There are abundant sources for historical maps of the United States. They are available both in original form and as reproductions. These two-dimensional representations can also be quite beautiful art pieces.
Maps as a Genealogy Tool
Genealogists use these maps to gain perspective on where their ancestors lived. They show the location of roads, county boundaries and natural formations, such as rivers and lakes.
Maps are a helpful research tool for tracking migration paths and settlement areas. They can also be used to determine county boundries, necessary for locating many important records.
Finding Historical Maps of the United States
You can find old maps both online and off. There are archives and websites full of map collections. Here are a few suggestions for finding the one you need.
Government and Education Sources
You will find that numerous maps are available from government sources which house cartography collections, such as the United States Library of Congress. Their extensive map division holds more than 4.5 million items, but only a small fraction have been converted to digital format. Reproductions can be ordered in either print or digital formats. Some which are available include:
- Railroad maps
- Military campaigns
- Cities and towns
- Discovery and exploration
The Perry-Castañeda Map Collection at the University of Texas at Austin has a massive archive of historical maps from around the world. Those American digital images of particular interest include:
- Exploration and Settlement 1820-1835
- Line of Original Emigration to the Pacific Northwest, Commonly Known as the Old Oregon Trail 1907
- Eastern United States 1906 from the U.S. Geological Survey 1906
- New York 1842
Several genealogy websites have historical maps of the United States for visitors to use for research. These maps are particularly geared to the interests of family researchers.
The USGenWeb is a volunteer collaboration of genealogists and family history enthusiasts. It is dedicated to keeping Internet genealogy research free for users. It has a special project called the United States Digital Map Library. These images are divided into several categories, including:
- State and Counties
- United States
- Indian Land Cessions to the United States Treaty Maps
If after exploring these sites you still haven't found the one you are looking for, check Cyndi's List on the Internet. This massive catalog of Internet research sites has an entire map category. There you can find links to such gems as:
- 1897 plat maps of Keokuk County, Iowa
- 1922 map of California
- Historical maps of Georgia counties
- Historic maps of New England
Tips for Using Old Maps
Maps are everywhere on the Internet. Some you can use freely, others may have copyright restrictions. Be sure to check for copyright notices and understand what the limitations are.Cartographers from previous eras had to rely on primitive equipment. The result is many inaccuracies in the maps. This can make reading them confusing and frustrating. If possible, compare several maps to look for similarities. You'll get a better idea of the real "lay of the land."
When using maps for tracking census enumeration districts, make sure you are using a map of the same time frame. Enumeration districts varied from census to census. You can make major errors if your map is from the wrong date.