Our Federal government’s General Land Office of the Bureau of Land Management (the “GLO”) has given genealogists and historians an incredible gift by virtue of its enormous database housed on its web-site at glorecords.blm.gov. There, you can search for and find millions of parcels of land purchased by our ancestors in about thirty states. The GLO website is one of the best FREE online tools available to family researchers. That said, it is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for those unwilling or unable to sift through and analyze the thousands of records that exist for most counties. The immediate goal of the Family Maps series is to spare you the hundreds of hours of work that it would take you to map the Land Patents for a given county. By mapping every homestead or similar land patent that can be gleaned from the public GLO databases, maps from this series can usually show you, in an instant, where your ancestor’s land was located as well as the owners of the land purchased around them.
By showing you, along with the GLO’s patent data, modern-day roads, waterways, populated places, cemeteries, and railroads, the Family Maps series can also answer these sorts of questions:
- “Who lived across the creek from my great grandfather?”
- “Where is my family’s traditional home-place?”
- “What cemeteries are near Grandma’s house?”
- “My granddad used to swim in such-and-such Creek…where is that?”
- “How close is this little community to that one?”
- “Are there any other people with the same surname who bought land in the county?”
- “How about cousins and in-laws…did they buy land in the area?”
- AND THESE ARE JUST FOR STARTERS!
The rules for using the Family Maps series are simple, but the strategies for success are many. Some techniques are apparent on first use, but many are gained with time and experience. You cannot imagine what YOU might be the first to discover!
Each Family Maps project represents data from a particular state and county, and there are two “Parts” to a project that answer their own types of questions.
BIG PICTURE MAPS
The first part, the Big Picture Maps (Labeled A, B, C, D, & E), deals with broad questions about a county and its surroundings as well as the layout of its townships, populated places, and cemeteries.
The Big Picture Maps are:
- Map A – Counties in the State
- Map B – Surrounding Counties
- Map C – Congressional Townships (Map Groups) in the County
- Map D – Cities & Towns in the County
- Map E – Cemeteries in the County
These five maps are fairly self-explanatory, yet should not be overlooked. This is particularly true of maps “C,” “D,” and “E,” all of which show the given county and its Congressional Townships (and their assigned “Map Group Numbers”). Maps “D” and “E” are especially useful. With them, you can find which Map Groups are near a particular town or cemetery.
TOWNSHIP MAP GROUPS
The second part of a project is made up of what we call Township Map Groups. These are a device completely of our own invention and were created to help you quickly locate maps without having to remember the full legal name of the various Congressional Townships. It is simply easier to remember “Map Group 1” than a legal name like “Township 9-North Range 6-West, 5th Principal Meridian.” The fact is that the TRUE legal name for these townships IS terribly important. These are the designations that others will be familiar with and you will need to accurately record them in your notes. Big Picture Maps “C” is the most basic introduction to a project’s Map Group Numbers, as all it contains is legal township descriptions and their assigned Map Group Numbers. Once you get further into your research, and more immersed in the details, you will likely want to refer back to Map “C” from time to time, in order to regain your bearings on just where in the county you are researching. Remember, township boundaries are a completely artificial device, created to standardize land descriptions. Do not let them become boundaries in your mind when choosing which townships to research. Your relative’s in-laws, children, cousins, siblings, and mamas and papas, might just as easily have lived in the township next to the one your grandfather lived in-rather than in the one where he actually lived. So Map “C” can be your guide to which other Townships/Map Groups you likewise ought to analyze.
For every Township Map Group, there is:
- A Land Patent Map matching landowners to their tracts of land.
- A Road Map featuring modern-day roads, city-centers, and cemeteries.
- A Water+Rail Map that shows railroad lines, rivers, creeks, city-centers, and cemeteries.
If you are trying to learn all that you can about a particular family or their land, then these three maps should usually be viewed in the order they are listed.
Each of these maps covers the exact same area/township.
Often, exploring the past means that every once in a while we must leave the library and travel to the actual locations where our ancestors once walked and worked the land. Our Road maps are a great place to begin such a quest. Keep in mind that the scaling and proportions of these maps was chosen in order to squeeze hundreds of people-names, road-names, and place-names into tinier spaces than you would traditionally see. These are not professional road-maps, and like any secondary source, should be looked upon as an entry-way to original sources-in this case, original patents and applications, professionally produced maps and surveys, etc.
Our Road Maps and Water+Rail Maps both contain cemeteries and city-centers. It should be noted that we are showing you city center-points, rather than city-limit boundaries, because in many instances, this will represent a place where settlement began.
This may be a good time to mention that many cemeteries are located on private property. Always check with a local historical or genealogical society to see if a particular cemetery is publicly accessible (if it is not obviously so).
As you explore our road maps, look for your surnames among the road-names. You will often be surprised by what you find.
In frontier times, people were usually more determined to settle near rivers and creeks than they were near roads, which were often few and far between. For that reason, our Water+Rail map is meant to display what each township might have looked like before the advent of modern roads.
NAVIGATING BETWEEN MAP TYPES
You'll notice that whenever you're looking at a Family Map, that a series of clickable options appears below the map info bar (where a map's project and name are displayed). Selecting these buttons will take you straight to the Big Picture maps (A-E) for the project you're viewing as well as to the other maps from the same map group if you are viewing a township-level map.
While hopping between Patent, Road, or Water+Rail maps for the same Map Group, the Viewer will do its best to match what you're looking at. Let's say you're interested in a tract of land in Section 20 of a patent map. If you go up to the map type selection buttons shown above and click "Roads," then the Viewer will open the road map for the same township and go right to Section 20. The same goes for the Water+Rail map.
VIEWING ADDITIONAL PATENT INFO
When viewing a Patent Map from within a Family Maps project, the index of a map's landowners appears in the "Map Contents" sidebar at the right of the Viewer. While there is a whole article devoted to uses of this sidebar, Family Maps have additional information about the people in these indexes that is accessible by selecting a patentee and clicking the "Show Info for Current Selection" button at the bottom of the sidebar.
If we have more additional information regarding the selected person, it will be displayed in the "Item Details" pop-up window. Mos often what will be listed is the authority or legislative act that led to the selected patent's acquisition. All Federal Land Patents were issued because some branch of our government (usually the U.S. Congress) passed a law making such a transfer of title possible. As it stands, most of the public land data compiled and released by our government, and which serves as the basis for the patents mapped in these projects concern themselves with "Cash Sale" homesteads:
You might notice that some entries in the Map Contents sidebar end in something like "[Grp 126]." This means that a patent was issued to a group of people (multi-patentees). Some such groups were quite large and it was impractical if not impossible to display each individual in our maps without unduly affecting readability. Each person in the group is named in the Map Contents list but they won't all be found on the map. You will find the first person in such a group on the map with the group's number next to it enclosed in [square brackets]. If you want to see all the members of a group, highlight one of its members, then click the "Show Info for Current Selection" as shown above. This time, the Item Details window will include a list of all patentees within a group.