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Maps From the United States, Europe, South America and Beyond

It is wonderful that maps were made decades and centuries ago which now offer up a window into places across the United States and other continents. The land has always been there, but names of regions, villages, towns, states have changed over the years.

An interesting online site, titled David Rumsey Historical Map Collection helps to provide the researcher a massive variety of old vintage maps, easily viewed on a computer. With over 28,000 maps in digital format covering North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia from the 1700s to the early 1900s there is a great deal to select from for research.  The maps are important not only for genealogical research, but also historical.

On the homepage you can browse the free collection to see what is offered and added to monthly or conduct a search for a specific area. The search box is in the upper right corner of the homepage.

The selection of maps is varied.  Not only geographical features; the mountains, rivers, deserts, oceans, etc are marked, but the political areas; those towns, states and provinces man created. There are maps showing population centers, the development of railroad systems, military maps outlining battles, mining maps, agricultural regions and industrial maps. The diversity is endless. Each map has a date, a publisher or author, a title, where it is housed and its size.

Not just professional, official governmental maps are in the collection, but also those made by individuals for numerous uses are available.  A really interesting map of Connecticut, along with other neighboring states and related detailed information on the areas was made by Frances A. Henshaw in April 29, 1828 while she was a student in the Middlebury Female Academy. Now that is a treasure of local information and artwork, some 58 pages, available for anyone to view. VIEW above an example of one of Henshaw’s maps.

Interesting items on many of the vintage maps are cartouches, which are the very decorative, ornate drawings on a map title page or an information page. A very illustrated one is from 1733 titled “A Map of the British Empire in America with the French and Spanish Settlements.”  On this one is illustrated the near-naked Native Indians of America, the vegetation, animals, with the British sailing vessels in the background. There are some fascinating illustrations of 18th and 19th life with these cartouches.

Another map of big genealogical and historical interest would be the very detailed street-by-street map of San Francisco, California done in 1895 with updated maps from 1905. It was done by the Sanford Fire Insurance and is very in depth. This is very interesting since much of San Francisco would be destroyed or burned from the April 1906 earthquake.  The map can be zoomed in to read very clearly the names of places. Locate places along Market Street such as the Great American Importing Tea Co. and Mariner’s Church along Sacramento Street. The residences are not named, just a letter ‘D’ for dwelling, but the streets and blocks are well labeled.

Include in your search box to look up using a family surname, you never know what might appear.

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Lauri 11/10/11

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