I have done a lot of work with maps and searches for maps. As a geologist, making and using maps were great part of my work. They were invaluable sources of information and mandatory for recording and presenting data and ideas for new prospects.
I use maps extensively in genealogical studies as well, searching for old addresses that appear on censuses and in other records, tracing routes that people took, through life as well as through travel. Using maps I could find out where certain people were through time and come up with some ideas of why they moved.
Small parishes are much easier to review of course. If they have limited roadways or are off the “beaten track” it is much easier to see how the residents might have interacted. Looking at towns and cities on maps, over time (even hundreds of years) allows one to see how the communities developed but also how families might have adapted during this growth if they were around the area for a few generations.
Most of my genealogical work has been confined to the British Isles. Some of the websites I have found useful in looking for old maps or in just seeing what areas looked like include the following:
A Vision of Britain Through Time – topographical, land use and administration maps from the 19th and 20th Centuries:
Baedeker’s Old Guide Books – maps scanned from various Baedeker Guidebooks which were published before 1939
Bing (the old Multimap) – good for ordnance survey and aerial photos
Caledonian Maps – a commercial site where old maps of Scotland can be purchased
Charles Booth Online Archive – a searchable resource giving access to archive material from the Booth collections of the Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science and the Senate House Library
Genmaps – part of the Ancestry community; a site devoted to online images of English, Welsh and Scottish maps from their beginnings to the early 20th Century
Google Maps – present-day maps with a wonderful option to see areas from satellite views and street views which show the detail of individual streets and buildings
Historic MapWorks – commercial site for maps from around the world
Mapco – free access to high quality scans of rare and beautiful antique maps and views
National Library of Scotland – offers high-resolution, zoomable images of over 86,000 maps of Scotland and other areas
Old-Maps.co.uk – another commercial website where historical maps England, Wales and Scotland can be purchased
Ordnance Survey – commercial site for modern-day maps of the Great Britain and Ireland
Old London Maps – old maps of London, England area
Some of them are commercial sites, of course but even on those there is always something that you can download free to at least get some ideas from. There are many others. A Google search for “genealogy maps” leads to hundreds of results describing where old maps can be found. Or one might search for a particular area such as “Cornwood, Devon maps”.
Here is part of an 1809 ordnance map I found covering the Cornwood area. It was very useful to compare to place names found on a tax assessment list from the late 18th century. According to the tax list, two properties, “E. Rook”, on the upper part of the map, and “Nats Fm.” (also referred to as Notts and Knotts in other documents), on the lower part of the map, were owned by my 5th great-grandfather, and likely by ancestors further back from him. Knotts was sold in 1810. The family continued to own East Rook until the early 1900s.
Portion of 1809 ordnance survey map copied from A vision of Britain through time website; downloaded September 1, 2012
By tracing where some individuals lived in relation to their future partners I could also envision how they might have met. For example, my wife, Linda’s grandfather, Alexander Cooper, lived with his mother at 4 John Street, Glasgow, Scotland, in 1881, according to the census taken that year. His first wife, Margaret Scott, lived at 44 Hutcheson Street, just three minutes away. She was a confectioner and probably worked in a shop fairly close to her home. I like to think that they may have met and fell in love in a candy store.
Portion of a map of the New Plan of Glasgow with suburbs, from Ordnance and Actual Surveys constructed for the Post Office Directory by John Bartholomew and published in 1882, showing the residence locations for Alexander Cooper and Margaret Scott; copied from the National Library of Scotland website July 22, 2014.
Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.