Maps and genealogy go hand in hand, it is essential to have a feel for the places where your ancestors lived. Maps can answer so many questions such as why did your 3rd great grandfather move to that town rather than one that appears to be nearer ? The answer may be found in a map that shows you that there is a range of steep hills between your ancestors village and the nearest town which would have been impassable in the winter and a flat easily walked road between the village and the town that was furthest away.
A rule of thumb in genealogy is that a man or woman on a horse could ride 10 miles in a day. Therefore if your family disappears from their parish then you should search every parish within a ten mile radius. This is so much easier now we can search parish registers online, but be aware when FindMyPast and Ancestry put up a collection for a county it may not be complete. The trend is to announce they now have parish records for a county and then put up a good number of parishes which have been digitised and indexed, they then update the collection as more parishes become digitised and indexed. That is why it is important to always check if your parish is included in the collection or if it is still to be added.
To find your missing ancestors you need to make a list of the parishes in a ten mile radius of where they last were found and for that you will need a map. If you have canal boat people you will need a map so you can search the parish records along the canal looking for baptisms, marriages and burials. If you want to trace the route a census enumerator took whilst recording families in big cities such as London you will need a map.
Maps and Genealogy – Which Maps Can Help You?
A modern map is going to be of little use to you for your genealogy, but luckily there are several sources of old maps which are just what a family historian needs. Some maps can be found online and some are available to purchase. Generally the cost of buying a printed map of your ancestral area is very reasonable and there is a lot to be said for working with a physical map rather than one online. Choose a map that was printed near to the time your ancestors were in the area and remember that the information and drawings would have been made up to a year or two before printing.
There are affiliate links in this post further details at the end of this post.
Printed Maps and Genealogy
The best known individual printed map for the genealogist is the Godfrey range of maps. They costs £3 plus postage and cover a large part of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The maps are taken from the 19th century Ordnance Survey “Inch to the Mile” maps. On the back of the map is useful information and a list of the principal parishes and villages covered. The complete range of maps can be purchased at Amazon.
This book has to be the king of maps and genealogy. My copy of The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers is very sad looking, it is battered and worn through being used almost on a daily basis. Of all my genealogy books this would be one of three that I would replace immediately when it finally falls to pieces. I have had it since the mid 1990’s and it tells you something about the quality of the paper and binding that it is still usable. There is a page for each county of England, a page each for North, South and Central Wales and ten pages for Scotland.
The maps are indexed and there is a grid so you can find your parish easily, this is especially helpful when you working in a county like Norfolk which has a very large number of very small parishes. The date of the start of the parish registers is given as well as where the original records are kept and if any indexes have been made of the records (this is less helpful now that so much has been put online). Phillimore’s Atlas isn’t cheaper at £30, but should be on every genealogist gift list.
This book of maps of Victorian London has been invaluable in my research. I think this is the best street atlas covering late Victorian London. It is very useful for tracking down where census enumerators walked as their boundaries aren’t always clear. With London research you sometimes need all the help you can get when ancestors strayed from home, this is a great help. Again it is battered and worn as it, along with the Phillimore’s Atlas, is always taken along when I am lecturing on maps and the genealogist or I am teaching a family history class. It is now out of print, but second hand copies can be purchased through Amazon. Prices range from £25 to £88 which seems rather silly. A tag inside my copy tells me that I paid £25 for mine new some years ago. Jean, one of the MadAboutGenealogy readers, has just sent me a message to say the A to Z of Victorian, London is still on available at The National Archives Bookshop. I have just had a quick look and it is indeed in stock for £23 plus £3.50 postage. Many thanks, Jean!
Online Maps and Genealogy
You can access an online version of The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers on Ancestry. The easiest way to find it on Ancestry.co.uk is by clicking on the Card Catalogue Tab, then type in Great Britain, Atlas and Index of Parish Registers into the title box. Click on the title when it comes up and you are in, it can be browsed page by page or you can search by country, county, registration district or parish. You can then save the map to your computer and print it off if you wish. Be aware that the online maps do not have the grid system that the printed book has so finding a parish can take some time if it is in a county with a large number of parishes.
The Old Maps UK website says it is Britain’s most comprehensive historical map archive and I think that was probably correct until the National Library of Scotland collection came online – see below. But it still has it’s place in a post about maps and genealogy.There are restrictions on this website, but they won’t bother the average genealogist. Only 350 maps can be looked at per month, if you want to look at more then there is a subscription of £9.99 a month. You can search modern maps as well as 19th century maps, zoom in and out, but be aware that if you want to zoom really into a map you will have to pay for a subscription. You can purchase maps and they can be downloaded as PDF’s, prices seem to start around £11.
Old Maps Online website is a project run by Klokan Technologies GmbH, Switzerland and the University of Portsmouth. The idea is that various institutions worldwide scan and upload their map collections onto the site. You simply type into a search box the place you want a map of and then a list of available maps appears on the right hand side. Click on the map you wish to look at more closely and up it pops you can zoom in and the quality is really good. This would be a good place to start when you are working with an area that has changed greatly overtime. Well worth the time having a good look at this site particularly if you are looking for maps overseas as well as UK maps.
I suspect that those looking for maps of England and Wales wouldn’t think to look at the National Library of Scotland website, but they would be so wrong not to do so. The NLS has made their map collection freely available online and this is such a great asset for family and local historians. The search facility is easy to use and brings up a range of maps to choose from. There is also information on map makers. If you are researching Scottish ancestry then you do need to familiarise yourself with this site as they offer an online image collection, plus e-resources, moving images and a learning centre. I must come back and explore this site and write a post just about this one site.
Summary – Maps and Genealogy
I hope that if you weren’t a fan of map and genealogy before then you will be now. They make research much easier and placing your ancestors into a landscape can make for a more meaningful family history.
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