Using maps in your genealogy research

There are times I wish I could clone myself. This is one of those times. My apologies for slowing down on the writing front. I’m in the midst of promoting a new book from my cousin Donya Williams, Comes to the Light.  It’s a creatively written Non-Fiction/Social History book about some of our Edgefield County, South Carolina ancestors. You can find out more about the book here https://www.facebook.com/comestothelight

So it’s been an “all hands to the pump” period. This hasn’t left me much time for my own research. Or for writing.  Of course, I made an intriguing discovery about my Edgefield, South Carolina Quaker-descended Holloway family just before starting the book’s promotional campaign . I’d definitely have one clone carry on that with. It will have to wait.  Still, I can’t wait to share my findings about that discovery.

In the meantime, I thought I would share a quick article about maps…and how you can use them as part of your genealogical research practice.

I spent a hot minute or three chatting about how I use maps during my keynote talk at the Le Comité des Archives de la Louisian hosted genealogy conference in Lafayette, Louisiana.

My first stop during this part of my talk was introducing how I used maps to research my different enslaved Sheffey ancestral groups in southwest Virginia:

Slide1

Map illustrating where different African American Sheffey groups were located in southwest Virginia between 1790 and 1865.  Click for larger image.

Plotting where each group of enslaved Sheffeys lived prior to 1865 better enabled me to understand the relationships between these different groups within the extended family. These relationships were reflected in the 1870 and 1880 Census returns. I could see marriages between these different groups. Marriage and death records showed how these various Sheffey groups married one another. The family bond was strong, largely due to remaining in place for such a long period of time.

I also tend to be a very visual person in terms of engaging and understanding data and information.  The map above was the perfect visualization tool. Plus, in terms of public speaking, maps are just a great tool tool for conveying information.

The map below was also part of the same talk. This map outlines Moses William’s journey from Virginia, to North Carolina, to South Carolina from the time of his birth in 1765 in Virginia to his death in 1884 in South Carolina.

Slide6

The story of Moses’ journey in slavery from Virginia to North and South Carolina illustrated in a simple map.

Each point on the map represents a know period in Moses’ life – a story that’s still being researched.  It’s one thing to simply rattle of a quick list of places where he lived. It’s quite another to see the distances his journey covered during his lifetime.

The Sheffey and Moses Williams maps were pretty easy to do using Google Maps (https://www.google.com/maps) This article steps you through the process: How To Pin Point Multiple Locations On Google Maps via https://www.create.net/support/218-how-to-pin-point-multiple-locations-on-google-maps.html

The last set of maps I used in my talk were related to genetic genealogy:

Slide2

A map illustrating the journey the African portion of my YDNA underwent within Africa. Click for a larger image

Slide3

A map illustrating the journey the African portion of my mtDNA underwent within Africa. Click for a larger image

Slide4

A map illustrating the journey the African portion of my father’s mtDNA underwent within Africa. Click for a larger image

It’s one thing to recite a list of countries that formed each one of these epic DNA journies. It’s quite another to throw an image on the screen that brings that story to life.

Another kind of map that is very useful in our research work are property and state/county boundary maps. The Carolina’s are a perfect example.  As genealogists, we have to remember the boundaries we recognize today aren’t anything like the boundaries our ancestors from a hundred years ago – or more – would have recognized.

1696s32

Map displaying the Carolinas as a single territory. Click for larger image

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An early map displaying a nascent North and South Carolina. Click for larger image

sc-districts

This map gives you an idea of how dramatically South Carolina’s county boundaries changed from their first iteration. The original boundaries are illustrated by the thick, black lines.  The modern counties are shown with the thin lines.  Click for larger image

State and county boundary lines have undergone enormous changes throughout the course of the Carolinas’ history.  From the earliest existence of the Carolina territory, to its being split between North and South Carolina – to the formation of the North and South Carolina state and county boundaries we recognize today – boundaries roamed around quite a bit.

To put this into context, there were times when I thought some of my Carolinian ancestors had extreme wanderlust. Between 1790 and 1830, they seemed to bounce back and forth between North and South Carolina (or South Carolina and northern Georgia) – or bounced around different counties within the same state.  Not a bit of it. They actually stayed on the same patch of land they always had.  It was the state and/or county boundaries that changed dramatically over time. Referring back to state and county boundary maps enables me to make sense of this.

This is a perfect example: I frequently come across death certificates for my Edgefield-born ancestors who were born in the 1870s and 1880s and died in neighboring Greenwood County, South Carolina in the 1900s. The informant for the death certificate typically put Greenwood as the county of the deceased person’s county of birth. However Greenwood, as a county, didn’t exist until 1897.  Part of it was carved out of Edgefield County. In fact, the deceased was born in Greenwood, Edgefield County, South Carolina. It just so happened that the Greenwood section of Edgefield where they lived would go on to form Greenwood County proper in 1897. It seems like a tiny and inconsequential detail.  However, it can cause merry havoc trying to find the location of where an ancestor was born if you’re looking in the wrong county. I’m hip to this now. Now, when I see Greenwood County for anyone born before 1897, I know I need to look at property maps for the Greenwood section of Edgefield County.

Maps…the subject may not be as sexy as genetic genealogy among researchers and genealogy enthusiasts. Nevertheless, maps have an important role to play in understanding and uncovering critical information about your family’s history.

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