Online Historical Maps: From David Rumsey to the DPLA

Opening pages of rare 1905 Sanborn Map of San Francisco, showing city just before 1906 earthquake. Find the entire map book at the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

Genealogists rely on historical maps to help us navigate the geography of our ancestors’ lives. One of the most important resources available online is the David Rumsey Map Collection. Well, Rumsey recently announced on his website that he will be making more than 38,000 of his historical maps–everything he’s currently got online–available at the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).

I blogged recently about the DPLA, which aims to create an enormous, free digital library we can all access online. It will be great to have the Rumsey map collection searchable on the DPLA so we can search these maps while we look for any other sources on any particular location our ancestors lived. “Maps tell stories that complement texts, images, and other resources found in the growing DPLA library,” says Rumsey. “And the open content policies of my online library fit perfectly with DPLA’s mission to make cultural resources freely available to all.” He applauds what the DPLA is trying to accomplish and even encourages other collectors to donate content.

Rumsey has spent years collecting thousands of old maps  and putting them online. Now he’s working to share them even more widely. His entire collection of about 150,000 maps will eventually be housed at Stanford University. Meanwhile, we can all enjoy the thousands of images we can search on his site or at the DPLA.toolbox kit

Google’s free program Google Earth includes nearly 150 historic maps in the Layers panel.  You can also add historic maps downloaded from Rumsey’s site to Google Earth by using the Overlay feature. My video tutorial series called Google Earth for Genealogy will show you how. You can also get step-by-step instructions in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. Or get them all in a discounted bundle.


Premium Episode 108 – Siri Secrets for Genealogists, and the DPLA

Download the Show Notes PDF

Genealogy Gems Premium MembershipThankfully the adrenaline kicks in when I’m about to do public speaking so I was able to make my way through two major events – a full day seminar called Genie Tech 2014 at the Mid Continent Library in Independence, MO, and a full day seminar at the Houston Genealogical Forum in Houston , Texas. There’s nothing like the energy you get at live events like these, and I had extra help from my daughters. My oldest daughter Vienna helped me out in Houston, and my youngest daughter, the bride-to-be Hannah made the trip to Independence.

I ran into lots of Facebook genies at the Midwest Genealogy Center, which is such an incredible and beautiful facility. I met Lacey who is the author of the Branches and Twigs Genealogy Blog, and she wrote up a post about the day called Getting a Tech-ucation – and I’ll have a link to that in the show notes.

Mid Continent Library Midwest Genealogy CenterShe writes: “GeneaNerds and GeneaNewbies from near and far gathered in a room for a full day of education and fun!” and she says “The last session of the day meant that Lisa was back for Time Travel with Google Earth.  Lisa took us to 1836 New York City, 1910 San Francisco, and a few others! The best part of the presentation was when Lisa showed us how to make our own family history tours using Google Earth to impress those relatives who are less than enthusiastic about traditional genealogy.

I had an epiphany during this session on how to get my nephew interested in history. His favorite subject is the weather. He loves talking tornadoes, earthquakes, etc. I’m going to go back through my research and make a family history tour for him that not only addresses where our ancestors lived but what was happening weather-wise. I’ve already found an article on a record-breaking snow storm at the same time that one of our ancestors died.”

Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems PodcastMy reply to Lacey:
“If you’re nephew is into weather, check out the free Google Earth Gallery.  There are some very interesting Science & Weather related KMZ “tours” here that you can download, and possible even integrate into the ancestor and weather project you talked about (a fab idea btw!) You could also try a Google Search on something like <weather history 19th century .KMZ> The .KMZ will hopefully deliver results applicable to Google Earth!”

Carolyn Shimek wrote in to say that she attended the seminar I gave at the Houston Genealogy Forum. She kindly said how much she enjoyed it and how she put what she learned in to practice right away.

She writes: “Absolutely the most informative and interesting talk I have ever heard!  I have been doing Genealogy since 1976 and going to lots and lots of seminars, local state and national!

Today I decided to try YouTube which I have never gone to before.  The first thing I put in was my Great Uncle Will Ivy Baldwin, the tightrope walker.  Immediately I found a video of him walking the high wire across a canyon in Colorado at age 82 in 1948!  I actually saw him perform this dare devil feat!  I am still filled with the thrill of it!


Thank you so much for all we learned from you.  The only problem is that I am going to have to live to be 200 to take advantage of everything you pointed out to us. I will tell all of my friends and other societies about your wonderful speech and hope to see you again.”


Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems PodcastGEM: Siri Secrets
When you get a new mobile device like a smart phone or tablet it may be packed full of cool features that may be easy to use once you know how, but getting to the know how part isn’t always that easy.
It sure would be nice to have an assistant with you to help you navigate your way. Well if you have an iPhone or iPad, with the new iOS7 operating system, Siri is better than ever and can start to play that assistant role.   In this gem I want to share some of the ways that Siri can make your mobile life much easier.

App Assistant
While it’s a good practice to create folders and organize your apps by type, you can still occasional lose track of one. Rather than digging through folders, just ask Siri to find the app.

Examples: “Open Ancestry,” or “Play Angry Birds.”

If Siri is ever unsure exactly which app to launch it will ask you to specify which program you want.

Phone Assistant
Making phone calls is easier than ever. Say “Call Sue” Siri can dial up anyone on your Contacts list.  Need to call someone right back. Tell Siri to “Redial last number”.

One of the newest enhancements is that you can now tell Siri to play back your voicemail messages! Say “Play voicemail messages.” If you want to listen to messages only from a particular contact, say “Play voicemail from John.”

Control settings
The Control Center is the place to change settings such as screen brightness, blue tooth connection, and Wi-Fi and airplane mode. To access the Control Center just swipe up from the bottom of any screen. But now Siri can assist you with setting too! Just press and hold the home button, and after the ‘ding’ tell Siri what you need done:

  • “Turn on/off Wi-Fi”
  • “Make the screen brighter/dimmer.”
  • “Turn on/off Do Not Disturb.”
  • “Lower or raise volume”

Siri can also help you locate those hard to find settings buried in all those iPad menus! For example, if you want to change the text size in iOS 7 simply tell Siri to “Change text size.” It will open Settings>>General>Text Size. So much easier than digging through menus!

Get Answers
Siri can also help with search. And even though Bing is the default search engine in iOS 7, you tell Siri to “Search Google.”

And as I demonstrated in my RootsTech class, Siri can search Wikipedia for you as well. For a quick overview on any topic just ask Siri. Example “German border changes” or “Tell me about the U.S. Federal Census” (or you fill in the blank.) Siri will reveal the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry, and then you can just tap to read the rest of the article in Safari.

Siri may not know who your Great Great Grandmother was, but it can provide answers to questions such as “When is sunset in Honolulu?”Using Siri on your phone

Search Twitter
In my recent RootsTech 2014 presentation How to Become an iPad Power User, I shared with conference goers how to check Twitter and tweet using Siri. (It’s so easy you might just give Twitter another try.) It’s simple: Just say “Tweet” followed by your message and the Twitter app will get your message out.


Want in on the most recent genealogical tweets? Ask Siri: ______________________

For the big picture ask Siri “What’s trending on Twitter?” to find out what the overall hot topics of the date are.

Siri (iOS7) also helps you quickly find the folks you want to hear from.  You can search their specific Twitter feeds by saying “Search tweets by LisaCooke” or “RootsTech.” Follow me on Twitter and you’ll be one Siri command away from what’s going on in my genealogical world and Genealogy Gems.


Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems PodcastGEM: DPLA
Digital Public Library of AmericaDan Cohen, Executive Director of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) takes on a tour of this exciting website.

Read more about the DPLA:
DPLA: Introduction to the Digital Public Library of America
Online Historical Maps: From David Rumsey to the DPLA
National Archives and the Digital Public Library of America


Final Thoughts:

I read a lot about giving presentations. This tip from the article 10 Most Common Rookie Mistakes in Public Speaking      stood out to me as something all genealogists could benefit from when it comes to sharing family history with others:

Data-centric presentations
If your talk is focused on data rather than the vivid human story the data tells, you are in trouble. In the June 2013 issue of Fast Company magazine, Leslie Bradshaw, the COO of Guide is speaking about Big Data. She states:

Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems Podcast“The art is in preparing the content for optimal human consumption. The data doesn’t just talk back to you. You collect, you analyze, you tell stories. Think of an iceberg. Underneath the waterline are data storage and analysis. Those are your engineers and scientists. Up above is the interface. It’s both literal and narrative. It starts with the hard sciences–the math, the analytics–but it ends up with the softest: how to tell the story.”

DPLA: Introduction to the Digital Public Library of America

DPLA logoI’ve blogged before about the relatively new Digital Public Library of America (here’s a post introducing the DPLA and here’s one on historical maps you’ll find there). Now the Library of Congress has posted a 31-minute webcast that features the DPLA content director, Emily Gore. She not only demonstrates some great examples of what you can find in the public portal of the DPLA, but also discusses the potential for gathering even more materials (she gives an example using local sources.) It’s a great introduction to the site, and Gore answers some questions from the audience that seem to be on a lot of people’s minds.

Looking for a more basic intro to the DPLA? Check out this introductory video, too.

National Archives and Digital Public Library of America

The National Archives announced recently that it will help with the first pilot project of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).

According to the National Archives’ press release, “The DPLA is a large-scale, collaborative project across government, research institutions, museums, libraries and archives to build a digital library platform to make America’s cultural and scientific history free and publicly available anytime, anywhere, online through a single access point.

“The DPLA is working with several large digital content providers – including the National Archives and Harvard University – to share digitized content from their online catalogs for the project’s two-year Digital Hubs Pilot Project.  This pilot project is scheduled to launch on April 18-19, 2013 at the Boston Public Library, which will host an array of festivities, including presentations and interactive exhibits showcasing content from the DPLA’s content partners.  The DPLA will include 1.2 million digital copies from the National Archives catalog, including our nation’s founding documents, photos from the Documerica Photography Project of the 1970’s, World War II posters, Mathew Brady Civil War photographs, and documents that define our human and civil rights.”

If you’re like me, you’re wondering what genealogically-interesting documents will have a home on the DPLA. There’s a great blog post on the DPLA site that talks about partnerships with state and regional digital libraries, including the Kentucky Digital Library, which has more than 800,000 pageHitting the Mark!s of newspapers, and over half a million pages of “books,  photographs, archival materials, maps, oral histories and pages of other paginated publications.”

NOW we’re talking! The DPLA will certainly be a resource worth watching!

Premium Episode 105

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Free RootsTech 2014 Flipboard Magazine

Where Genealogy and Technology Converge

Originally designed specifically for the iPad in 2010, the free Flipboard app has moved onto all the major mobile platforms. And this cool new technology has just gotten better with a big dose of genealogy!

I invite you to explore the newly released free Flipboard magazine RootsTech 2014: Where Genealogy and Technology Converge.

Genealogy Gems has published the magazine in conjunction with the RootsTech program team in a continuing effort to help family historians embrace new technologies and present RootsTech attendees with the possibilities.

Consider what’s been happening in the mobile space this last year:

  • Smartphone usage in the U.S. increased by 50 percent (Kleiner Perkins)
  • The number of emails being opened on mobile increased by 330 percent (Litmus)
  • Tablet usage doubled in the U.S. (Pew Research Center)

The bottom line: More than ever folks are accessing websites, videos, podcasts, blogs and other online information on their mobile devices. That’s where the free Flipboard app comes in.

The free Flipboard app is a social-network and online aggregator of web content and RSS channels for Android, Blackberry 10, iOS, Windows 8, and Windows Phone 8. Content is presented in a captivating magazine format allowing users to “flip” through it with a simple swipe of the finger.

As a genealogy new media content creator and publisher, we’re excited to introduce a creative use of this emerging technology to the genealogy industry. RootsTech 2014: Where Genealogy and Technology Converge is a free magazine available at The magazine pulls together great web content from RootsTech speakers, exhibitors, and official bloggers in one beautiful and convenient place.

This magazine has presented an opportunity to crowd-source the know-how and talent of all of those who work to make RootsTech a success. The magazine offers an exciting look at the RootsTech experience the innovative technologies emerging in the genealogy industry, and a new vehicle for everyone in the RootsTech community to converge! The pages go beyond text and images by also delivering video and audio!

How to Access the Magazine in Flipboard:

  1. Get the free Flipboard app at, in iTunes or Google Play.
  2. Set up for your free account
  3. In the search box at the top of the homepage, search for ROOTSTECH
  4. Tap “RootsTech 2014″ by Lisa Louise Cooke (you’ll see a magazine icon next to it.)
  5. When the magazine loads, tap the SUBSCRIBE icon at the top of the page
  6. Starting at the right hand side of the page, swipe your finger from right to left over each page to “flip!”

Looking for more great genealogy themed Flipboard magazines? Check out two more new issues from Lisa Louise Cooke:

Stay tuned to the Genealogy Gems Blog and Podcast for Lisa’s upcoming exclusive interview with the folks at Flipboard!


Digitizing Colonial Genealogy
If you’ve got British colonial roots in North America, you know how tough it can be to learn more about your family during that time. That’s why I was excited to read a recent article in the Harvard Gazette.

According to the article, plans are afoot to digitize and make available millions of British colonial documents. And yet, there are still that many colonial-era documents sitting largely untouched in public and private archives, far from the reach of the everyday genealogist.

The Gazette reports not one but two major digitizing projects underway relating to British colonial documents in the U.S. Harvard University is leading the first project, which is already funded and underway. It will capture around 30 million pages of 17th- and 18th-century material from more than 1600 manuscript collections at 12 different Harvard repositories.

As if that’s not good enough news, a much larger project is in the works, too. A larger-scale Colonial Archives of North America has plans to digitally assemble pre-Revolutionary War material from Harvard and several historical societies, archives and Libraries in New England, New York and beyond (including Montreal). I was pleased to see that records relating to businesses, poverty, public health and indigent care will form part of the anticipated collection. These kinds of documents talk about everyday folks and their living conditions; just what we want for our colonial genealogy. This second project is not funded yet but researchers are confident it will be.

Meanwhile, check out online resources like these for colonial documents:


National Archives Digitizing Projects: Colonial, WWII, Jewish and More
And there’s another digitizing project that also includes Colonial records Over $2 million in grants has been awarded by the National Archives (U.S.) to digitize important historical documents. Here’s how the awards break down:

  • $1.1 million to “nine publishing projects from the U.S. Colonial and Early National Period, including the papers of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Dolly Madison, and John Jay.  Projects to record the Documentary History of the Ratification of the U.S. Constitution and the Documentary History of the First Federal Congress also received funding”
  • Nearly $700,000 to “State and National Archives Partnership (SNAP) grants to enable 28 state historical records advisory boards to carry out their mission to support archival education and strengthen the nation’s archival network;”
  • Over $500,000 to 7 projects to “digitize World War II Oral History files; the papers of Leo Szilard, the nuclear physicist; the papers of General Oliver Otis Howard,  Civil War general, Commissioner of the Freedman’s Bureau, and third president of Howard University; Historical Collective Bargaining Agreements from the 1880s through the 1980s; the Center for Jewish History’s American Soviet Jewry Movement collections; Early Connecticut manuscripts; and 19th century trademark files in the California Archives, including the original trademarks and specimens from Levi Strauss & Co. jeans, 19th century medicines and tonics, and the original trademark registered to Anheuser Busch for its Budweiser lager.”
  • As you can see, there’s a lot in there to appeal to family historians. Maybe not so much the Levi  Strauss and  Budweiser artifacts, but I could see many of us being interested in the World War II oral history files; the papers of the Freedman’s Bureau Commissioner; the Center for Jewish History’s files; those early Connecticut manuscripts and more.
  • The National Archives’ press release doesn’t say where these digitized files will end up. But I’m guessing at least some will eventually be made available on Founders Online, an award-winning database on the papers of “America’s  Founders.”


Explore Deep Ancestry
If you’ve had your DNA tested, you may have learned that you descend that you descend from Vikings. But wondered who exactly the Vikings were. There’s a cool website about ancient civilizations called  and it looks like a fun and easy way to get up to speed on history.

As the title hints, this site is all about deep roots. It covers ancient societies in all parts of the world: North and South America, Europe, the Near East, Africa, Asia and Oceania. You’ll find history and images of artifacts on peoples ranging from Arabians to Vikings!

This is a great interactive tool for brushing up on ancient history. Check it out with your kids or grandkids who are exploring these topics in school.

But this is also a helpful resource if you’re looking to learn more about your “deep ancestry” as identified by DNA tests. You may never know if you descend from a famous (or infamous) warlord, ruler or explorer. But genetic tests are becoming more specific about deep geographic roots. So maybe it’s worth checking out a little Viking warrior fashion or learn about the ancient empire of the Mandingo on this site!



Jean wrote in response to Premium Episode 104 and the story of the cemetery in Philadelphia.  She send me a link to the Hidden San Diego website that tells a similar story that occurred there in California :

Learn more about Calvary Cemetery, San Diego, CA (now a part of Calvary Pioneer Memorial Park, aka Pioneer Park; aka Catholic Cemetery, aka Mission Hills Cemetery, aka Old Catholic Cemetery) 1501 Washington Place, San Diego, CA 92103

“Dedicated to the Memory of Those Interred Within This Park”

She says: “ the San Diego story does not seem to indicate how this burial ground was changed into a park, but only the headstones were removed, so perhaps that is part of the rationale.  Sadly, the removal of the headstones did in many where to buy medication cases destroy the death records of those buried there.  Amazing.”

This was a Catholic cemetery, all the headstones were removed, but the bodies are still interred there.  In the story you told about the Philadelphia cemetery, a University had the land condemned or “rezoned,” and the bodies transferred to a mass grave, so they could build a parking lot.

I’m just remembering your great story about the discovery of the grave and body of King Henry (and I think what Jean is referring to was my interview in Premium episode 97 with Dr. Turi King about the the discover of the body of King Richard the III.) And Jean says “Wasn’t that beneath a “carpark” in Great Britain?  History does repeat itself!”

And Jean is absolutely right. And although parks are nice as in the case of San Diego, I don’t think the historical damage done is any different whether it’s a park or a parking lot. Gravestones are so critical when they were erected prior to official records being taken.

I’ll be down in San Diego giving a seminar for the San Diego Genealogical Society

Family History Seminar January 11, 2014
Register here:


Ricky has a question about computer filing:
“I’m trying to reorganize my computer files.  My question is how would you name a Census image that you download (save) from the web (Ancestry, FamilySearch, etc)?? I can’t remember now if I’ve heard you tell this during one of your Podcasts (GG, FTM or the Made Easy one).

I want to organize my files and then enter everything into RootsMagic. There I’ll source it correctly, I just want the best way (or a better way) to save my Census image files. My current method in which the file name contains an ancestors name can be confusing when families live near one another and there are multiple families on the same page.”

Lisa’s Answer Suggestions:
1) No matter what you do, just be consistent

2) I like to think of my naming conventions as hierachy: most important info to least import. For example a census image downloaded from Ancestry would be:


I put the surname in caps to make them easy to browse. If you use my hard drive organization system that I show in the Premium videos, you could do away with “Census” and even the surname if you wanted because those elements of the file name are addressed in the folders. However, if you don’t mind the longer file names, it’s nice to still include those keywords because often files are shared and put in places (such as your database) that are outside of those folders.

3) If you want to take the time to enter additional meta data in the file you could certainly do that in the files “Properties.”

4) I save multiple copies when there are multiple families on one page. It doesn’t happen that often, and with my hard drive filing system each family has their own “Census” folder so they need their own dedicated image of that census.

5) Create a naming convention that works for you, easy to remember, and containing the information that is important to you.


GEM: Digital Archives

I’ve been talking lately on the Genealogy Gems blog at my website about digital archives:

DPLA Intro to the Digital Public Library of America

I’ve blogged before about the relatively new Digital Public Library of America:

National Archives and the Digital Public Library of America (Introduction)

Rumsey TAT mapOnline Historical Maps: From David Rumsey to the DPLA

Now the Library of Congress has posted a 31-minute webcast that features the DPLA content director, Emily Gore. She not only demonstrates some great examples of what you can find in the public portal of the DPLA, but also discusses the potential for gathering even more materials (she gives an example using local sources.) It’s a great introduction to the site, and Gore answers some questions from the audience that seem to be on a lot of people’s minds.

Watch the Webcast recording here:

More reading: 250 killer Digital Libraries and Archives

Smaller Digital Archives:

We hear a lot about digital archives and libraries these days. They really are a boon to genealogists—if we know where to find them online, what they offer and how to use them.

The point of a digital archive or library is to take valuable materials that are usually buried in manuscript collections or university libraries and make them available at the click of a mouse to a much wider audience. At some sites, you’ll find digitized images of original records: government documents, photographs, reference and history books and much more. Other sites that describe themselves as digital archives at least put extended descriptions of archival material online, so you can keyword search materials like “Montana prison records.”

Some digital archives are better-known, national or international sources of digital content, like the DPLA (Digital Public Library of America)


Internet Archive

Google Books

National Archives Digital Collections

FamilySearch Digital Books

But did you know that a lot of smaller digital archives and libraries provide regional or statewide or provincial content? Often it’s just the kind of material a family historian is looking for. Here are a couple of examples within the U.S.

Virginia was a colonial gateway, a place where a lot of families with deep American roots began their lives in the New World. Just listen to the kinds of materials you can find in the Digital Collections of the The Library of Virginia newspapers, photographs, maps, Civil War and War of 1812 documents, rare books, personal histories (including narratives of former slaves), biographical sketches, the cohabitation register which was really the legal marriage register for emancipated slaves, records from counties that have suffered a lot of record loss, an index to chancery court records and even a collection of legislative petitions. These last two, the chancery court and legislative petitions, are a fantastic thing to find online and text-searchable. Often court records are not indexed at all, are poorly or partly indexed, and aren’t online. Looking for more like this? Check out Documenting the American South, another digital archive packed with books, diaries, letters, oral histories and more at

If you’re searching for family on the other side of the U.S., check out the Northwest Digital Archives : This is a gateway to archival and manuscript collections in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Alask and Washington. Some of the materials they point to are available in image form online. For others, you’ll just learn a description of what resources are available, what’s in them, and where they are. That’s the case for those Montana prison records. The Northwest Digital Archives describes this collection—over 100 years’ worth of records!—at the Montana Historical Society Research Center. You’ll find other gems like a homesteader’s description of growing up in South Dakota and a book on Jews in the Northwest.

HathiTrust Digital Library

HathiTrust Digital Library is an enormous pool of digital content: about 10.6 million volumes with about 3.7 billion pages. About a third of this content can be freely accessed by the public. A third may not sound like much, but a third of 3.7 billion pages is still a lot!

So what genealogy material do they have? You’ll find U.S. county and other local histories and about a half million government documents (state and federal) like military records and railroad commission and other reports. Many of these have lists of names you can full-text search. There are also unpublished dissertations and theses, which can be great sources for local history.

Here’s another plus. Anyone who’s a member of a participating library (or who creates a free “friend” account ) can create their own collections of digital content within the site. Then you can full-text search within just that material and/or make your collection public so others can search it, too. On the collections page, if you enter “Genealogy” you’ll find several collections created by different users ranging from really small to over 1000 volumes. There are also history collections worth browsing, like Records of the American Colonies.;c=855228657

HathiTrust has a mobile web site too. The current interface is limited: you can’t do full-text searches or browse collections. But you can still find and use great materials. I entered “Lackawanna Pennsylvania” as a search term on the mobile site and within seconds I had a 1897 county history on my iPad–no membership required.

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