The Best Way to Find Old Maps for Genealogy at the David Rumsey Website

Old maps are vitally important for genealogy because the characteristics of a location can change in many ways over time. Historic maps help us understand the world as it was at the time our ancestors lived. 

Here is a short list of just a few of the things that may have changed:

  • Street addresses
  • roads 
  • town names
  • county boundaries
  • waterways that may have been filled in or opened up
  • railway lines 

In fact, the country itself where they lived may be a completely different country. For example, my German ancestors lived in Prussia in the 19th century. Today, that area is part of Poland. Therefore, all of the village names have been changed to Polish names. 

The David Rumsey Map Collection is an excellent place to go to find maps of your ancestors homeland for free.

Best way to find old maps at David Rumsey

Watch the Map Search Video

I’m going to explain the 7 steps to finding the maps you need for your genealogy research at this wonderful website! I highly recommend that you watch the short video below to see it in action as you read. The player will stay with you as you scroll down the page. 

Step 1: Go to the David Rumsey Map Collection Website

The first thing you need to do is go to the David Rumsey website here. You’ll be greeted on the home page with glorious historic maps. (Stay focused because it’s easy to get distracted by all the fascinating maps!)

Old maps for genealogy at David Rumsey website

Scroll down on the David Rumsey website home page.

Step 2: Scroll Down to the Bottom of the David Rumsey Home Page

While you can search for a place name in the search box at the top of the page, there’s a better way to search. Scroll down the page until you get to Featured App: MapRank Search (it’s almost at the bottom.)

Step 3: Launch Map Rank Search

The Featured App – MapRank Search is the best place to search the website, but it’s easy to miss because it’s not at the top. So go ahead and click the Launch MapRank button in the upper corner of this section. 

launch map rank search at David Rumsey website

In the Featured App: MaprRank Search section click the Launch MapRank button

When you click the button it will open a new tab in your web browser which will take you to the Geographical Searching with MapRank Search page.

Quick Tip: The Fastest Way to MapRank Search

You can get there faster by going directly to https://rumsey.mapranksearch.com. I didn’t take you straight there from the beginning because I think it’s important to be aware of the home page and everything else it offers. However, today our focus is conducting the optimal search for old maps for you family history. 

Step 4 Selecting the Map Time Frame

Here’s what the search page looks like. 

David Rumsey MapRank Search Page

The DavidRumsey.com search page

There are two very important features on this app page that will help you get the best results possible: the time slider and the location search box.

The time slider is located beneath the map:

Timeslider for map search

Time Slider for searching maps by time frame

It’s important to first select the time frame that you are searching because that will dictate the results you get when you search on the location name. (We’ll get to that in just a moment.) 

There is a slider on each end of the timeline. Slide them to specify the desired time frame. In my example below, I’m looking for maps between 1800 and 1900. 

time slider for map search

Searching for maps between 1800 and 1900

As you move the sliders, you’ll notice that the maps in the right hand column will change. This is because only maps that fall within the range you select will be offered in the Instant Search Results column. But before we look at those, we need to type in a location in the next step.

Step 5: Selecting the Location

With your time frame selected, now you’re ready to type the location in the search box.

As you type, the app will make suggestions. But wait! Before you click the Find a Place button to run the search, look carefully at the list of suggested locations that may appear. Many locations names can be found in different areas. That is certainly the case with the name of the tiny village where my great grandfather was born: Kotten.

searching a location for maps

Type the location name to search the maps

In fact, the list doesn’t even include the Kotten I am looking for.

In cases like this, it is best to search a little more broadly. When Kotten was part of Prussia, it was located in Kreis Johannisburg so I could try searching for that. Even better might be to search for the largest city in the area since Kotten was such a tiny village. Arys was the largest city in the area. 

Once you type in the name (and select from the suggestions if needed) click the Find a Place button just to the right of the search box. 

Step 6: Analyze the Map Results

In my example of searching for the city of Arys (which is the name it was known by in the 19th century when it was part of East Prussia) the modern-day map displayed is actually Poland.

Poland map

My search resulted in a map showing Orzysz, Poland

However, the David Rumsey website does a good job of cross-referencing the older German names (Arys) with the new Polish names (Orzysz). This is another reason why searching for a larger city works well. Larger cities are more likely to be in the David Rumsey system for cross-referencing, and of course they are easier to spot on the map. Generally speaking, the location you searched will be in the center of the display map. 

Quick Tip: Verifying Location Names

Another quick way to cross-reference location names (or verify your findings in David Rumsey) is by searching for the name in Google Earth. In the example below, I typed in the Prussian city of Arys. Google Earth will offer options if more than one matching result exists.

I was a bit surprised to see “Arys” as one of the three listed results since it is not called that today. When I clicked Arys it took me to the city of Arys in the Turkistan Region of Kazakhstan, far away from Poland! Clicking Orzysz in the results list took me to the area of Poland that was once East Prussia. This confirms the results I received at the David Rumsey website. 

Finding a map location in Google Earth

Learn more about using Google Earth for Genealogy by watching my free class here

Now it’s time to review the map results listed in the Instant Search Results column on the right. Isn’t it fantastic that David Rumsey’s website not only presented me with the correct Polish location, but also maps published between 1800 and 1900 that include Arys? I think so! 

Finding the city on the David Rumsey map

Map results appear in the column on the right side of the page.

Click the map you think best suits your needs. The map will open in in a new tab in your web browser. (These browsers tabs provide a nice bread crumb trail for your searching activities.) 

All of the source information about the historic map that you chose will appear in the column on the left. (See the image in Step 7.) If you decide to use this map you’ll definitely want to accurately cite the source. Learn more about the importance of source citations here.

Step 7: Export the Map

I was delighted to find the village of Kotten on this map of Arys published by Reichsamt fur Landesaufnahme in 1893!

When you find a map that you would like to use for your family history research, export it to your computer. To do this, click Export in the upper right corner of the map and select the desired size. You can select a size ranging from Small Thumbnail to Extra Extra Large. Keep in mind that the larger the size, the more clarity you will have as you zoom in closer and closer. This is very important if you plan on using the map in an overlay in Google Earth. You can learn how to create your own map overlays in my video tutorial series on using Google Earth for genealogy available here, and in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.

how to export an old map

Click “Export” to save the map to your computer.

Be patient while downloading to your computer because it can take several moments to export a large map. The saved file will probably be zipped. To unzip it, on a PC right-click and select Extract All from the pop-up menu. This creates an open version of the folder containing the map. 

Get Started Finding Your Ancestral Locations in Old Maps

With this step-by-step process you are now ready to explore any given ancestor’s world through the rich details of historic maps. I can’t wait to hear what you discover! Please be sure to leave a comment below. And if you found this tutorial helpful, will you please share it with your friends on social media so we can help even more people find the homes of their ancestors? Thank you!

How to Navigate the FamilySearch Wiki (and find what you need!)

Show Notes: The FamilySearch Wiki is like an encyclopedia of genealogy! It’s an invaluable free tool that every genealogist needs. However, many folks get frustrated when they try to search the Wiki. In this week’s video premiere I’m going to help you navigate with ease.

how to navigate the FamilySearch Wiki

Video and Show Notes below

You’ll learn: 

  • what the Wiki has to offer,
  • how to access the FamilySearch Wiki
  • how to navigate the FamilySearch Wiki effectively
  • and how to overcome the number #1 reason people get frustrated when searching the Wiki!

Watch the Video 

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout  (Premium Membership required)

How to Access the FamilySearch Wiki

(00:42) There are two ways to access the FamilySearch Wiki. The first is to visit the website direction at https://www.familysearch.org/wiki. This will take you to the home page of the Wiki. Although you can sign into your free FamilySearch account on this page (in the upper right corner) it isn’t necessary in order to use it.

The second way to access the Wiki is to go to the FamilySearch website. You will need to log into your FamilySearch account or sign up for a free account if you don’t already have one. Once you’re signed in, then in the menu under Search click Research Wiki. This will take you to the same FamilySearch Wiki home page. However, you will see that you are signed in and able to use some of the additional features like participating in discussions, posting and creating watchlists.  

FamilySearch Wiki known as Research Wiki

On the FamilySearch website: Search > Research Wiki

Searching the Wiki by Location

(01:21) On the home page, what you see a map of the world. This is a great way to search the Wiki because in genealogy, it’s really all about location. We need to know where geographically we want to search for ancestors, and from there we can narrow down the timeframe. Typically, you’ll have a sense of at least in which country you need to be researching. So, the map is typically the best way to start.

familysearch wiki

The FamilySearch Wiki Home Page

You’ll notice also on the home page, there is a search by place or topic search field. You could bypass using the map, and just start by typing in a place. If you do, you’ll notice that it starts to prompt you on the kinds of things that are commonly searched for. This could be kind of nice if you are really focused on a particular thing such as Italian census records. You can just start typing Italy and see if census is one of the prompts. If it is, simply click it and it will take you right there.

However, generally speaking, the map is the best way to search for records and information that is rooted in a location. Start by clicking the button for the continent, such as North America. Notice that if you go to click on the map itself, it isn’t an interactive map. You’ll need to actually click the button.

From there, select the county from the menu, such as United States, then drill down by state. This will take you to the Wiki entry for that state.

You’ll notice that the FamilySearch Wiki is a lot like Wikipedia. It’s like an encyclopedia of information. But the exciting part is that it’s genealogy specifically! This means you don’t usually have to worry about including the word genealogy in your searches. 

Location-based FamilySearch Wiki Pages

Oftentimes, our research ends up taking us to a new location where the next set of great grandparents came from. If we’re not familiar with that location, let alone familiar with what’s available from a genealogical standpoint, that can pose a real challenge. You might be asking questions like when did they start recording birth records? Or did that state conduct a state census? Every state, every country, and every county has different types of records available.

Start your orientation over on the right-hand side of the wiki page. There you’ll typically find an overview box.

(04:15) This is a great place to quickly see what’s available here, and what you could dig into further. If you’re really new to research in this particular area, you might want to start with the guided research link. You may also see links to research strategies, and a record finder.

In the next section of the box you’ll find record types. This is going to be different depending on the area that you’re researching. For example, if they don’t happen to have any military records available you might not see that listed under record types. You should expect to see the most commonly used records included in the list. Click the link to the page for more information on that type of record. It will provide more details on record availability, and where you access the records.

Further down the box you’ll find links to background information on the area. It’s really easy to skim over this in excitement over records. But if you don’t want to get stuck at a brick wall, getting to know the place that you’re researching can make all the difference. Learning the background of an area can help you prepare the right questions to ask. It can help prevent you from looking for something that doesn’t exist or that wasn’t applicable to that area. You may find links to more reading, gazetteers and maps, migration patterns, periodicals, and the law. Understanding the law is going to help you understand why records were created, and who they affected. For example, if your ancestor was under 18 there might be certain records that don’t apply to them. Understanding the parameters of who was affected by the law will help guide you through the records themselves.

Next you’ll see cultural groups that you might expect to find in this area, and links to more specific information about researching them.

Under Resources you’ll find links to archives, libraries, societies, and the family history centers that are available in this particular area.

At the top of the main part of the page you’ll find the Getting Started section. Here you’ll find links to beginning step-by-step research strategies and some of the most popular records for that location such as vital records.

(08:35) You might be wondering who is putting this information together. Well, it starts with experts at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. These are people who have worked the reference desks and found answers to thousands of patron questions.

Locating and Using the County Wiki Page

(09:22) Back on the state landing page scroll down further to the map of counties. Navigating by location is still important, even when we’ve narrowed it down to the state. Unlike the map on the homepage, you can hover your mouse over each county and click.

Find county page at FamilySearch Wiki

County map on the state wiki page

The county pages are where the real magic happens because many records such as birth, marriage, death, and court records are typically available at the county level. Here you’ll find out how to contact or visit the current county courthouse.

One of the most common questions new genealogists ask is “should I be looking at the county where the town is located today, or the county that it was when my ancestors lived there?” Counties certainly do change over time. The answer to the question is that we go to the county at the time that are ancestors lived in the area. In fact, the Wiki page provides the history, or genealogy, of the county. Look for Boundary Changes on the page.

Because these pages are often quite long and dense, use your computer’s Find on Page feature by pressing Control + F (PC) or Command + F (mac) on your keyboard. This gives you a nice little search box at the top of the page. Type in a keyword like Boundary and it will highlight all the locations on the page where the term appears. This is a great way to make quick use of the Wiki. This is also a good trick to use when you don’t see the record type or keyword that you’re looking for in the page’s table of contents. It may be called something else there, but if you search the page for your keyword, it should find it for you. An example of this is that you may not see Birth Records in the TOC because they list Vital Records. However, in the Vital Records section further down the page they definitely mention birth records.

Finding the Dates that Records Began

(14:45) Here’s another reason the wiki is so helpful, and it makes things go so quickly. Remember, we talked about that location is key, but also timeframe. Well, if we are looking for genealogical records, we don’t want to look for a record in this county before they actually started creating those records. The wiki typically provides a nice little chart on each county page showing then some of the most important civil records such as birth, marriage and death were first created.

How to figure out when birth records started

County record dates at FamilySearch Wiki

Often times civil records began much later than church records. Sometimes you will see an asterisk indicating when statewide registration for these civil records began and then another date indicating when general compliance was enforced. All of this is guiding us to success in finding genealogy records, and it’s saving the headache of investing time looking for records that did not yet exist.

(17:42) Further down the page you’ll find links to places. These may link to town pages on the Wiki, but more likely they will take you to Wikipedia where this information already exists. There will be a small icon indicating that the link will open in a new tab and take you to another website.

Next you’ll likely see a Timeline section which gives you a sense of when the first people settled in the county and who those people were. Again, it provides you more context to better understand the records.

In addition to all these individual records, many of them linked over to FamilySearch, Ancestry or MyHeritage, we see Research Facilities. Why is that so important? Because not all records are going to be online. When we’ve exhausted online records and resources we need to go offline, and there are lots of resources here on the wiki to work with: county archives, family history centers in the local area, libraries, museums, and genealogical societies. The wiki provides contact information and links to their website where you may be able to see a listing of what they have onsite so you can plan your visit.

Other website links may take you sites like USGenWeb which is a fantastic free genealogy website. It’s organized by location much like the FamilySearch wiki website. Drill down to the state and then the county. You may also see links to the State Archive, or the state’s Memory project, and, of course, the FamilySearch catalog.

How to Overcome the #1 Search Problem

(22:01) The wiki really should be one of your first stops when you’re going to be starting research in a new area. Let’s wrap up with a quick conversation about the wiki’s search box. You could go ahead and put a topic in there. Many people will come in here and they’ll type in marriage records, Randolph, County, Indiana, and they will get a list of results. They don’t look as clear cut as Google results, and they may not all be on topic. This is where we can get lost. I think probably the number one reason why people give up on the wiki is they get these kinds of search results. They realize, wait a second, this isn’t even Indiana, it’s talking about Kentucky! Why am I getting all these? It can be frustrating.

familysearch wiki search results

The wrong way to search at the FamilySearch Wiki

This happens because we tried to do it ourselves, with our own keywords. Remember, like most search engines, they’ve indexed their content to make it searchable, so that means they’ve already decided how they want to talk about a particular topic. Rather than just addressing marriage record first, the wiki focuses on the location. Where is this marriage record? So, focus first on the place unless you are just looking for general information on a general genealogy topic such as genealogy software.  

Pay attention to the pre-filled suggestions as you type because the wiki is going to suggest what it has in the format it has it. Again, you may want to first go to the country, state or county level page and then look for the record type.

What if you’re looking for marriage records but you don’t see them listed? Well, it might be that the word marriage isn’t the keyword the wiki uses. Or it might be that the type of record you’re looking for is a state or federal record. That’s another reason why the find on page feature (Ctrl + F) is so helpful. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see what you want listed in the table of contents. It may just be a keyword issue. Let the work that they’ve already done in organizing their materials guide you. You’ll be more successful and also avoid frustration. The FamilySearch Wiki is just too good of a resource to miss.

Learn more about using Family Search at Genealogy Gems

Videos at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel:

Visit the Genealogy Gems website.  There you’ll find videos, articles and podcast episodes and you can sign up for my free weekly email newsletter. 

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

 

Episode 145 – Blast From the Past Episodes 5 and 6

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In this episode I’ve got another blast from the past for you.  We have reached deep into the podcast archive and retrieved episodes 5 and 6.

In Episode 5 we touch on using the video website YouTube for genealogy, and then I walk you through how to Bring Sites Back From the Dead with Google. Then we wrap things up with a cool little way to Spice Up Your Genealogy Database.

In episode 6 I have a gem for you called Cast a Shadow on Your Ancestors, and we cover the free genealogy website US GenWeb

Episode: # 05
Original Publish Date:  March 25, 2007

MAILBOX

Email this week from   Mike O’Laughlin of the Irish Roots Cafe: “Congratulations on your podcast!  I am sure it will help many folks out there. I was glad to see the fine Irish families of Scully and Lynch on your latest show notes!”

GEM:  You Tube Follow Up
Note: The Genealogy Tech Podcast is no longer published or available.

  • YouTube in the news – the concern was raised by Viacom this month about YouTube benefiting from their programming without compensating them, which could mean copyright infringement.  While the course of YouTube could change depending on the outcome of this suit, the attraction for family historians remains strong because of the nature of the content.
  • Software mentioned:
    Pinnacle.  Final Cut for MAC.  Limits with Movie Maker
  • I posted 2 videos – A Nurse In Training Part 1 & 2

Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel  Click the Subscribe button to receive notification of new videos

 

GEM:  Bring Sites Back From the Dead with Google                                                    

When you get a “File Not Found” error when clicking on a link, it doesn’t mean the information is always gone forever.  You may be able to find it in the Cache version.

Google takes a snapshot of each page it examines and caches (stores) that version as a back-up. It’s what Google uses to judge if a page is a good match for your query.  In the case of a website that no longer exists, the cache copy us a snapshot of the website when it was still active hidden away or cached. 

Practically every search result includes a Cached link. Clicking on that link takes you to the Google cached version of that web page, instead of the current version of the page. This is useful if the original page is unavailable because of:

1.      Internet congestion

2.      A down, overloaded, or just slow website – Since Google’s servers are typically faster than many web servers, you can often access a page’s cached version faster than the page itself.

3.      The owner’s recently removing the page from the Web

 

Sometimes you can even access the cached version from a site that otherwise require registration or a subscription. 

 

If Google returns a link to a page that appears to have little to do with your query, or if you can’t find the information you’re seeking on the current version of the page, take a look at the cached version.

 

Hit the Back button and look for a link to a “cached” copy at the end of the URL at the end of the search result. Clicking on the “cached” link should bring up a copy of the page as it appeared at the time that Google indexed that page, with your search terms highlighted in yellow.

 

If you don’t see a cached link, it may have been omitted because the owners of the site have requested that Google remove the cached version or not cache their content.  Also, any sites Google hasn’t indexed won’t have a cache version.

 

Limit:  If the original page contains more than 101 kilobytes of text, the cached version of the page will consist of the first 101 Kbytes (120 Kbytes for pdf files).

 

Really looking for an oldie but a goody?  Try the Wayback Machine

It allows you to browse through 85 billion web pages archived from 1996 to a few months ago.

To start surfing the Wayback, type in the web address of a site or page where you would like to start, and press enter. Then select from the archived dates available. The resulting pages point to other archived pages at as close a date as possible. Keyword searching is not currently supported.

GEM:  Spice up your database

  • Search Google Images, then Right click and save to your hard drive.
  • Use Silhouettes
  • Find something that represents what you do know about that person.  It really does help you see them more as a person and less as an entry in your database – their occupation, a reader, a sport, etc.

Episode: # 06
Original Publish Date: April 1, 2007

You can learn more about Jewish roots at the 350 Years of American Jewish History website JewishGen, The Home of Jewish Genealogy

GEM:  Cast a Shadow on Your Ancestors

In the episode #5 I shared a little gem that would spice up your genealogical database – adding silhouettes and artistic images to the file of an ancestor when you don’t have a photograph.

Probably the most famous silhouette these days are the silhouettes used by Apple for advertising the iPod digital music and audio player.  It may surprise your teenager or grandchild to learn that the first silhouettes were done hundreds of years ago.

Back then silhouettes (or shades as they were called), they paintings or drawings of a person’s shadow. They were popular amongst English royalty and the art form quickly spread to Europe.  A silhouette can also be cut from black paper, and was a simple alternative for people who could not afford other forms of portraiture, which, in the eighteenth century, was still an expensive proposition.

The word took its name from Étienne de Silhouette, but it’s uncertain as to whether his name was attributed because he enjoyed this art form, or as the story goes because the victims of his taxes complained that they were reduced to mere shadows.

Either way, the popularity of Silhouettes hit new heights in the United States where they were seen in magazines, brochures and other printed material. But they faded from popularity as Photographs took over in the 1900s.

As a follow up, I want to share with you a simple technique for creating your own silhouettes. You can use ordinary snapshots to create a visual family record.

  • Take a photo of a person in profile against a neutral background. 
  • Blanket the photo background with white acrylic or tempera paint
  • Fill in the image with a heavy black permanent marker, curing the shoulders down for a classical pose. 
  • Add fun details like cowlicks, eyelashes, hats, and jewelry that express the person’s personality with a fine felt-tip pen.
  • Photocopy the doctored photos onto quality art paper.  Since glossy papers work print best, you could also use your computer scanner to scan the image into your hard drive.  From there you can add it to your database, or print it out onto glossy photo paper for mounting.

To represent folks in your family tree, create a silhouette of your father to represent his Great Great Grandfather, and add a farmer’s hat and rake to represent his profession of farming.  Chances are dad has inherited some of his profile anyway.  Have fun with it and be creative.  But of course be very sure to label to silhouette appropriately as a creative interpretation rather than a literal rendering.

You can also do silhouettes of your family including extended family and arrange the portraits together on a wall.  Use black painted frames in a variety of shapes and sizes and hang in a way that represents the family tree / relationships.

Check out the Art Café Network website for a Short History of Silhouettes by Katherine Courtney.

For More detailed how-to information, they have additional pages on cutting visit http://artcafenetwork.net/meet/kat/silhouette/cutting.html

2 Silhouette books to turn to:

Silhouettes%20:%20Rediscovering%20the%20Lost%20Art<img%20src=”http:/www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=genegemspodc-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0970115105″%20width=”1″%20height=”1″%20border=”0″%20alt=””%20style=”border:none%20!important;%20margin:0px%20!important;”%20/>%20″ >Silhouettes: Rediscovering the Lost Art

by Kathryn K. Flocken

Old-Fashioned Silhouettes (Dover Electronic Clip Art) (CD-ROM and Book)

 

GEM:  GenWeb Pages

Last year the website celebrated its 10th Anniversary.  The USGenWeb Project consists of a group of volunteers working together to provide Internet websites for genealogical research in every county and every state of the United States. The Project is non-commercial and fully committed to free access for everyone. Organization within the website is by state and county.

You can go to the homepage of the website and click on the state of your choice from the left hand column.  From the state page you can select the county you wish to search in.  However, when I know they name of the county I want to search in,  I’ve found it’s often quicker just to search at google.com and do a search like  “genweb sibley county mn”  The choice is yours. 

Remember to use the Google search gem that I gave you in episode one (see episode #134  http://www.genealogygemspodcast.com/webpage/episode-145-a-blast-from-the-past ) to quickly search within the county website.   Many don’t have search engines of their own, and so that’s when I first really started using that search technique.  These county sites are often very rich though, and after a focused search, it’s rewarding just to wander the site.  It will help you become more familiar with the county!

You’ll likely find databases of Births, Deaths, Marriages, townships histories, plat maps, surnames, and a host of other topics. Because each county has its own volunteer coordinator, the information you will find varies from county to county.  And as always, info is being added regularly, so you need to book mark them and return on a regular basis to see what’s new.

Be sure and share your resources as well.  That’s the power behind the GenWeb project – volunteers.  Volunteering your county resources will enrich other’s experience and will likely lead to connections that will continue to further your own research.

Book Mentioned in this episode:
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Online Genealogy, Second Edition
by Rhonda McClure

Check out this episode

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