I recently found an inexpensive map of Paris at a thrift store. I was happy to find it as I wanted to map out the locations where ancestors lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s. While there are maps online, some are not detailed or printable. This made me think of plat maps. Nothing beats looking at the physical plat book. Let’s look at options for using plat books in our genealogy research.
In addition to the actual plat maps of the townships within a given county, you want to explore a few more of the pages or look through the index. Often the inhabitants of the township are listed with their mailing address as well as some biographical data. In one I found the ancestor, his address, his wife, and their son listed in the tiny biography. Another relative had several children by the time of the plat map and they were all listed. Not only does this confirm information for us but it might help you to think a bit differently about your ancestor family at that moment of time. Look at the neighbors too. Are you finding familiar names of neighbors or distant relatives? Did this change by the next plat map? What caused them to move? Usually, in farming communities, the same family remained in the same location for many years. If they didn’t, why not? Was it the Depression? War? No heirs to continue the farm? All these events make your family story relatable and give you a better understanding of your family’s life.
Where can we find these plat maps? Some paid sites have an extensive collection. Ancestry comes to mind as one that has many of the old plat books. Unless noted, these are free to peruse. Some require a purchase if you want a copy.
U.S., Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860-1918 | Ancestry® ($) Ancestry has an extensive collection of plat maps available with a paid subscription. This collection is also searchable.
Michael Fox Map Collection : mnhs.org This collection includes a variety of map types including plat maps. Browse maps by typing and then choose plat maps. Find your county then township. Remember to look at the index of individuals in a township to learn more about them.
The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project (mcgill.ca) For those with Canadian roots, be sure to check out this site which provides maps for counties in Ontario.
Land ownership maps : a checklist of nineteenth century United States county maps in the Library of Congress (familysearch.org) This online book in FamilySearch allows you to see what county maps are available in the Library of Congress.
There is an interesting article about using maps for genealogy located at genealogy.qxd (census.gov).
As family historians we should leverage and look at a variety of records when we search for our families and write their stories. There is something satisfying about seeing a farm ancestor’s name on a plot of land from a map made 100 years ago. Happy map surveying!
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.