3 Sources for Historic Maps that May Surprise You

Old maps are an essential tool for discovering more about your family’s history. If you have exhausted more traditional sources, here are three places to find maps that may surprise you.

#1 Surprising Finds within the David Rumsey Map Collection

www.davidrumsey.com

You’re probably aware that the David Rumsey map collection website is a terrific source for old maps. But you may be surprised by the variety of maps, some which you likely don’t come across every day. Here’s a fun little tactic I took today to see what it may hold in store beyond typical maps. A search of the word neighborhood reveals that their holdings go well beyond traditional maps. Here’s an example from San Francisco showing a neighborhood in its infancy:
google earth maps for genealogy

And the image below depicts the Country Club district of Kansas City in the 1930s. If your family lived there at that time, this is a real gem.

Google earth for genealogy maps

#2 Google Books

www.books.google.com

If you think Google Books is just books, think again. Historic maps, often unique and very specific, can often be found within those digitized pages. Try running a Google search such as: neighborhood map baltimore. 

Click the MORE menu and select BOOKS. Then click the SEARCH TOOLS button at the top of the results list, and from the drop down menu select ANY BOOKS and then click FREE GOOGLE BOOKS:

baltimore search

Select a book that looks promising. Then rather than reading through the pages or scanning the index, save loads of time by clicking the thumbnail view button at the top of the book. This way you can do a quick visual scan for pages featuring maps!

baltimore history

When you find a page featuring a map, click it display it on a single page. You can now use the clipper tool built right in to Google Books to clip an image of the map. Other options include using Evernote (free) or Snagit ($).

Google Image search for maps google books

#3 Old Newspapers at Chronicling America

http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/

Like Google Books, the digitized pages housed at the Chronicling America website contain much more than just text. Old newspapers printed maps to help readers understand current events like the progress of war or the effect of a natural disaster. This map from The Tacoma Times in 1914 shows a map of Europe and several quick facts about the “Great War,” World War I:

The Tacoma Times, August 22, 1914. Image from Chronicling America. Click on image to visit webpage.

The Tacoma Times, August 22, 1914. Image from Chronicling America. Click on image to visit webpage.

Here’s one more example below. A search for “San Francisco earthquake” at Chronicling America brought up this bird’s eye view of San Francisco at the time of the major 1906 earthquake. Articles below the map explain what you’re seeing:

The Minneapolis Journal, April 19, 1906. Image at Chronicling America; click on image to see it there.

The Minneapolis Journal, April 19, 1906. Image at Chronicling America; click on image to see it there.

Learn more about using newspapers to understand your ancestors’ lives in my book, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers. 

Want more inspiring ideas for finding historic maps? Below is my FREE 8-minute video on using Sanborn maps. This is an excerpt from my Genealogy Gems Premium video, “5 Ways to Enhance Your Genealogy Research with Old Maps.” (Premium membership required to watch that full video along with others like “Best Websites for Finding Historical Maps.”)

Free Genealogy Records from Around the World: Newly Online!

Free genealogy records, newly available online, may be able to take you around your ancestor’s world! This week’s record destinations include Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Dominican Republic, France, Italy, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Russia, and South Africa.

Civil registration records–key genealogical resources–from several countries are among the free new family history records online in recent days and weeks. But you’ll also find probate records, church records, military personnel records, and even a digital archive meant to preserve ancient aboriginal languages. Which might mention your ancestors?

Argentina

Over 100,000 indexed names have been added to FamilySearch’s free collection, Argentina, Entre Ríos, Catholic Church Records, 1764-1983. According to a collection description, it includes “baptisms, confirmations, marriages and burials for cities in the province of Entre Ríos.”

Australia

An exciting new Australian website houses a digital archive of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language materials. It includes texts, audio, video, and ebooks about Australia’s First Nations languages. The hope of the site is to be a digital repository for gathering, preserving, and sharing materials that in effect preserve these languages and revitalize their use. The site managers will continue to work with partners to bring more content to the site. Click here to read more about the site’s launch, and click here to access it directly.

Belgium

Two free Belgian civil registration collections at FamilySearch.org have been updated:

Both of these collections are comprised of civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths from the Belgium National Archives, as well as marriage proclamations, marriage supplements, and some original indexes. Additional images will be added as they become available.

Brazil

Several free Brazilian genealogy records collections have been updated at FamilySearch.org. Among them are the following:

Bolivia

Over 300,000 indexed names have been added to FamilySearch.org’s enormous free collection of Bolivia Catholic Church Records, 1566-1996. The collection hosts over 1.5 million digitized images of Catholic Church records created by parishes in Bolivia. “These records include: baptisms, confirmations, marriages, pre-marriage investigations, deaths, indexes and other records. Some of these records have been indexed and are searchable as part of this collection. Additional indexed records will be published as they become available.”

Canada

Library and Archives Canada continues to update its free Personnel Records of the First World War database. So far, the database includes “digitized files for many individuals of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and Newfoundland Forestry Corps (courtesy of the Rooms Provincial Archives).”

Newly digitized CEF files are added to the references every two weeks, states the collection’s landing page. To date, over 461,000 of an expected 640,000 files have been added. “Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order,” explains a blog post. “Please note that over the years, the content of some boxes has had to be moved and, you might find that the file you want, with a surname that is supposed to have been digitized, is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized.”

Chile

FamilySearch.org has updated its free collection, Chile Civil Registration, 1885-1903. These include “births, marriages, and deaths for various localities in Chile from 1885 to 1903. For a complete list of all the provincias and comunas included in this collection, see the Provinces of Chile – Civil Registration coverage table. Only records from a few localities have been indexed. More records and images will be added as they become available.” Need help reading these? FamilySearch suggests using this Spanish Genealogical Word List, which also links to other translation tools.

Dominican Republic

Over 175,00 indexed names have been added to FamilySearch’s free collection, Dominican Republic Civil Registration, 1801-2010. Spanning over 200 years, the collection includes images of births, marriages, and deaths as well as some divorces and indexes. “Some of these records have been indexed and are searchable as part of this collection,” states the collection description. “Additional images and indexed records will be published as they become available. These records were obtained from public access sources in the Dominican Republic.”

France

FamilySearch has updated its collection of indexed Catholic parish record images for Coutances et d’Avranche Diocese, 1533-1894. Baptisms, marriages, and burials are all included. “Parishes within this diocese are within the boundaries of the department of Manche,” states a collection description. “French commission for Informatics and Liberties (CNIL) does not allow publication of sensitive data below 150 years.”

Italy

FamilySearch continues to publish more Italian civil registration records! These are some of the latest:

Netherlands

Just shy of a million records have been added recently to FamilySearch’s free collection, Netherlands, Archival Indexes, Miscellaneous Records. “Archives around the Netherlands have contributed indexes which cover many record sources, such as civil registration, church records, emigration lists, military registers, and land and tax records,” says the collection description. “These records cover events like birth, marriage, death, burial, emigration and immigration, military enrollment and more. These indexes were originally collected, combined and published by OpenArchives.”

Nicaragua

There are now over two century’s worth of records in the free FamilySearch collection, Nicaragua Civil Registration, 1809-2013. It includes “births, marriages, deaths, and other records created by civil registration offices in various departments of Nicaragua.” Civil registration in Nicaragua didn’t begin until 1879, and it appears that most records in this collection date from that year or later.

Paraguay

Nearly 125,000 browse-only images have been added to FamilySearch.org’s free collection, Paraguay Miscellaneous Records, 1509-1977. According to the site, “These records include two complete collections: Sección Nueva Encuadernación (Rebinding Section) and Sección Propiedades y Testamentos (Properties and Wills Section). Copies of the original records are housed at the Archivo Nacional in Asunción, Paraguay. The “Propiedades y Testamentos” section can give a brief look at the personal wealth of clerics, economic bases of resident foreigners in Paraguay, or the fortunes of a given family over a period of time.”

Russia

FamilySearch.org has updated its free collection, Russia, Samara Church Books, 1779-1923.  It includes “images and partial index to records of births and baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials performed by priests of the Russian Orthodox Church in the province of Samara. These records were acquired from the state archive in that province.” Another brief statement in the collection description illustrates the incremental and ongoing nature of record additions to FamilySearch: “Currently this collection is 4% complete. Additional records will be added as they are completed.”

South Africa

Over 40,000 indexed records have been added to the free FamilySearch.org collection, South Africa, Transvaal, Probate Records from the Master of the Supreme Court, 1869-1958. The records are described simply as “probate records from the Master of the Supreme Court, Transvaal, South Africa. Original records are located in the Transvaal Archives Depot, Pretoria, Republic of South Africa.

Spotlight on probate records

court record research wills probate records genealogyProbate records detailed the final settling of our ancestors’ financial assets. They often contain rich genealogical information and interesting insights into a person’s life. They are among the many records you might find at courthouses and government archives. More U.S. probate records are coming online (click here to learn more), but even if you have to visit a courthouse yourself or hire someone to do it for you, it’s often worth it. Click here to read why.

Thanks for sharing this post with those who will want to know about these free genealogy records online!

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