholar v. Google

Google Scholar

Genealogists Google Toolbox 2nd edition coverLisa’s complete Google search methodology is laid out in The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, 2nd edition, totally revised and updated in 2015. There is an entire chapter on Google Scholar.

Why search Google Scholar in addition to your regular Google searches?

  1. Google Scholar targets results from academic publishers, universities, professional societies and more, rather than every site out there that has an opinion on the subject.
  2. Within its stricter parameters, Google Scholar actually digs deeper than a regular Google search. This is because Google can often only search the title and abstract (or summary) of academic journal articles. The full text is often hidden behind subscription walls. Google Scholar searches full-text even for articles that aren’t available to the public, because of an agreement they have with journal publishers. (Here’s a blog post about the relationship between Google Scholar and ProQuest scholarly journals.)
  3. Scholarly articles are known for accuracy, for narrowing in on very specific topics AND for citing their sources. Here’s a blog post about a letter I received from someone who studied the footnotes of a thesis she found that mentioned her ancestor. She found more sources that were just what she needed!
  4. Google Scholar will also show you related articles and what other publications they’ve found that cite this article, which can lead you to more coverage of the same topic.
  5. You can limit your searches to articles (which can include patents if you wish) OR to case law, which means previous court opinions. If you choose case law, you can then select among several different courts: federal courts or various courts within states.
  6. On Google Scholar, the Advanced Search is right there when you click the down arrow on the main Google Scholar search box, and it’s also under the More menu at the top of the page. Advanced searches make your keyword searches easier, especially if you’re not an advanced Googler.
  7. You can save search results in your own custom Library, from which you can do full-text searches.
  8. Google Scholar Alerts are available to set up right there on the home page. These are separate from Google Alerts. Set up Google Scholar Alerts with your favorite search term combinations to keep informed about new research that comes on the radar of Google Scholar.
  9. Something new to watch: Now when you run a search or query, the results page may also include related search suggestions. This is so new that I think it’s not quite useful yet to me. It doesn’t seem that responsive to historical subjects, and the query suggestions are supposed to appear at the end of search results, which isn’t helpful if you have a long list of results, so I look forward to seeing how that develops.

Google Scholar doesn’t provide free access to full-text of all articles. Tips for accessing them include:

  • Run a regular Google search: sometime the author or institution posts a PDF or text copy on their websites. such as on the author’s website.
  • Take the article citation to your favorite reference librarian, who will probably be able to help you get a copy. (Or search yourself for them in your library’s various database subscription services.)
  • Go into your Settings under the More menu on the Google Scholar home page. Click Library links. There’s a default setting checked that will open WorldCat to see what libraries near you have the title you’re looking for. You can also add up to five research libraries you may have access to, like a nearby buy herpes medication online australia university library. According to one university library, “this will then search the library’s resources for full text access and return a screen that shows you what databases have access to this article or if the library has a copy in print.  If we don’t own the article, there will be a link to Interlibrary Loan so that you can request that article free of charge.”

What about Google Scholar v. PERSI?

Why use PERSI? Listen in the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #135.

Just like Google Scholar zooms in on academic content, PERSI zooms in on genealogical and historical content. Here are unique advantages of each:

Google Scholar:

  • Includes sources that PERSI doesn’t, such as dissertations and theses.
  • Searches full-text, while PERSI is only a subject index.
  • Automatically shows you what other publications have cited this article in their bibliographies.
  • Saves your favorite search results.
  • Will run automated searches for you through Google Scholar Alerts.


  • An exclusive focus on genealogical and historical content! Includes a lot of the smaller historical and genealogical society publications that aren’t in Google Scholar, especially older and defunct and obscure ones.

DNA GEM with Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard: DNA and Your Health

My sister and I both live in different states than my parents. While we talk regularly and have a good relationship, we have recently realized that in order to find out important things about my parents’ health, we have to ask as they aren’t always going to volunteer this information. To my mom’s credit, this past fall, after talking with her for about a half hour about kids and schedules and yard work, as we were about to hang up she added, almost in passing, “Oh, by the way, they found another spot on my back, I am going to have it removed next week.” This is the third melanoma spot she has had removed in the past 5 years.

It isn’t that my parents are hiding this from us, but they don’t want us to worry unnecessarily. I also think that it is part of our natures, to downplay our health, especially to those we love. We are always “Just fine” and we “Don’t need anything.” But as I have delved more and more into the shared space between genetic genealogy and genetic testing for medical purposes, one thing is very clear: it all comes back to family history.

See, as science advances and we find out more and more about the specific genetic code that is responsible for various nefarious outcomes in our health, we learn that there is so much more in play than just our genetics.

For example, I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a family who has been plagued with sudden deaths, ten in fact in recent generations. Without warning, their hearts were stopping and no one knew why. That is until Daniel Wiggins died suddenly at the age of 29 and his family sought out a molecular autopsy. Becoming more accessible to researchers as the cost of running these tests drop, molecular autopsies allow a scientific team to analyze the DNA of the deceased, looking for genetic clues to the cause of death. In this case, the genetic sleuthing was able to turn up the perpetrator: a mutation that alters the electrical signals in the heart, causing it to stop. [Read more about this here.]

While this case was clear-cut and the gene was acting seemingly alone without an accomplice, researches of this disorder say that only happens in 20% of cases. Which means that this devious genetic criminal has other methods that we still haven’t tracked.

But for Daniel’s family this means they can pursue genetic testing to determine if this specific culprit is lurking in their own genes, and if found, they can take precautionary measures, like having a defibrillator installed to react should the perpetrator choose to strike.

Similarly, a family from Pennsylvania used their family reunion as a format for gathering family history and genetic information in order to arm its members with an action plan against a plague of cancer that is sweeping through their family. [See an article on this family here.]

Several members of the Shaffer-Peterson family have discovered that a genetic test can alert them to possible pancreatic or skin cancer. Again, a gene affecting a very small number of melanoma patients was identified as the perpetrator of the Shaffer-Peterson family and has been given a 67% crime rate. Meaning that the chance of developing cancer if you have this particular gene is elevated by 67%.

Thankfully, melanoma is a particularly curable kind of cancer when caught early.

For both the Shaffer-Petersons and the family of Daniel Wiggins, these kinds of genetic tests produce actionable results to those testing positive. There is something they can do to positively impact their health once they are aware of the presence or absence of these genes in themselves.

But of course for most people, these kinds of tests are not available.

Not yet.

And for those that are, there are hundreds of questions surrounding these kinds of genetic tests and the implications for both health and legal issues in our family. But the one common thread in all of this, again, is family history.

We need to know not only the dates and places of our ancestor’s lives and deaths, but also the stories behind them. Whenever possible we need to track our health history, so we can identify any trends that our DNA might be trying to tell us, and therefore be a bit more prepared for the future.

If you want to start tracking your own health history there are plenty of free online tools to get you started.

Take a look at this article from the Wall Street Journal. It has some great ideas for tracking your family health history.

While my mom’s melanoma is less likely to be the result of a genetic crime, and is more likely linked to the fact that as a teenager she spent hours lifeguarding at the local pool with her skin lathered in baby oil, the simple fact that she had melanoma was the sole reason I went to the dermatologist last year to have my own skin examined.  The fairly blunt physician told me it wasn’t cancer, I was just getting old. But still, I am glad I went, and I feel like knowing my health history has made me a little more aware of my own health and the measures I can take to improve it.

Diahan offers Genealogy Gems fans a discount on access to her series of videos on understanding DNA testing for genealogy. Click here to learn more.

PROFILE AMERICA: A Child Prodigy Gets a Patent

Robert Patch interview, 50 years after patent

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10 Maps for Family History at David Rumsey Map Collection

Imperial Airways Map of Empire & European Air by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, 1937. Online at Click on the image to see full citation information. Maps for family history.

Imperial Airways Map of Empire & European Air by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, 1937. Online at Click on the image to see full citation information.

Among more than 15,000 maps and images newly posted at the David Rumsey Map Collection, these caught my eye as particularly useful for family history. Do any of them look relevant to YOUR genealogy?

1. A massive group of German Invasion plans for England, Wales, and Ireland in WWII;

2. A 1682 map of the areas around Mexico City;

3, Two important early atlases of Swiss Topography;

4. An 1886 Imperial Federation Map of the British Empire;

5. A 1912 wall map of rebuilt San Francisco, The Exposition City;

6. An extraordinary mining map of West Kootenay, [British Columbia], 1893;

7. Harry Beck’s groundbreaking London Underground map 1933;

A 1937 Imperial Airways Map showing air travel routes internationally.

Historic_Maps_Video maps for family historyGenealogy Gems Premium members can learn more about using maps for family history in our full-length video class, 5 Ways to Enhance  Your Genealogy Research with Old Maps. Here’s an excerpt from the video below about finding and using old Sanborn Fire Maps:

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