Posted in Maps, Research tips

My Week at SLIG – New tools to share with you: TopoView


I recently attended a week full of classes at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, and have come back with my head swimming–it’s full of ideas for tools, websites, repostitories and methodologies I want to share with you.

I’ve always been a fan of USGS topo maps—I used to order the 24,000 scale maps directly from the USGS and was quite pleased with my collection. I love looking at these “close up” maps that have dots representing buildings, and have cemeteries and tiny details labeled. Then I discovered the ability to download maps from the USGS website.  Even better!  But even then the interface did not feel entirely useful or slick.  In recent years I have been on the website for the The National Map, by the USGS, and have been happy to see it become more user-friendly. Check out the homepage for The National Map and you will discover the Historical Topographic Map Collection. Continue reading “My Week at SLIG – New tools to share with you: TopoView”

Posted in Maps, Websites

A Nifty Tool Added to the Toolkit

You may or may not know I have a thing for maps. I already have quite a few links to mapping tools in Dayna’s Genealogy Toolkit, but I just have to share one I discovered this week while researching at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. On their computers they have links to useful genealogy websites, and one that I had not known about before is  This very handy mapping tool is being thrown into the toolkit.

Map of US

If you can navigate around all the advertising on the website, and figure out where to find things,  you will find two very useful features:

Interactive boundary formation maps

“Interactive Map of State Formation History” and “Interactive Map of [state] County Formation History” are tools I will be using often. In fact, I used them quite a bit during my research session this week.

If you are familiar with the Animap program by Goldbug, you will recognize these interactive maps.  They are used with the permission of Goldbug, and are basically an online version of Animap without the ability to plot towns. The first shows the state and territorial boundary changes for the entire United States by year.  Access this tool via the “U.S. Maps” link:

Map of US 3

The second shows boundary changes for counties within a given state.  Access this tool via the “Home” link:

Map of US 5

and then clicking on one of the states:

Map of US 6

Historical Atlases

Individual map pages from various historical atlases 1776-1880 have been reproduced here.  Many include details showing railroad lines and the public land survey grid. Access these maps by clicking on the “Historical Atlases” link:

Map of US 4

I like maps for a reason.  Family history puzzlements can often be sorted out when I know what county or state had jurisdiction over an ancestor’s records. It is critical to know where county boundaries were. And how close did they live to a migration route?  Where was the nearest railroad? How close were towns to each other?  Geography can make sense of things, or point out obvious discrepancies in my research.

Just this week I struggled to find records for someone who lived in Jasper County, Missouri and then found it had been part of three other counties. I discovered it by using the interactive county boundary formation map.  I often refer to the “Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Census, 1790-1920,” by William Dollarhide, and I still will because it is my trusty sidekick. But it is nice to have a tool which shows boundaries between the census years, so I will also be using the “Map of US” website.

I would also like to plug Animap software, which has additional worthwhile features.

While “Map of US”is a bit of a funky website with some links that go nowhere and menu items that have nothing under them, you really only need to know where to find the interactive maps and the historical atlases to get the most from the site. I think you will find it quite useful.


Posted in Forts, Indian Wars, Library of Congress, Maps, Military, National Archives

Hold the Fort! …or at least stick around and learn a little more about it

Out West, early on, it was lawless and rugged and full of guys who wanted land, gold, and water rights, and sometimes did not get along with the Native Americans who came first.  So Out West is also where forts and the United States Army Cavalry could be found.  Maybe your ancestor lived near a fort, or maybe he lived in one as a soldier.

Fort Laramie, Wyoming
Fort Laramie, Wyoming

Walters Art Museum {{Commons:File:Alfred Jacob Miller – Fort Laramie – Walters 37194049.jpg}} at Wikimedia Commons

You will probably be surprised to know how many forts actually existed in the 19th century Out West.  I don’t have an exact number, but I have some resources that will help you track them down, and also find the records created by the U.S. Army at those forts. Continue reading “Hold the Fort! …or at least stick around and learn a little more about it”

Posted in Maps, Migration trails, Research tips

Migration maps for Western States: How did your ancestor end up Out West?

How did your ancestors end up Out West?  Click on these links to  access maps for Western States migration trails, early railroads, and rivers from On Granny’s Trail.

Maps of Western States Migration Routes


Posted in Forts, Land and property, Maps, Texas, Texas Land Grants

Ninja Genealogy and Serendipity among the Cacti and Taxidermists

I am on my way home from a research trip to the Texas Hill Country to find the land my Gooch ancestors occupied from the late 1840s at least through the 1880s.  I know Texas would rather consider itself part of the South than part of the West, but that’s where my folks were before they moved to Arizona, and if a trip through the county roads of central Texas is not On Granny’s Trail, then I don’t know what is.  Besides, any state with the amount of cacti and roadside taxidermists I saw surely qualifies as “Western.”

My specific goal for this trip was to locate my ancestors’ original land tracts on a modern map, so I could drive there and take pictures of the surroundings.

This post recounts the steps I took in the research process and the fun surprise ending. I plan to follow up in the future with some helpful advice for planning a research trip but I couldn’t wait to share what I found, because it involved what I call Ninja Genealogy and some delightful serendipity. The post is long, but not nearly as long as the 25 year journey I took to this particular tract of land. Continue reading “Ninja Genealogy and Serendipity among the Cacti and Taxidermists”