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# Tuesday, 11 July 2017
How I Created a Genealogy Timeline To Show My Grandfather's Life
Posted by Diane

My grandfather Joe moved around a lot during his lifetime: Texas, North Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, back to Texas, elsewhere in Texas, Ohio, more places in Texas, various Ohio cities, South Dakota, Ohio again. 

Timelines organize an ancestor's or a family's family tree data—dates, places of residence, jobs, historical events, children's births—in an orderly fashion. I love them.

So when I was making a photo book about my grandfather as a Christmas present for my dad, I thought a timeline was just the thing to help summarize all those migrations. Matching up the timeline with a map of all the places would be even better.

My Grandfather's Migration Timeline
Here's the timeline and map I came up with:

The right-hand page lists each place Joe lived, with dates and details about what he did in that place. The information comes from my research in censuses, city directories, newspapers and other genealogy records. I'm lucky to have copies of a job application my grandpa filled out with his work history.

Looking at it now, I can see some things I'd change. But overall, I'm pleased with it.

For the map, I first tried customizing a Google map using free numbered place markers downloaded from here (Google's marker options don't include numbers). To create your own Google maps timeline, add a generic place marker to the map, click the paint can to edit the marker style, choose More Icons, then Custom Icon, and select the marker image file from your computer. You'll need a Google account to save the map.

I didn't love the result for my photo book, though, so I imported a map image into desktop publishing software I have access to through work, and added numbered place markers I created myself. Then I exported the file as a JPG to use in the photo book. 

I know a few tricks, but I'm not a graphic designer, so there's probably an easier and more artful way to go about making the map.

Using Timelines in Your Genealogy Research
Timelines are among your best genealogy tools. In addition to helping you easily share genealogical information, they let you: 
  • get an overview of a person or family in historical context

  • sort out a confusing jumble of information you've found in records

  • spot problems (why was Great-grandpa here and Great-grandma over there?)

  • note periods of missing information

  • brainstorm answers to research questions, such as why a relative immigrated or where your great-grandparents met
Our new independent study online course Using Timelines in Your Genealogy helps you take advantage of all these genealogy benefits of timelines.

It'll show you how to use timelines to understand your ancestors' lives and solve research problems, and how to create a timeline by hand or using websites such as Twile and Treelines. Best of all, you can take this independent study course at your own pace and download the videos and research guides to keep.

See all the details for our Using Timelines in Your Genealogy course and register at

Family Tree University | Maps | Research Tips
Tuesday, 11 July 2017 12:43:10 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Wednesday, 31 May 2017
How to Use the Library of Congress' New Sanborn Maps for Genealogy
Posted by Diane

Have you heard the news about the Library of Congress’ new digital Sanborn maps? Nearly 25,000 maps are now online, with more to be added over the next three years for a total of 500,000.

Sanborn fire insurance maps were published for insurance companies to assess a structure’s risk of catching fire. They were published in different years for different places, and usually after 1920, a set of maps for a particular town might be updated by pasting over a new building.

The maps show subdivision names, streets, buildings, and building details such as address, purpose, composition, windows and doors. You can locate your ancestor’s address before renumbering and renaming that might’ve happened, and you get a good look at your ancestor’s neighborhood at the time.

Here’s an example of how I used the collection to see where my ancestors lived:

1. Much of my mom's family lived in Covington, Ky., so that’s what I searched for (typing the full state name) in the Search box at the top of the page. Maps were published in 1886 and 1894.

I chose 1886.

2. Next, I looked up a few ancestors’ addresses in city directories. In 1886, Louis Thoss lived and worked at a hardware business at 73 E. 12th st. His mother, Elizabeth, was a widow at the southeast corner (“sec”) of 13th and Garrard. His deceased brother’s widow, Jennie, lived at 165 E. 13th.

3. Each set of maps took up many pages in a book. An index map, labeled Map 1, is the first in the series and shows which page covers each area.

Zoom in on the index map and drag it around to get a better look at street names.

For larger cities, check the last page in the series for a street index that lists which range of house numbers and the map page they’re located on. It also lists “specials,” or major buildings.

The corner of East 13th and Garrard is on Map 30. Jennie's address on East 13th could be on map 29 or 30.

I Googled Louis' address to get a better idea of its location today. It's probably on Map 20, but might be on a different map if houses have been renumbered since Louis’ day.

4. At the top right of the web page, switching from single image to gallery view and clicking Go gets me to the view of all map pages in this set, so I can find and click image 30.

Here's where it helps to check a Google map if you don't know the area. Thirteenth street was shown running north/south, because it was probably positioned horizontally on the page. But in real life, it runs east/west. If I didn't know that, I’d pick the wrong corner of 13th and Garrard. You can rotate the map using controls in the lower right corner.

Elizabeth Thoss lived at No. 133. No. 165 is 11 doors to the east.

5. Elizabeth’s home is mostly pink and some yellow, with numbers and Xes, and the notation “no opgs” on the side. You’ll find a key on the index map page and more information about the colors and symbols here, along with notes such as the area’s population and size of the fire department.

Colors indicate construction materials. Green indicated a high-risk building. The numbers tell how many stories. An X marks a door, and Xes on walls mark windows, with dots for windows on second or higher stories. An O is an iron chimney. Elizabeth’s building was mostly brick (pink) and 2-½ stories, with a 2-story wood (yellow) addition. The front section held a saloon (“sal”), with a dwelling (“Dwg”) in the rear.

6. You can download this map in several formats, all the way up to a TIF, using the Download menu at the lower left.

If you’re looking in New York City, you can use the New York Public Library’s Map Warper to view Sanborn and other old maps layered over modern maps. If not, you can upload your map to Google Earth and do an overlay there. Find a tutorial in the July/August 2015 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

Genealogy Web Sites | Libraries and Archives | Maps
Wednesday, 31 May 2017 20:58:11 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [5]
# Tuesday, 23 May 2017
Three New Ways to Learn About Your Ancestor's Military Service
Posted by Diane

On Memorial Day, Americans traditionally place flowers on the graves of those who died in military service (read how this holiday, originally called Decoration Day began). Canadians observe Memorial Day on July 1. 

Library of Congress

Another way to honor your ancestors who served in the armed forces is to learn about their wartime experiences and preserve those stories by writing them down. If it was years ago when you last learned about the wars your ancestors served in, it might be time to give it another go—technology offers new ways to explore historic wars through maps, apps and videos.

Library of Congress

If you can learn the military unit and battles your relative served in (this military research guide can help), military maps let you trace his movements and even where he would've been during battles. The Library of Congress has a Military Battles and Campaigns map collection, which you can search by keyword using the search field at the top of the page. The one above is from a series showing the 12th Army Group from D-Day through July 26, 1945, in World War II.

The David Rumsey Map Collection has digitized military maps and military atlases you can search or browse using the filters on the left side of the page.

For the Civil War and American Revolution, explore the animated and historical maps at the Civil War Trust website. They include overviews of the entire war and for individual battles.

Your smart device can help you access military history information wherever you are. Try searching your device's app store for "military history," "[name of war] history" or "[name of battle] history." A few I found include:
  • Civil War Today ($2.99, iOS): This History Channel app shows you a daily newspaper article about the war.

  • Civil War Trust Battle Apps (free, iOS and Android): These let you virtually tour Civil War battlefields for major battles like Chancellorsville and Antietam, and they're good companions if you're visiting the battlefield. 

  • Military History (.99, iOS): This reference has 1,200 entries for  important military events; search by date and keyword. It also has a "this day in history" feature.

  • 20th Century Military Uniforms (about $4, iOS and Android): View uniforms used by various countries throughout the 20th century.
The Civil War Trust comes through again with educational videos from history experts, including a Civil War In4 series that delves into a topic in four minutes or less.

The National Archives' YouTube channel has playlists including WWI Films, Tuskeegee Airmen and D-Day. The Library of Congress has a YouTube playlist on the Spanish-American War. YouTube also has videos from Ken Burns' documentaries about the Civil War and World War II.

And here's the only known Allied color footage from World War II.

More Genealogy Resources for Military Ancestors
Find websites for researching your ancestors who served in the US Armed Forces in this list of websites and get research tips in our free podcast on military records

In, check out our downloadable, complete guides to research in military service records and military pension records.

Maps | Military records
Tuesday, 23 May 2017 12:44:23 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Wednesday, 12 April 2017
Q&A With Randy Majors, Creator of Online Map & Search Tools Genealogists Love
Posted by Diane

Randy Majors is the inventor of the Historical US County Boundary Maps tool genealogists use to trace their ancestors' county boundary changes (we at Family Tree Magazine think it's so useful that we made it one of our 101 Best Websites for 2016).

AncestorSearch, which lets you run genealogy-specific advanced Google searches, is another one of his creations. Our intrepid reporter Sunny Morton tracked him down to ask a few questions about maps and genealogy.

Q. What inspired you to develop the county boundaries tool and AncestorSearch?
A. Both were born out of my own genealogy research: thinking there have got to be better, quicker, more efficient ways of performing tasks I do repeatedly.

Q. What’s your professional background?
A. In college, I got degrees in geography and GIS (geographic information systems) just as that technology was moving mainstream. I spent much of my early career developing interactive, computerized mapping tools for the energy industry. When I became interested in family history more than 10 years ago, I just applied my skill sets and interests in mapping and programming.

Q. So you love maps?
I’ve been interested in maps forever. You know how other kids have lemonade stands? I had a map stand in third grade.

Q. Have you had personal research success success using your tools for genealogy?
The county boundaries tool has mainly helped me overcome mistakes. How many of us have discovered we haven’t found something because we were looking in the wrong place?

With AncestorSearch, I’ve taken six or seven family lines back at least another generation. Despite how much is available on the big genealogy websites, it’s funny how often something is buried on a site you don’t expect. And a lot of people have messaged me about people they’ve found using AncestorSearch, including living lost cousins.

Q. What’s the Let’sWalkTo tool on your site?
That one is not related to genealogy. It’s literally just another example of something I was interested in. My wife and I like to walk everywhere. When we go out to dinner we rarely drive, either where we used to live in Manhattan, NY, or now in Denver, Colo.

When I’m traveling, I use this tool, too. You enter your preferred walking distance and the address, and get a list of restaurants and bars to click on. You can filter for a specific type of food or entertainment and by price point. This is just a mash-up of walking distances and restaurant information on Google Maps, but it’s so useful.

Q. Tell us about a map hanging on your wall right now.
Manhattan in 1836. Only the southern tip was populated and there was only forest land where Central Park is. I can see that a building that’s now several blocks in from the water was actually on the shoreline; so many of the old rivers are now partly filled in. This map reminds me how this island has been so hugely transformed.


Randy and Sunny teamed up on a May/June 2017 Family Tree Magazine article about using old maps to solve genealogy research problems. Get your copy of this issue today in It's available both as a PDF download or a print magazine!

5 Questions Plus | Genealogy Web Sites | Maps
Wednesday, 12 April 2017 14:44:20 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, 01 July 2016
MyHeritage News: Interactive Family Tree Maps & DNA Matching
Posted by Diane

I wanted to update you all on a couple of cool updates to the MyHeritage genealogy website:
  • First is something I've been wishing someone would come up with an easy way to do. PedigreeMap is a free tool that automatically generates an interactive world map that plots events in your MyHeritage family tree (such as births, marriages and deaths), as well as digitized images. You can see a screenshot above.
This is a helpful way to get a big picture of where your family branches migrated over time, see where families connected or branched off, and note geographic similarities (in my research, for example, I've noticed that most of my Germans on Mom's and Dad's side came from the same area in what's now Germany).
PedigreeMap is located under the Apps tab in your MyHeritage tree. You can zoom in and out on the map, click a location to see a list of all the events or photos associated with it, view all the places associated with a particular individual or subset of individuals (a person's extended family, immediate family, etc.), and more. Read more about this tool and get tips for using it on the MyHeritage blog.
The Geni world family tree website, which is owned by MyHeritage, announced today that it's partnering with Family Tree DNA to integrate autosomal, Y and mitochondrial DNA test results into Geni trees. Read more about this on the Geni blog.

Genetic Genealogy | Maps | MyHeritage
Friday, 01 July 2016 10:35:56 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Friday, 12 June 2015
Genealogy News Corral: June 8-12
Posted by Diane

FamilySearch | Genealogy Events | Genealogy Web Sites | Maps
Friday, 12 June 2015 13:35:27 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 22 April 2015
Using Old Maps to Answer My Genealogy Question
Posted by Diane

Genealogists love old maps. I could browse the David Rumsey Map Collection for days. But maps are more than cool to look at.

In our Use Historical Maps to Solve Research Problems webinar on Tuesday, April 28, D. Joshua Taylor will show you how to use maps as tools to figure out questions such as migrations, boundary changes, birthplace locations and more. (You might remember Josh as one of the hosts of "Genealogy Roadshow.")

Here's how old maps helped me figure out a family migration (albeit a short one) that I didn't realize had happened:

Awhile ago, I found my great-great-grandfather H.A. Seeger's May 28, 1879, mortgage record for the property at the corner of Abigail and Pendleton streets in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati (1884), Plan of Cincinnati and Vicinity by S. Augustus Mitchell, David Rumsey Map Collection

This was, I thought, the corner cigar store his family owned into the 1950s, the one my mom remembers visiting as a child, and which in the early 1980s still bore the outline of its "H.A. Seeger Cigar Manufacturer" sign. Here's its location on a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map in 1904:

Insurance Maps of Cincinnati (1904), Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Virtual Library

The street has been renamed and buildings renumbered over the years; my address timeline (taken from old records such as city directories and censuses) includes: 
  • 112 Abigail in 1879
  • 124 Abigail in 1882
  • 434 Abigail in 1896
  • 434 E. 12th in 1900
But then I found a Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper notice from June 4, 1890, of an estate sale for that building. It was part of the estate of Joseph Otten, named grantor in that 1879 mortgage along with his wife Agnes.

How could the place be up for sale, when my ancestors lived there at the time and continued to live there later?

The Ottens' wills offered no explanation, and I couldn't find evidence that H.A. Seeger purchased the property from Otten's estate.

But on this 1891 Sanborn Fire Insurance map (published closer to the time of my ancestor's property purchase), I noted a building numbered 112 six doors down from number 124 on the corner.

Sanborn Historic Maps (1891), OhioLINK Digital Resource Commons (must be an Ohio resident or have an Ohio public library card)

So my family lived at 112 Abigail from 1879 to 1882, then they moved down the street. This probably occurred to some of you—I guess it goes to show how a family story can give you genealogical blinders. The maps helped me take off my blinders.

As confirmation, I found lot numbers on this 1869 atlas:

Cincinnati part VI embracing 9th & 13th wards (1869), Titus' Atlas of Hamilton Co., Ohio From Actual Surveys by R.H. Harrison, C.E. ... , David Rumsey Map Collection

The map doesn't have building numbers, but matching it up with the 1891 Sanborn map showsthe building at 112 Abigail is on lot no. 29, the one referenced in the 1879 mortgage record. The cigar store is lot number 23. Now my genealogy to-do list includes looking for a deed for that lot (as well as re-reading the 1879 mortgage to better understand the transaction).

The cigar store has since been combined with the building on the back of the lot, as I learned from the Hamilton County Auditor site and Google Maps, and the front door relocated to the side street. 

In the Use Historical Maps to Solve Research Problems webinar, Taylor will cover map resources and tech tools that help you make the most of maps, as well as give examples for solving problems. Learn more about the webinar in

Maps | Research Tips | Webinars
Wednesday, 22 April 2015 12:34:57 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, 03 March 2015
Tips for Using the Free David Rumsey Historical Maps Website
Posted by Diane

Old maps can help you locate an ancestor's hometown and bring it to life. Comparing maps of a place published over time can help you see changing borders and jurisdictions.

One of the historical map resources you can learn more about in our Historical Maps of Europe Premium Collection is the David Rumsey Map Collection website, which I used recently to find maps of my great-great-grandfather's birthplace: Steinfeld, Germany.

Here, I'll share a few tips that might make it easier for you to find maps of your ancestral places:
  • Try to find out as much as you can about your ancestral hometown. The names of the country, state, district, other geographical divisions, and/or nearby towns are clues to help you find the right place on a map. And a county, district, or other towns might share the name of your ancestral town. Other Steinfelds in Germany are in the districts of Main-Spessart, Bavaria; Stendal, Saxony-Anhalt; Schleswig-Flensburg, Schleswig-Holstein; and others. I want Steinfeld, Vechta, Lower Saxony (aka Niedersachsen).  It's near the city of Oldenburg, and today it's often written as Steinfeld (Oldenburg).
  • Search for maps using the search box at top right. The site search box located below that looks at web pages and blog articles, not the maps collection.

  • Search not only for your ancestral town, but also for nearby towns and other geographical divisions. Not every place named on a map is part of the site's search: Searching for Steinfeld gets no results. But searching for Vechta found this highly detailed map (with a legend here) that includes large-farm names, churches, windmills, meadows and more:

    Vechta, Reichsamt fur Landesaufnahme, 1904

Lower Saxony found this:

Lower Saxony, D. Lizars, Edinburgh, 1831

Oldenburg found this:

Nordwestiches Deutschland, Justus Perthes, Gotha, 1821

There's a lot more you can do with these maps, including georeference with a modern map so you can see an overlay, download hi-res versions, order professional prints, and import into Google Earth.

Historical Maps of Europe Premium Collection

Get tips for using this and other online map resources, plus The Family Tree Historical Maps Book: Europe and other map goodies in the Historical Maps of Europe Premium Collection. Find out more about it in!

German roots | Maps | Research Tips
Tuesday, 03 March 2015 13:30:44 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Thursday, 06 November 2014
Cool Ways to Map Your Family History With Google Earth
Posted by Diane

We genealogists are always trying to think of ways to put together our family history research—photos, documents, stories and historical background—into a project or presentation that sums it all up for relatives (and for ourselves).

This video from Lisa Louise Cooke, instructor of this month's Map Your Family History With Google Earth workshop (coming up Monday, Nov. 17-Nov. 24), shows you the kind of project you can create by incorporating old maps, documents, photos and videos into the free Google Earth mapping software. 

You can use your Google Earth family history map to help you visualize the places where your ancestors lived and migrated—a great tool for place-based genealogy research. And your relatives can explore their family history in an interesting and easy way, just by clicking around the map.

Here's what's included in the Map Your Family History With Google Earth Workshop

  • two video classes, which you can download to watch again as often as you like, even after the conference
  • six step-by-step lessons on Google Earth and locating your ancestral town
  • consultations with Google Earth expert Lisa Louise Cooke via the exclusive conference message board
  • message board for networking with other conference participants
  • convenience of accessing the workshop materials and message board whenever you have time during the week, wherever you have internet access

The Map Your Family History With Google Earth workshop starts Monday, Nov. 17. Learn more about it and register at

Family Tree University | Maps | Research Tips
Thursday, 06 November 2014 09:13:29 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, 04 April 2014
View and "Warp" Old Maps Using NYPL's New, Free Map Warper
Posted by Diane

The New York Public Library (NYPL) has launched a new online tool called the Map Warper, which lets you overlay an old map onto a modern map and digitally rectify the two. 

The Map Warper gives you access to more than 20,000 digitized historical maps depicting places around the world. You don't need to log in to view maps, overlay them, or see already-rectified versions. With an account, you can add your own "control points," which are points that match up on the old map and the corresponding modern map. A map must have at least three control points to be rectified.

I searched for a map of Cincinnati and found one from 1860.

NYPL Map Warper

I created an NYPL account and used the Rectify tab to add a control point where my Ladenkotter third-great-grandparents lived in 1860. The map already had other control points, so I added only the one.

NYPL Map Warper

Then I clicked Warp Image, let the Warper finished working, and clicked Preview Rectified Map:

NYPL Map Warper

You can zoom in and adjust the transparency. Here's a closeup of where the Ladenkotters lived, at Abigail (spelled "Abagail" here; it's now E. 12th) and Spring. It's just below and to the right of the 9.

NYPL Map Warper

You can click the Export tab to download a copy of the original or warped map.

The Map Warper website also has a four-minute video tutorial on using the Warper.

Libraries and Archives | Maps
Friday, 04 April 2014 10:30:27 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 10 December 2013
New: Place My Past Website Maps Your Family Tree
Posted by Diane

A new website called Place My Past (currently accessible to those who are invited) looks to be a hybrid of a family tree site, a mapping site and a social network.

Depending on your membership level, Place My Past lets you explore places and events using map tools; upload, share and view historical maps; trace your family's geographic roots; and explore their movements over time.

Users sign into the site with a MyHeritage account (so you'll need to create a tree on MyHeritage if you don't have one) and the site will import and plot your family tree on its map.

Although it's open by invitation only right now, you can ask to be notified by email when the site officially launches.

To give you an idea of what the site does, Place My Past created this US map with events from the Kennedy family tree.

When I clicked on Lancaster, Pa., a little pop-up had a city profile and gave me a link to view family events there.

Besides Events, you also could see media attached to that location and others following it.

Explore the site here, or take a tour (with comments pointing out features and tools).

There are three levels of Place My Past registration: 

  • A free Guest registration lets you view the site's main map with location details and "anonymized" information about people and events
  • A free Member can upload family trees; add and update people, places and events; and view public information from other members.
  • For $4 per month (billed as $48 per year), Subscribing members can view family migrations; upload and share historical maps; follow people, places and events; and connect with other members.

Love old maps? Learn five ways to use old maps to solve genealogy research problems in our webinar Five Ways to Enhance Your Genealogy Research With Old Maps, taking place this Thursday, Dec. 12, with Lisa Louise Cooke.

Genealogy Web Sites | MyHeritage | Social Networking | Maps
Tuesday, 10 December 2013 13:42:56 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]