The Best Way to Find Free Old Maps at DavidRumsey.com

Our ability to find our ancestors is rooted in two important pieces of information: the locations where they lived and the time frames in which they lived there. This means that old maps are essential to our genealogy research.  

The good news is that there is an abundance of free digitized old maps available online. One of the best resources is the David Rumsey Map Collection website. There you will find over 100,000 free digitized historic maps. These maps span the globe and centuries.  They are perfect for bringing geographic perspective to your family tree.

Best way to find old maps for genealogy

Elevenses with Lisa Show Notes

In this episode 36 of my free webinar video series Elevenses with Lisa I’ll show you how to navigate this ever-expanding free website. Watch the video and then follow along with the show notes in this article. Here you’ll find answers to questions such as:

  • What’s the best way to find maps at David Rumsey’s map website?
  • What is the difference between the search tools (Luna Viewer and MapRank Search)?
  • What are the advanced search techniques for finding the old maps?
  • How can I download maps at DavidRumsey.com?
  • Is it OK to use the maps from DavidRumsey.com in my family history projects?

Rumsey Historical Maps in Google Earth

As we discussed in Ways to Use Google Earth for Genealogy (Elevenses with Lisa episode 12) there are approximately 120 Rumsey old maps available for free in Google Earth. You can find them in the Layers Panel under Gallery.  Each map is already georeferenced as an overlay for you.

ways to use google earth for genealogy with Lisa Louise Cooke

Click image to watch the video and read the article on ways to use Google Earth for genealogy

You can also create your own overlays in Google Earth using Rumsey Maps or digitized maps from other sources. I cover this step-by-step in chapter 16 of my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.

Best Strategies for Finding Free Old Maps

Once you’ve exhausted the few hundred old maps in Google Earth, head to the David Rumsey Map Collection website. Rumsey’s collection includes over 150,000 map, over 100,000 of which have been digitized and are available for free on his website. 

Copyright and Use Permission

You will probably be anxious to use these wonderful old maps in a variety of ways. The Rumsey website provides clear direction on copyright and use permission. Go to: DavidRumsey.com > Home Page > About > Copyright and Permissions.

The good news is that generally speaking, you are free to download and use the digitized maps for your own personal use.

The Best Way to View the Maps

There are several ways to view maps:

  • The Luna Viewer: Browse and search 100,000+ maps
  • The GeoReferencer: Help georeferenced maps, compare maps overlays
  • MapRank Search: Browse & search 6000 maps by time & place
  • Google Earth: 120 maps in the Layers panel, 140 can be added
  • Google Maps: 120 maps included
  • Second Life: View some in 3 dimensions and at a huge scale. Location: Rumsey Map Islands. Includes a welcome center with hundreds of maps, and a 600 meter tall map cylinder showing hundreds of maps.
  • The Collections Ticker: Pop-out distraction!
  • Insight Java Client: Downloadable workspace

Of this list, the best two tools to user are:

  1. The Luna Viewer: Browse and search 100,000+ maps
  2. MapRank Search: Browse & search 6000 maps by time & place

I will show you how to use each. Note that in these examples we will be using a computer to search the site rather than a mobile device or tablet.

The Luna Viewer: How to browse & search the maps

In the main menu under View Collection select the Luna Viewer. Under Luna Viewer click the Launch Luna Viewer button.

Luna Viewer at David Rumsey Map Collection

The Luna Viewer at David Rumsey Map Collection

Tips for keyword searching:

  • In most cases it helps to start with a fairly broad search to see the full range of available maps
  • Be cautious with abbreviations. “MN” does not return “Minn” or “Minnestota”.
  • Advance search provides you with the use of full Boolean operators like “and,” “or,” “greater than,” “contains,” and others.
  • After a search, to return to the full collection, click on “show all” under the search button.

Let’s look at an example of using the keyword search in tandem with the Refine column. If you search for New York City, you will be searching all of the data associated with the maps. Since many maps may have been published in New York City, you will likely see many maps for other areas. You can improve this search by going to the Refine column and under Where clicking on New York City.

The Refine column will show you the first five options in each category (What, Where, Who, When). Click More to reveal all of the additional refining options in that category.

Refine map search David Rumsey

Click More to see all refining options in the Luna Viewer

From the returned results, click a map to view it.

You can select multiple items in the Refine column to filter more narrowly. Remove a filter by clicking it under Remove at the top of the Refine column.

Like genealogical records, old maps may include several pages. Look above the blue BUY PRINT button to see the number of Related maps. In my example of a map of the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City, there were two map pages available. Click Related to display all of the available pages.

David Rumsey map related results

Click the Related link to view all related map pages.

DavidRumsey.com Advanced Search

The Advanced Search feature can be found in two locations:

  • Inside the search box – click your mouse in the box and select Advanced Search from the drop-down list
  • At the bottom of the Refine column on the left side of the screen.

Advanced Search gives you more control over how you search. Let’s look at an example by searching for Sanborn fire insurance maps. 

Searching for Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

The David Rumsey Map Collection website includes many Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. These maps were created for insurance purposes and provide an incredible amount of detail about individual buildings and dwellings in a given neighborhood.

I recommend using the Advanced Search feature to search for these maps. This is because over the years the name of the company as publisher changed.

How to Find Sanborn Maps:

  1. Click on Advanced Search at the bottom of the Refine column
  2. In the “find all of these words” section, click Fields and select Publisher
  3. Type in Sanborn
  4. On the results page, go to the Refine column and Who click More
  5. There are at least six variations of the Sanborn publishing name.

Old Map books and atlases often include valuable historical text often called historical sketches. You can find these using the Advanced search. Search for the exact phrase Historical Sketch. Run this search and then in the Refine column under Where select an area of interest.

How to Download Maps from DavidRumsey.com

  1. Click the map from the results list
  2. On the map’s dedicated page click the EXPORT button at the top of the page.
  3. Select the appropriate size from the drop-down list. (Larger maps may take a few moments to download)
  4. Typically the maps will download to the Downloads folder on your computer

Tips for Selecting Download (Export) Map Size:
Save space on your computer and future headaches by selecting the correct size map for your use. If you plan on using the map to create an overlay or create a nice large print, select the largest size possible ( I recommend at least Extra Large for creating map overlays in the Google Earth.) This will ensure that the map doesn’t appear fuzzy when you Zoom in. High-resolution is also recommended when printing. For example, if you plan on including the map in a book about your family’s history (for personal use, not for resale) a high-resolution map will print crisp and clear. Maps for use on the web or something like a PowerPoint presentation would be fine at lower resolutions.

MapRank Search at DavidRumsey.com

The MapRank Search “app” at the David Rumsey Map Collection website allows you to browse & search 6000 maps by two important criteria: Time & Place.

There are two ways to find the MapRank Search:

  1. In the main menu under View Collection click MapRank Search. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click the Launch MapRank Search
  2. Scroll to the bottom of the home page until you see Featured App – MapRank Search, and click the Launch MapRank Search

How to Find Maps Using MapRank Search:

  1. Start with entering the location name in the search box (in the upper right corner) and click the Find a Place
  2. The location will appear on the modern-day map. The old maps that match the location will appear in the column on the right, prioritized starting with the map that most closely matches what you searched.
  3. Below the modern-day map, move the time slider levers to narrow in on the desired time frame.
  4. Note that the old maps in the results column will change based on the specified time frame.
  5. Broaden the location if desired by zooming out a bit on the modern-day map. Note that the results list will change as you zoom.
  6. Hover your mouse over a map in the results list and notice that a reddish-brown box will appear the selected map and will also appear on the modern-day map. This indicates the area of the map that the old map covers. This will aid you in selecting the map that will suit your needs.
  7. Click a map from the results list and it will open in a new browser tab, although some maps will appear as an overlay on the modern-day map. In that case, click the Luna Viewer button to go to the page where the map can be downloaded.

How to Compare Modern-day Maps with Old Maps

Whether you have found the map by searching with the Luna Viewer or the MapRank Search you will eventually find yourself on the page where the single map is displayed. On the left is the source information.

In the upper right corner of the screen click the View in GeoReferencer button. You will be taken to a page where you can view the old map overlayed on the modern-day map. In the upper right corner move the slider to make the old map transparent so that you can compare between the two maps.

Recap: Comparing the Two Best Search Tools at DavidRumsey.com

Luna Viewer:
– 100,000 maps
– Search, then refine
– Sometimes glitchy interface

MapRank Search:
– 6000+ maps
– More control with time slider & map
– Map results list ranked by closest coverage

Live Chat Q&A: Answers to Your Questions About David Rumsey Maps

One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.

From Megan: What is the difference between Google Earth and My Maps?
From Lisa: Google Earth is a free software download. This is where I create what I call family history tours. They are a collection of data points and media that come together as a research tool and storytelling tool. My Maps are created in Google Maps. I prefer creating in Google Earth because it offers more tools and options, and it’s where I keep all my mapping work. 

From Gwynn: Heard in the past Java Client might have security holes has this been fixed?
From Lisa: Read more about the latest on Java Client at the website’s FAQ page

From GeneBuds: Must set up account to use Luna Viewer?
From Lisa: No, you don’t have to have an account to use the Luna Viewer. “Registering for an account allows you to save your work and preferences, search external media, create Media Groups and Presentations, customize your settings, create annotations, and upload your own content.” As I mentioned in the video, I prefer to do all my work in Google Earth. 

From Gwynn: Sanborn Fire Maps: Where do I find the Key to the symbols? Are they the same from year to year or do they change?
From Lisa: Here’s the main resource page for Sanborn maps at the Library of Congress. You will find specific information about interpreting the maps including Keys and Colors here.

From Karen: ​If you are specifically looking for plat maps for our US farmers would you put the word plat in the search field?
From Lisa: I would use the Advanced Search and enter the word plat in the “Find all these words” box. Click the plus sign to add an additional “Find all these words” field and type in the name of the location. If that doesn’t deliver the desired result, omit the location and just search on the word plant. Then, on the results page, go to the Refine column and under Where click More. Then you have a nice list to browse. You might spot a map that includes your location. TIP: When you find a result, be sure to check the Related number at the top of the page so that you didn’t miss any additional pages of the map. 

From Mark: Lisa and Bill, is the intro music something that you all wrote?
From Lisa and Bill: No, it’s by a talented musician named Dan Lebowitz. Our goal this year was to learn to play it ourselves 🙂 We’re glad you love it as much as we do!

Resources

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Let us know if you found this video and article helpful. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. We’re here to help!

 

FTM’s 101 Best Genealogy Websites: Here’s the Latest List!

Family Tree Magazine has released its newest list of 101 best genealogy websites–and we’re on the list! This year’s list is all about the best free genealogy websites–for US.research, military records, tech tools and more. 

Each year, Family Tree Magazine publishes its list of the 101 best genealogy websites. They love sharing their favorite sites with readers and honoring those who create these sites. We just heard that the new list is out–and we’re on it!

This year, the list focuses on websites that provide genealogy information and records for free. Categories include:

  • Big genealogy websites
  • Online vital and grave records
  • Military genealogy websites
  • Genealogy immigration websites
  • Genealogy map websites
  • Old newspaper genealogy websites
  • Genealogy library websites
  • US genealogy websites
  • Websites for sharing your genealogy
  • Online genealogy technology tools
  • UK & Irish genealogy websites
  • International genealogy websites
  • Genealogy social history websites
  • Online genealogy tips and help

Genealogy Gems appears in that final category. Here’s what Family Tree Magazine has to say about us:

More than 200 free podcast episodes with research experts make Lisa Louise Cooke’s “genealogy radio” website a must, along with how-to videos, a genealogy book club and a helpful news blog.

We share this category with only five other honorees, including RootsTech and YouTube! Click here for the full list of 101 Best Websites.

Best of New and Updated Genealogy Records Collections

This week the entire Genealogy Gems team is heading to Dallas to present a two day event at the Dallas Public Library. With Lisa, Sunny and Diahan so busy, I’ve decided to take the reins this week and bring you a roundup of my favorite genealogy records of 2017! This compilation includes collections that are new, updated, and just plain fun! I’ve really enjoyed digging back into these and finding new genealogy gems. And I’d love to know: what exciting and helpful collections have you been using this year? Please share in the comments below!

The Catholic Heritage Collection at Findmypast

In February of 2017, Findmypast announced the new Catholic Heritage Archive. Roman Catholic Church genealogical records go back centuries and are meticulously preserved, but difficult to obtain for the general public. Findmypast partnered with British and American Archdioceses to bring up to 100 million Catholic Church records online. Millions are available to search online now, and more will continue to be added.

English Roman Catholic Records
Irish Roman Catholic Records
Scottish Roman Catholic Records
United States & Canada Roman Catholic Records

 

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps at the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress has put online nearly 25,000 additional Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps–and more are coming! Over the next three years, more will be added monthly until all 50 states are covered from the 1880s through the 1960s. This is definitely a collection to keep an eye on!

Sanborn maps show detailed information about neighborhoods, buildings, roads and more for thousands of towns in the U.S. and beyond. A sizable collection of pre-1900 Sanborn maps are already online at the Library of Congress (use the above link). Watch the short video below to learn more about them. The full length class is available to Genealogy Gems Premium Members.

https://youtu.be/Rhv5vtWwONM

Click here to learn more about how to use this outstanding online collection.

 

WWI Centennial – Free Records at FamilySearch

2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the United States entering World War I, and there was a wealth of records and historical resources featured online. I’m highlighting the collection of millions of WWI records available for free at FamilySearch.org, because who doesn’t love free?!

United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917–1918
California, San Francisco, World War I Enemy Alien Registration Affidavits, 1918
Louisiana World War I Service Records, 1917–1920
Maine, World War I Draft Registration Index, 1917–1919
North Carolina, World War I Service Cards, 1917–1919
Texas, World War I Records, 1917–1920
United States Index to Naturalizations of World War I Soldiers, 1918
United States, YMCA World War I Service Cards, 1917–1919

 

Italian Civil Records at FamilySearch

Back in March, FamilySearch added to their unique collection of Italian genealogy records. Five specific locales in Italy have Civil Registration records online. Civil registrations include such things as births, marriages, and deaths. They can also include marriage banns and ten-year indexes. Of course, availability of records will depend on the time period and the location. In some cases, this collection goes back as far as the 15th century!

Italy, Viterbo, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1870-1943
Italy, Mantova, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1496-1906
Italy, Grosseto, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1851-1907
Italy, Rieti, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1840-1945
Italy, Enna, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1866-1944

Learn more about Italian genealogy: In the video below, Lisa sits down with Mary Tedesco of Genealogy Roadshow (on PBS in the US) and talks about doing the TV show, and her tips for conducting Italian genealogy research. This is just one of the many genealogy videos on our Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel.

https://youtu.be/6E8BuprPqsw

 

New England Vital Records

Millions of New England vital records became available online in May of this year, dating back as far as the 17th century. Collections are highlighted below:

Connecticut. More than 755,000 indexed names added to FamilySearch.org’s free collection, Connecticut Marriages, 1640-1939.

Maine. FamilySearch.org added nearly a half million indexed names to its collection of Maine Vital Records, 1670-1921.

Massachusetts: New images have been added to the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s collection for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, 1789-1900: Immaculate Conception (Salem)St. Mary (Salem), and Sacred Heart (Roslindale).

Rhode Island. FamilySearch added over a half million new indexed names and 30,000 digital images to its free collection, Rhode Island – Vital records. These are described as “Certificates and registers of births, 1846-1898, 1901-1903, marriages 1901-1903 and deaths, 1901-1953 acquired from the State Archives in Providence.”

 

British Emigration Records at Findmypast

We often talk about immigration, with an I, but have you researched your ancestors emigration records with an E? The 1600s saw a boom in British emigration, and Findmypast has curated several fascinating collections:

Early emigration from Britain 1636-1815 is a collection from Findmypast containing over 21,000 records that allow you to learn if your ancestors left Britain for North America or the West Indies. The collection includes 10 pieces from The National Archives including colonial papers, general entry books, passenger registers, and weekly immigration returns.
Britain, early emigration to Barbados
 centers on your British ancestors who left for a settlement in Barbados between 1678 and 1715. With over 20,000 assorted documents, this collection includes baptisms, burials, censuses, landowner lists, and more.
Britain, Royal African Company, 1694-1743 is a collection of over 55,000 records to uncover the details of those on board the Royal African Company’s ships to and from Africa as well as the names of those who lived and died at company forts. These Findmypast records came from The National Archives T 70 series, Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading with Africa and Successors.

Click here to learn more about researching and working with emigration records.

 

…and just for fun…

Sydney, Australia – 19th Century Complaint Letters

When I saw this collection, I was totally tickled! I would love to find an ancestor’s complaint letter, as a window into their daily life and surrounding neighbors.

Over 56,000 letters written by residents to the City of Sydney in the latter part of the 1800s have been digitized and added to the City of Sydney Archive online. A city historian quoted at the Daily Telegraph.com said people’s complaints “range from the mundane to the bizarre,” such as “foul smells, night time noise, stray farm animals and smoke billowing from homes and blacksmiths’ forges.” This same online city archive also hosts a collection of historical photographs, a full run of Sands directories, postal directories, and other resources for researching your house history. Find this collection by clicking Archives Investigator and then “Letters Received by Council, 1843-1899.”

 

If you want to see what other records we’ve covered, there’s any easy way to narrow down to your specific ancestors! Visit our home page at www.GenealogyGems.com, and select a category from the drop-down menu on the left:

You can choose categories like Canadian, German, Irish, African-American, Australian, and more. You’ll receive of list of every article where that topic was featured or included. This is a super easy way to find new records collections for any area you’re currently researching. You can also choose other categories like newspapers, technology, organization, etc. for helpful how-tos, research strategies, and updates. And you can always use the search bar in the top right corner of our website if you don’t see your topic listed.

There’s a treasure trove of genealogy gems on our website!

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