Sometimes we need to look at where we’ve been to better understand where we are going. Gazetteers and Maps can be the tools that help us in our search for our ancestors’ lives. Whether you are trying to find a hometown or better understand the history of an area, let’s look at resources for these tools.
I have been using my “down time” to take online genealogy courses. It is amazing how much information is available to us via webinars and online courses. A recent course focused on all the boundary and country boarder changes that had occurred in just the last two hundred years in Europe. You have probably noticed that depending on the census year, your ancestor may have stated a different country of origin. I used to think it was the census taker’s fault, but they were stating what the correct country was at that time. For my Luxembourgers in the United States, they have noted that their parents’ country of origin were France, Holland, Germany, and Luxembourg. In fact, all are correct depending on the time in history and who had control of that region of land. France under Napoleon Bonaparte held control of that region for a short time and the vital records reflect that while after that The Netherlands controlled the areas that we know of as Belgium and Luxembourg.
There are two main things that will help your research. First understand the history of the region your ancestor is from. Almost every place in Europe saw different “ownership” at one time or another. Their ethnic culture may not have changed but whoever owned the country changed. There are several tools to help you online including maps, gazetteers, and historical data. Here are a few to get you started.
If you want to better understand the history of the region or country, you can go to Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia, or FamilySearch Wiki. It is worth your time to understand the boundaries because while the records may not exist in the country you know today, they may be available in one of the countries who ruled that region. As more and more records come online, there are interesting opportunities available.
Your second task is to better understand what the region looked like during a particular time. One place to look is Euroatlas which shows Europe throughout history. Another interesting site is Mapire which provides detailed maps that can be overlayed on a modern map. Again, FamilySearch Wiki for a particular country or region also provides links to gazetteers and maps associated with that area.
In these days where a trip to the grocery store might be your big outing of the week, you can began exploring the historic boundaries of your ancestor’s home region from your computer! Happy Searching!
With a lifelong passion for genealogy and history, the author enjoys the opportunity to share genealogy tidbits, inspiring others to research and write their family story.