Several things have come together recently that have prompted me to focus on maps and genealogy. First, you may or may not know that I run some study groups along with my friend and colleague, Cyndi Ingle (of Cyndi’s List). One of the groups studies National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ) articles. The article we read for the May study group was “Southern Strategies: Merging Identities by Mapping Activities and Linking Participants—Solomon Harper of South Carolina’s Lowcountry” by Rachal Mills Lennon. This was an excellent example of using maps and locations to not only track ancestors but, in this case, to prove that was believed to be several men, was actually one man through the use of locations and connected associates.
Second, I just recently gave a workshop on using Google’s MyMaps for analyzing and planning to the Colorado Genealogical Society. This is a workshop I give frequently and throughly enjoy because I demonstrate to participants how easy, exciting, and beneficial it can be to use Google’s MyMaps to analyze ancestors, plan research trips, or work on a personal narrative.
Third, I recently worked on a client project that depended on the proximity of two families to each other, and I used some maps to share that information with the client.
Throughout my workday I am consulting maps, especially for areas that I am not familiar with. In many cases, I am looking to see how close one county is to another and asking, is it possible that this family intersected with that family? Are those two counties reasonably close or are they on opposite sides of the state? Are these two counties close together even though they are in different states?
This confluence of activities will inspire the next series of posts on this blog and we will focus on using maps. Primarily, using maps to visualize your ancestors’ lives, locations, and migrations. We will take a look at some map collections, I will provide some examples from my own research, and we will look at using Google’s MyMaps to make your own maps as well.
Once you have identified your research goals, you will need to make a plan to reach those goals. It is not enough to have a goal, a goal needs an action plan. This plan might consist of a list of steps, an inventory of sources, a map and itinerary of repositories to visit, and so forth. When planning a research trip, a research plan is vital to staying focused, being efficient and getting the most out of your time.
Your plan should cover these elements:
- where you plan to visit
- what records you plan to look at
- what/who you expect to find in those records
- brief biographical information on the ancestor to help you id the right person or other information such as a cemetery section to help you locate what you’re looking for
A plan can be expanded to also become your research log (see the next post for more details on the research log).
When traveling, I tend to drive if I have the time. I like being able to go to cemeteries, local libraries, history museums and courthouses that are on the way (or only slightly out of the way). I enjoy seeing the areas where my ancestors lived, walking on land they used to own, and seeing the documents they wrote with their own hands. You can’t really get a good idea of what our great country is like if you are in a plane 30,000 feet up. I do love a good road trip.
When planning your trip, use your genealogy software and locate target areas along the way. Seek out which cemeteries you could reasonably visit. Print out maps and directions to get you there. Planning ahead with a map is easy using tools like Google Maps. In 2011, I was on a very short trip visiting my relatives in Ohio. I planned a day’s tour through 4 cemeteries using Google Maps “My Places” feature. You can view the map here: Google Map of Cemetery Tour. Using this feature, I can locate the cemeteries, see the quickest route between them, make notes of the graves I am looking for – this was my research plan for that trip. [Tip: You can print these out in case there is a poor cell signal on your journey. There’s nothing worse than getting to a remote cemetery and not being able to access your research plan, trust me!]
The process of planning ahead can be fun, will give you the opportunity to be more efficient and will allow you to do some research you might have missed if you hadn’t planned ahead.