Shedding Light on Brick Wall Ancestors

We all have brick wall ancestors who just refuse to give up their secrets, don’t we?  They completely baffle you until you want to just give up in total frustration.   You may need to change your focus and shed some light on the cracks in the wall by approaching the problem from another angle.

Lighting the Way with Maps

Many of your ancestors may have resided in several different countries, states, provinces, towns or villages during their lifetimes.    If you have determined the general area where your ancestors lived, one of the best ways to familiarize yourself with these places is by consulting maps.   Once you learn more about where your ancestors lived, you may be closer to understanding the area in which your ancestors lived.

The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection includes over 150,000 maps dating back to the 16th century, with the majority of North and South America as well as Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania.  You can search and download maps for free without creating an account.   If you do find a map you wish to download, click o Export in the upper right-hand corner of the page and then choose the preferred map resolution.

Old Maps Online is another map resource you may want to check out.   It has 400,000 maps from collections all over the world and is very user friendly.  After entering a search location several small historical map images with names and dates will load.   Click on any of these thumbnail images to view the map and see more information.

Now that you have a general overview of where your ancestor lived, it’s time to zoom in even more to see the towns, buildings and streets where they lived.   The Sanborn Map Company has published fire insurance maps covering the residential, commercial and industrial sections of close to 12,000 towns and cities in the United States, Canada and Mexico.   These maps were created to help fire insurance agents assess hazards, but these maps show many details of interest to family historians such as the size, shape and use of all buildings, names of streets and businesses, properly lines and house numbers.    Even though the names of streets and numbering of residences and businesses may have changed over time, these maps are an invaluable resource for genealogists.