5 Free Online Historical Maps for Genealogy

These free online historical maps may help you learn more about your ancestors’ daily lives and flesh out your family history. Find maps for Victorian and Edwardian England and Wales; indigenous people of Canada and the U.S.; European synagogues; the Soviet military during WWII and even shipwrecks in and around Ireland.

We’ve reported previously on fantastic interactive map tools to help you learn more about your ancestors’ worlds. The best interactive maps don’t just give you locations: they combine locales with statistics, historical timelines, images or stories to help you get a sense of that time and place. (One amazing site that comes to mind is Bomb Site, an interactive map of the London Blitz.)

Recently, several interactive map tools have come across my desk for consideration in our weekly Friday Records post, so here’s a nice roundup of them. Whether you have ancestors from these places or cultural communities, or whether you just love old maps as Lisa Louise Cooke and I do, we think you’ll enjoy these.

Featured Free Online Historical Map: Populations Past

Populations Past is a new interactive online atlas of Victorian and Edwardian populations in England and Wales. According to the site overview page, “The second half of the nineteenth century was a period of major change in the dynamics of the British population….[But] this transition was not uniform across England and Wales….This website allows users to create and view maps of different demographic measures and related socio-economic indicators every 10 years between 1851 and 1911. These include fertility, childhood mortality, marriage, migration status, household compositions, age-structure, occupational status and population density.” Brief explanations are included, and you can zoom in, compare maps and even download them. The atlas is hosted on the University of Cambridge website.

Map of Native Lands and People

Yes! Magazine has reported on the free Native Land website and app, which help you learn about the history of wherever you are (or wherever you want to learn about). According to the article, the site “seeks to map Indigenous languages, treaties, and territories across Turtle Island” (North America). As you can see from the screenshot below, though, other parts of the world are also included. When you enter any ZIP code, the map “will zoom in on your inquiry, color-code it, and pull up data on the area’s Indigenous history, original language, and tribal ties.”

The site’s About page stresses that the boundaries and names used are meant to come from the point of view of native people (rather than their conquerors) and that different perspectives exist. The site does actively solicit user feedback, though so much has been received that corrections are temporarily on hold. It’s certainly a fascinating lens through which to view the history of the land your ancestors lived on or settled—or perhaps even the property on which you yourself live now.

Map of European synagogues

Over 3000 synagogues have been mapped out at the free website, Historic Synagogues of Europe. The site aims “to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date inventory of the historic synagogues of Europe,” encompassing the 47 member states of the Council of Europe plus Belarus. Information about the various buildings, their historical and cultural significance, their current condition and their associated communities are included. Genealogists tracing Jewish ancestors might search extant synagogues located near an ancestor’s home, if known, to learn more about the building and at least to generally identify the communities that called it home. Sadly, though, according to this report on the site, only about 19% of European synagogues built before World War II are still standing.

4,000 Russian maps being digitized

A collection of about 4,000 topographical maps at Indiana University have traveled a long way (physically and culturally) since being produced by the Soviet military between 1883 and 1947. According to a press release, these maps of “the Eastern Bloc Borderlands project portray Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, and Western Russia – all areas greatly impacted by World War II and of strategic importance to Russia and the Soviet Union.”

These regions have changed greatly since the maps were created. In many cases, the maps identify villages and boundaries that no longer exist. The collection is being digitized because it contains such unique information that is of value to the international community. (What value may it have for your family history??)

About 1,000 of these maps have already been digitized and can be viewed at Indiana University’s Image Collections Online. The rest are forthcoming.

Shipwrecks around Ireland

Do you have relatives who may have been shipwrecked off the coast of Ireland? A new interactive map, the National Monuments Service Wreck Viewer, charts nearly 4,000 shipwrecks around the island. The data comes from the Wreck Inventory of Ireland Database, which catalogs thousands more wrecks that don’t have precisely known locations. In addition to a location, some wrecks report the name of the ship, the date of the wreck, the type of boat or ship and source of data (from Lloyd’s to a group of amateur divers). Many wrecks show very scant information but you may be able to use it in combination with other family history discoveries, such as newspaper articles or emigrant passenger lists, to add depth to your family history stories.

More Free Historical Maps Online!

Did I mention we love historical maps here at Genealogy Gems? Click on the articles below to read about more of our favorites. And for the ultimate historical maps education, join Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning, which gives you access to exclusive video classes by Lisa Louise Cooke on using historical maps and even Google Earth for genealogy! 

Vintage NYC Street Views on Google Earth

4 Must-Explore Ancestry.com Collections

Meyers Gazetteer Online for German Genealogy

Living in the Past: Ruth Goodman Shows Us How It’s Done

What was it like to live in the Tudor age or the 1940s? Would you rather “watch” the answer or “read” it? Well, you can do both with these popular BBC historical documentary series and their companion books.

ruth-goodmanRuth Goodman is known to BBC watchers as the woman who brings history to life in several documentary series. They’re all re-creations of rural life in a certain time period: the Tudor era, Victorian era, Edwardian era (which many of us know better as the Downton Abbey era) and even World War II. All of the series have episodes you can watch on YouTube for free. A couple of them also have companion books that give you the nitty-gritty–sometimes literally–in print.

Time for a little binge-watching (or reading!)! Below, you will find a sample episode from each series, along with the companion book and a link to watch more episodes on YouTube.

Tudor Monastery Farm

Tudor Monastery Farm is the official companion volume to the series. You’ll follow Ruth and her co-stars “as they discover how to build a pigsty, brew their own ale, forge their own machinery, and keep a Tudor household. Scrupulously researched, totally authentic, and with its own contemporary narrative playing out within an accurate reconstruction of Tudor England, this is a fantastic glimpse into history, as it was lived.”

Ruth’s more scholarly How to Be a Tudor riveted me–and I didn’t expect it to. My historical imagination doesn’t generally extend that far back in time. Ruth captured the little things that are so big like what it’s like not to bathe, how the food tastes, and how itchy the clothes are. When she waxed rapturous about studying a suit of clothing that was several hundred years old and falling apart in an archive, I felt an almost primal connection. I get that way about old documents. I’m just saying.

Watch more Tudor Monastery Farm here.

Victorian Farm

How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life is another critically-acclaimed “manual for the insatiably curious” by the “historian who believes in getting her hands dirty.” This time she reveals Victorian life (the mid and late 1800s) from daybreak to bedtime. Again, the devil and the delightful are in the details: how they got dressed, how and when and what they ate, and what work they did. I’m guessing nobody skips the chapters on the trip to the privy or “behind the bedroom door.”

Watch more Victorian Farm here.

Edwardian Farm

“If variety is the spice of life, then Edwardian rural life has proved to be one heck of a curry.” -Ruth Goodman

In this series and the Edwardian Farm book, Ruth and her intrepid co-time-travelers live in England’s West Country as if it’s the turn of the twentieth century. At the time this was “a commercially prosperous region—a stunning rural landscape encompassing rolling farmland, wild moorland, tidal river, coast, and forest, which supported a vibrant and diverse economy.” The hosts spend a year “restoring boats, buildings, and equipment; cultivating crops; fishing; rearing animals; and rediscovering the lost heritage of this fascinating era as well as facing the challenges of increasingly commercial farming practices, fishing, and community events.”

Watch more Edwardian Farm here.

Wartime Farm

During World War II, Britain couldn’t import much produce or other foodstuff as they were accustomed, so residents had to grow it themselves or go without. The series and the book Wartime Farm reveal “how our predecessors lived and thrived in difficult conditions with extreme frugality and ingenuity. From growing your own vegetables and keeping chickens in the back yard, to having to ‘make do and mend’, many of the challenges faced by wartime Britons have resonance today.”

Watch more Wartime Farm here.

Image courtesy of Sarah Chrisman.

This post was inspired by our current Genealogy Gems Book Club author, Sarah Chrisman. She, too, is an expert on living in the past. The difference is that her Victorian lifestyle isn’t just a year-long experiment but her chosen way of life. Lisa Louise Cooke interviewed her recently about Victorian holiday traditions in the free Genealogy Gems podcast episode 198. In the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 142, which requires a Genealogy Gems Premium membership to access, Sarah talks about her memoirs, This Victorian Life and Victorian Secrets: What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present and Myself.

genealogy book club family history readingClick here to see what other gems the Genealogy Gems Book Club has to recommend!

Victorian Fruit Cake Recipe: Tasty and Tasteful

Victorian Fruit cake recipe

Image courtesy of Sarah Chrisman.

This recipe for a Victorian fruit cake skips the poor-quality candied fruit that gives some pre-made modern fruitcakes a bad reputation (especially in the US). Instead, fresh coconut, citron and almonds fill this cake to bursting with natural flavors and textures. 

This holiday season, Genealogy Gems Book Club featured author Sarah Chrisman is helping us celebrate all things Victorian, especially recipes! Keep reading to find links to the Victorian holiday recipes we’ve shared recently. In this post: a fruit cake that lives up to its history as a rich, flavorful dessert that’s worthy of the season.

Image courtesy of Sarah Chrisman.

Sarah Chrisman shared this recipe for a white fruit cake with us, along with this picture of her cracking a coconut in preparation for making this dish:

“Stir to a cream one pound of butter and one pound of powdered sugar. Add the beaten yolks of twelve eggs, one pound of flour and two teaspoons of baking powder. Grate one coconut, blanch and chop one-half pound of almonds, and slice one-half pound of citron and stir into the stiffly beaten white of the eggs and add to the batter. Put in pan lined with buttered paper, and bake slowly two hours.” -By Mrs. W.S. Standish, Plymouth Union Cook Book, 1894. pp. 56-57.

Here’s a quick video tutorial on how to blanch almonds:

What is citron? It’s a citrus fruit that is something like a lemon. According to this blog post on using citron in fruitcakes, it’s not always easy to find fresh citrons, but you can ask at your best local markets for a supplier near you or look for high-quality prepared citron that can be shipped to you.

More Victorian holiday recipes

Homemade cranberry sauce and hearty vegetable hashvictorian-coasting-cookies

Victorian pumpkin pie: light and delectable

Coasting cookies (shown here)

Traditional (and tasty) fig pudding

this-victorian-lifeGenealogy Gems Book Club featured author Sarah Chrisman will join host Lisa Louise Cooke in the December Genealogy Gems and Genealogy Gems Premium podcasts to talk about her everyday Victorian lifestyle. Check out her memoir, This Victorian Life: Modern Adventures in Nineteenth-Century Culture, Cooking, Fashion and Technologies or several other books she’s written about the era (both fiction and nonfiction).

Victorian Fig Pudding Recipe: “We All Want Some Figgy Pudding”

fig-pudding-lead-imageVictorian expert Sarah Chrisman shares her adaptation of a classic “figgy” pudding recipe, a holiday staple in Victorian times. Don’t be fooled by its inelegant appearance: there’s a reason carolers sang, “We won’t go until we get some!”

This holiday season we are sharing Victorian recipes, in celebration of our Genealogy Gems Book Club featured author, Sarah Chrisman. Sarah lives her life like it’s the late 1880s. She’ll join us on the Genealogy Gems podcast and Premium podcast in December to tell us all about it–click here to learn more. Meanwhile, enjoy her delicious recipe for a classic fig pudding and a tutorial video that demonstrates making it the old-fashioned way.

“Figgy Pudding” Recipe

“One pound of figs cut fine, imported ones are best but dried domestic ones will answer, one and a half pounds of bread crumbs, one-half pound chopped suet [vegetarian alternative: 8 oz coconut oil, melted and mixed into bread crumbs], twelve ounces moist sugar [brown sugar], a little nutmeg [1 tsp.], two eggs, one teacup of milk.  Mix all together and steam four hours [in a pudding bag].” –Plymouth Union Cook Book, 1894. p. 86.

Here’s a quick video tutorial on how to prepare a “figgy pudding” recipe in the old-fashioned way:

Hard Sauce for Puddings

“Beat one egg and half a cup of sugar until very light, then add two tablespoons of softened butter; beat until it will stay piled on a plate; grate in a little nutmeg and put in a very cold place until served.” –Plymouth Union Cook Book, 1894. p.98

More Victorian holiday recipes

Roast Thanksgiving turkey with chestnut stuffing and gravy

Homemade cranberry sauce and hearty vegetable hash

Victorian pumpkin pie: light and delectable

Coasting cookies

Victorian Holiday Recipe: Coasting Cookies

Sarah Chrisman shares a favorite Victorian holiday recipe just in time for baking season! These “coasting cookies” bring to mind the cold-cheeked fun of sledding in the chilly air of winter.

This holiday season, we’re celebrating all things Victorian with our Genealogy Gems Book Club featured author, Sarah Chrisman. She and her husband Gabriel live like it’s 1889–and have become first-hand experts on Victorian life. Here, Sarah shares a favorite Victorian holiday recipe for “coasting cookies” and the story behind it. The original recipe appears below, edited to a modern recipe format, along with Sarah’s notes (in parentheses) on adapting the recipe for modern cooking.

Victorian Holiday Recipe: Coasting Cookies

Image courtesy of Sarah Chrisman.

Ingredients:
1 pound flour (3 1/3 cups)
8 oz butter (1 cup, softened)
1/2 pint molasses (1 cup)
1 Tbsp (baking) soda, beaten very hard in the molasses
1 Tbsp coriander seed, pounded in a mortar
(crushing whole seeds retains more flavor)
1 Tbsp (whole) carraway [sic], pounded in a mortar
(yields about 1 3/4 Tbsp when crushed)
ginger to taste (1 Tbsp powdered ginger)

Original instructions:
1. Soften the butter.
2. Stir in the molasses, ginger, seeds, and flour.
3. Roll thin and cut.
4. Bake in a quick oven.

coasting-cookies-comment

Sarah’s updated Coasting Cookies instructions:
1. Crush the caraway and coriander together,
add the ginger and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, beat the molasses and baking soda 2-3 minutes; it will turn a very pretty pale caramel color as the alkaline soda reacts with the acid in the molasses.
3. Add the butter and flour and mix well.
4. Bake 8-10 minutes at 375 degrees.

The Original recipe appears in In the Kitchen by Elizabeth S. Miller. (Boston: Lee & Shepard, 1875), p. 365.

Ladies’ Toboggan Race, Kiandra, c. 1884–1917. Wikimedia Commons image; click to view with citation.

Sarah explains the story behind “coasting cookies:”

Gabriel was attracted to this recipe because the word ‘coasting’ in the name put him in mind of bicycles.  However, it turned out to be a sledding reference, as seen in this excerpt from an 1877 short story:

“‘Coasting’ and snow-balling were the bloom and glow of those long, icy months; and the very thought of my youthful exploits in these cold Vermont days makes the blood tingle in my veins…  [T]here were lots of ‘fellers,’ small boys, so utterly extinguished beneath their big caps and mufflers, that, to the uninitiated, it would seem necessary to dig them out, like potatoes out of a hill, before they could be recognizable. Well, these ‘fellers’… had glorious times together, and considered it the great business of life in winter to coast, and skate, and fire snow-balls, being somewhat apt to resent such interruptions as going to school, doing ‘chores,’ or eating regular meals.”—Church, Ella Rodman.  “A Story of “Doughnuts,” Petersen’s Magazine, July, 1877,  p. 65.

Although they were originally named for the sport of sledding, Gabriel and I found them to be equally delicious after cycling expeditions. Consequently, in my Tales of Chetzemoka cycling club series, these cookies are special favorites with the club members. Here’s a fun excerpt from Book Two, Love Will Find A Wheel:

…”You’re all coming here afterwards, aren’t you?”  She asked the club in general.  “My sewing circle ladies will be here again.”

Mr. Goldstein leaned on his fifty-inch wheel and laughed.  “Since my wife will be here I won’t get much peace if I don’t come!”

Felix and Ken exchanged put-upon looks, then a thought seemed to occur to Felix and his face brightened.  “Are you going to be making those coasting cookies again?”  He asked Mrs. Brown.

She smiled indulgently.  “I already made them.  There’s five dozen of them on plates in the pie safe, just waiting.”

“Only five dozen?” Ken whined in mock disappointment.

Felix punched him lightly in the shoulder.  “Don’t worry, I’ll save you half of one—if you’re nice to me.”…

Sarah will join us in the December Genealogy Gems Podcast and Genealogy Gems Premium podcasts. Click here to learn more about her and her Victorian-themed books, both fiction and non-fiction. For more Victorian recipes: click here for roast Thanksgiving turkey with chestnut stuffing and gravy and Sarah’s homemade cranberry sauce and hearty vegetable hash.

genealogy book club family history reading

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