Thursday, May 5, 2011

Research Tip : Add Maps to Your Family History

Some years ago, after a couple of decades of collecting documents, photographs and facts for my genealogy, I came to the realization that among other things, I wanted to be able to present these items in a way that would interest other members of my immediate family.   Up to that point, those with whom I talked about family history looked at me with blank if tolerant eyes.

This is when I started putting together what I call Heirloom Scrapbooks.  They are large, 12 by 15 inches, room enough to display a "visual" history of our family.  Among the many things that I use as illustrations are colorful historical maps.  No, not the huge fold-out maps that may be as large as 40 inches.  I get them from a variety of places such as National Geographic magazines and old atlases.  One of my favorite sources are discarded children's books.  Children's books are very colorful and have wonderful illustrations.  For example, about every 10 years our library purchases an updated set of books about the 50 states and many foreign countries, after which the older sets get discarded.  Sometimes I'm able to purchase these from the book sale and harvest some nice artwork for my scrapbooks.

Another good source are discarded encyclopedias.  These have nice maps in them, especially the older Britannicas.   There are some great historical maps in area histories, usually black & white or hand-drawn.  These photocopy or scan very well and help illustrate what life was like for our ancestors during their time.

Not long ago, I had a patron ask if there was a good place online for high-resolution maps.  Up to this point I hadn't had a lot of luck or experience finding detailed maps online that were clear enough to print out.  But, there are some out there.  Some tips in locating some of these maps online:
  •  Go to the genealogy yellow pages at Cyndi's List and look through the listings under the heading of Maps, Gazetteers & Geographical Information.
  • Enter search terms such as (without quotes) "Historical Maps High Resolution" into your favorite search engine.  I've had success using Google.
  • Use Google Images to search for a map for a specific location.  For example:  (without quotes) "Historical Map Scotland".  To retrieve the higher-resolution maps, under Advanced Search, select the option for Larger size.  In this case, this references the size of the file, not the map's physical size.  Usually, the larger the file size, the clearer it will be.
Since I started putting together Heirloom Scrapbooks, I've had good luck getting people more interested in the family history.  Sometimes I put them out on the coffee table during holiday gatherings, and watch with satisfaction as others, even the children, flip through the pages.  And, I feel comfortable that like the family photograph albums, my Heirloom Scrapbooks are more likely to be treasured & preserved for generations.