Posts Tagged ‘maps’

Old Maps of New York Towns Online

Digital Topo Maps Free.

Our friend Bill Hecht, the consummate map and documents poster, just informed us of a link to the University of New Hampshire Digital Map Collection that has an excellent collection of the older USGS Topographical Maps.

When you compare these maps to some of the current ones that are available online from the USGS / GNIS Tiger system you will see variances in roads, landmarks and buildings as they have changed with the times.

Here is the link to the UNH Digital Maps of New York.

Thanks Bill, as always.

Read some previous articles about Bill Hecht here.

Here is another Bill Hecht article.

Some of Upstate New York Genealogy Blog’s popular posts:
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Revolutionary War Patriot or Loyalist -
Palatine DNA Project -
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New York Public Library Digitizes Many NY State Maps Online

This is a day that should live in digital history for two reasons. First is that the New York Public Library (NYPL) in Manhattan has released a large collection of digitized state and county atlas maps.

The Burr’s Atlases and many of the individual County Atlases are able to be viewed online for free! Having only just now found them and testing only a few, they do leave you wanting more. The quality of the scans that I have checked so far is poor to fair at best, but they still are able to be used for reference as to locations.

The individual homeowners names on the few that I checked were almost unreadable, but you should check them yourselves and maybe you will have better results. I for one would just like to give the NYPL credit for such forward thinking, and with thanks. Possibly the quality will improve.

It is possible to purchase map copies from them so perhaps the quality will improve with price. The old saying has always been true. “You get what you pay for.”

Not all of the counties are available but here is the link to the collection: NYPL Maps.

*** Note: Update: Leland Meitzler at Everton’s Genealogy Blog also wrote about these maps today and his experience as to quality was excellent. So after checking again, I realized that in my excitement to get the news out I did not use the online pan and zoom tool provided with the maps. What I did was to download a couple of the maps in total to my hard drive and then tried to view them, so that is why the scans were of poor quality. So thanks even more to NYPL. The maps are great! ***

The second reason that this day shall remain famous is that this is the day that Mozilla wanted to set a world’s record with the most amount of downloads in one 24 hour period, upon the release of their new Firefox 3.0 browser that was to be available at 1:00pm today.

For what it is worth, I have been hammering on that download site for three hours and have not been able to get in yet. The only time there was a connection it ended up being an error message about http: (something) not available.

Looks like the new firefox is a little popular, even though you can’t download it.

Read our previous popular posts:
New York State Vital Records -
Revolutionary War Patriot or Loyalist -
Palatine DNA Project -
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Google Do’s or Don’ts?

Love ‘em or not, Google is in your life.

This company does offer some really cool things for free that Genealogists (and normal people also,) might want to take advantage of.

Google SEARCH, is no doubt the best known feature that this company offers. Just go to enter a word or phrase into the search box and WHAM there are your millions of answers, and remarkably intuitive ones, that seem weighted towards your original desires usually appear in the first few offerings. Seems possible that the reason they can offer up just what you were looking for is that they “might” have a computerized history of you in their globe covering web, doesn’t it?

Google also offers many other services and features. You will likely be required to obtain a Google Account, but it’s easy and free.

Here are some of the features Google offers now:

We love Blogger. Blogger has changed my life, that’s for sure. This is where you are reading this little morsel of news and information. Google designed Blogger to be easy to use by anyone, anywhere, anytime, and it has pre-made templates that you select from, and start typing. You will tweak it from time to time and add features in the margins that are specific to your message and it in essence can become your own website. C’mon, it’s easy, try it. “The first time is free.” Where have I heard that before?

Gmail is a web based email service. You do not need a special program on your computer to read your email. You can access it from any computer that has an Internet connection. In the early days you needed an invitation to join Gmail. I remember people selling invitations on eBay! I don’t think you need an invitation any more to get a Gmail or a Google Account, but if any one does want an invite I have some left to give away. You should know that computers do read every single part of every email that you write, or that you read. I suspect this happens with every type of email service, but know it to be an absolute fact with Gmail, because every single message has word appropriate advertisements in the margins as you are reading. Orwellian?

Google Books.
I have been extolling this fantastic service for some time now. I use it all the time and find preciously published works on every single subject, person’s names, biographies, local histories, on every research project I ever start now. Many of these books can be viewed in total and even downloaded to your own computer to have forever. Read some of our previous mentions HERE, and HERE:

Google Calendar.
I’m using it now, but still in a hesitant manner. I’m not sure how much of it can be kept private, so I’m still experimenting. The concept seems great. Enter all of your meetings, engagements, birth dates of family and friends so you can get advanced warning to send them a dozen roses, make everything public so that people who want to engage your services will know when you plan on being in their area. No, I think not. I’m still not a fan of this service.

Google Desktop.
I have tried this and at first was wow’ed, but took it off because it seemed to take too much away from my control. The best feature of Google Desktop is that it does index each and every single byte and bit on your own computer and you can instantly find anything that is on your own hard drive with a simple Google search box, just like searching the web, but searching only your own computer.

Google Docs and Spreadsheets.
You will not need any type of word processor or spreadsheet program on your own computer. The software is out there on the Google cloud and all you have to do is key in your data and it is saved for you, somewhere! I have not used this, but can think of some cases where it might be handy, particularly if you are traveling a lot and do not have access to all of your files on your main computer.

Google Earth, Google Maps, and now Google Street View.
These work in combination with; Topographical Maps, Aerial Photography, Satellite Imagery and now even local street level photographs taken from roaming Google vehicles in certain cities and communities. The satellite imagery is out of date by design. Apparently it is at least a couple of years old and in some cases older. I also suspect that Google DOES have instantaneous “LIVE” satellite imagery in their own offices, because during the recent news stories about Steve Fossett being missing somewhere in Nevada, that investigators and searchers were offered the use of Google’s satellite views at the Google offices. We have discussed some of these features previously and you may read them HERE:

Google News.
Get the Hottest News, right up to the minute from news sources all over the world. Do I need to say more?

Google Page Creator.
Don’t know anything about it, (I know that’s a shock!) It is supposed to be a way to create html web pages in the cloud. You tell us about this.

Google Reader.
Ever since I became addicted to the crack like Blogging world, I have found Google Reader to be a feature I would never want to be without. When you are on a Blog that you like to read regularly, then all you have to do is subscribe to that Blog with Google Reader using the RSS (Really simple syndication,) or Atom feed button. Then every time that person makes a new posting it shows up in your Reader box. You can also have Blogs emailed to you but Reader is handier, IMHO.

Google Talk.
Instant messaging. Sitting right there in your sidebar is a little box with all your friends and family, you can tell when they are online, and you can instantly interrupt them at will. I never use ANY type of instant message utility, and totally refuse to EVER respond to one. But that’s just me…

This is a photo management service that takes place out on the cloud. When you load the Picasa software on your computer it first scans all of your hard drives and locates, and catalogs all of the images of any type that are on your computer, and puts them in a nice chronological order for you. If you are concerned about this invasion of privacy, you do have the ability to allow it to only index certain parts of your hard drive. I do use Picasa and have grown to like it a lot. One nice feature is that if you select an image of any type or size that you want to send by email to someone else, then Picasa will automatically resize the image such that it will be able to be sent through the ether without choking servers everywhere and without exceeding your bandwidth allowances.

Google does offer other features and services most of which I am not familiar with, but we would love to hear from you readers if you want to tell us about them. There are sections for Finance, Groups, Labs, Orkut, Patents, Products (the old Froogle,) Scholar and Video. Did your ancestor ever receive a Patent?

To those of you that think that some of these features are too invasive, I’m sorry to say, but it is too late to start worrying. You have already been scanned. Everything you write and every website you visit, and everything you do on the Internet is being recorded somewhere.

Oh, and if you turnoff, unplug, stay in the house, don’t watch tv or listen to the radio, they can still get cha! You’re going to have to go outside and go to the store sometime. Now the birds have got you covered. Are you worried yet?

I’m not. Anybody want a Gmail invite?

Please give us your input. If you love Google or have a hate relationship, we want to know. There is a little “comments” tab right below this message.

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Ephemera of the Genealogical Type

Some might say, “What the heck is Ephemera?”
Pronounced “eff-em-er-uh” (at least that’s the way I pronounce it.)

Ephemera means an item that relates to the moment. This term is normally applied to just paper, but to some it might also include items of 3 dimensional types, and something that one might hang on to for a keepsake or future reference.

Some of the items that fall into this category are; manuscripts, autographs, letters, diaries, handbills, matchbooks, photographs, broadsides, almanacs, programs, advertisements, funeral cards, posters, newspapers, tax lists, old bill heads, valentines, business cards, and on and on.

“Why would genealogists care?”

Well what about funeral cards? They would be pretty helpful right? You would get the name of the deceased, their vital dates and other clues.

Let’s discuss some of the other neat little items that just might provide some clues to your research.

Old Almanacs from the late 1700′s into the 1800′s usually had a chart of distances from location to location. Say from Albany to Buffalo, the routes would be described starting at Albany, so many miles to the first stop, which might be a village, or a tavern, or some such landmark. As you study these charts you will notice that most of the distances between locations were within one days “walk.” Most of our ancestors, I venture to say the majority of them, did not have access to horse and wagon, stage coach, Erie Canal, and so on. They walked from place to place! I have read dozens of accounts of the early settlers that came into “Upstate New York” from New England or down along the Hudson River, or up from New Jersey, and they almost always tell about coming in with their belongings on an ox-cart. That means everyone else walked!

So those distance markers would be of importance to determine where the actual dirt roads went. There were no paved roads. It was easier to travel in the winter after the snow was on, because they could pull the goods on a sledge of some kind, and the ground was not a soupy mess.

I can’t begin to tell you the importance of reading old family letters and diaries. You will learn so many details that you will never find in a court house or on a census about the families you are researching.

Use your imagination regarding any of the items listed above and see if you can’t make a determined effort to locate some of these treasures to assist you in shaking your family tree.

The Ephemera Society of America has an excellent website at, replete with many informative articles, websites of member/vendors, notices of exhibits and forthcoming shows. They publish a very professional and scholarly journal, and the membership is open to everyone.

Dick Hillenbrand – Upstate New York Genealogy –

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Bien Atlas of New York State 1895 –

Dear Readers, Let me call your attention to an Atlas of New York State that I feel is perhaps not as well known as the various County Atlases that we use so often.

“Atlas of the State of New York,” [by] Joseph R. BIEN, E.M., Civil and Topographical Engineer, from the Original Surveys and Various Local Surveys Revised and Corrected, based on the Triangulations of the U.S Coast and Geodetic Survey, U.S. Lake Survey, and the N.Y. State Survey. – Published by Julius Bien & Company, New York – 1895.

This a large folio heavy atlas. The maps are either single leaves or in some cases two leaves opened together to display a very large map. The lithographed maps have a pleasant beige color scheme and all land divisions and items of interest are very well defined.

Here are some of the features that I think are extremely useful. When you are working with deeds and land records, no matter if in olden days or modern, you will find references to the original land divisions and patents or tracts from the time that the land was first surveyed and divided. Those descriptions carry down even to today’s land records.

This atlas goes into great detail about these land divisions. In the colonial times the Crown of England granted rights to the Colonial Governors of New York to issue Letters Patent for a myriad set of reasons and circumstances. Individuals, or groups of individuals could apply to the governor for huge chunks of free land, or perhaps the lands were awarded for service in the French and Indian Wars, or merely as political favors. Whatever the case, these Patents were given a name and property borderline descriptions were defined.

Bien’s Atlas has a double page map of the whole state on folio page 3, that shows all of these Patents and Tracts outlined in red and in relation to each other. There is also a columnar list on the right hand side of the map that names and numbers these 226 parcels. In the north-east you will note where some of the colonial New York grants and patents extend over into what is now Vermont, and you will start to understand why the border wars known as The New Hampshire Grants occurred.

Then once you have seen the tract of interest and get an idea for where it lies, you can then go to the county map needed to study this area even closer. Pay particular attention to the little red numbers. Not every lot has a red number but if you count in between you will determine the correct lot number for your parcel. These are the Lot numbers for that particular land division, and they are the same today as they were when first divided. It is very important to be able to place your ancestors in a physical location!

Some of the counties have their own individual map sheet but most of them have two or more counties on one map. In either case they still display excellent information.

My first discovery of this lovely atlas was about twenty or so years ago at the Syracuse University Library (SU,) in the open stacks. The copy that SU owns has now been separated into individual leaves and they have been cleaned and encapsulated in mylar and are very handy to use or to make photocopies from. I used to travel there often to use it.

In the past few months the Onondaga County Public Library (OCPL,) has hung an individual framed sheet of the Onondaga County Map from this atlas, and after I pointed out some of my favorite features of this map, one of the librarians rummaged through the back room compact shelving and came up with the full book in all its glory! So I went right to the card catalog and guess what? They had it all along! Check the card catalog boys and girls. Incidentally, the framed individual plate that they hung on the wall is not out of this particular complete book, but an extra map that someone donated years ago.

Now along comes the Internet. I have written about the David Rumsey Collection before but lets go over it again. has a gigantic collection of gorgeous old maps from all places and eras that they have digitized and have made available for free access on the Internet, all in living color!

You will LOVE this site! It has some annoying features that my AADD syndrome does not particularly enjoy, but all of the waiting is definitely worth the cost. You will need a high speed connection, very high speed is better, and then be patient. These maps are extremely detailed and to be able to enlarge and pan the full maps takes a lot of bandwidth and processing. Their imaging process is through lumaimaging and the results are superb!

Once you have seen the section you need and are through oohing and aahhhing, then you can use your screen capture of choice to select all or parts of the maps to download or print from your own computer. Can it get any better?

I hate to mention any specific software because every time I do I get answers back from readers, “oh yeah, but THIS program is better.”
Yes, I know…

So I’ll tell you what I use anyway. First of all I presume everyone in the world uses WINDOWS. “What about MAC or LINUX?” I have absolutely NO idea! The program I use to capture screen images with, is a little freeware program that you can Google and find quite easily, it is called MWSnap. It runs in the background and when you call it up it goes in your toolbar. When you have an image, of any kind, that you want to capture, then you click on MWSnap, and either print/save the whole screen or you can mask and clip just the parts that you want.

Incidentally, this feature works on ALL kinds of documents, data, images, whatever is on your screen can be captured and saved the same way. If it is on your screen you can capture it. So if you have any proprietary software that won’t let you download or print from their operating screens… Well you get the idea.

Here is a link to the Bien’s Atlas:

Here is a link to describe the collection:

Now when you get a minute, or an hour, or a day, or the rest of your life, keep checking around to see what else they offer. Drool.

Dick Hillenbrand – Upstate New York Genealogy –

Madison County Records Found! Not Burnt by the Loomis Gang! – Florida Sanborn Maps On-line

Two excellent pieces of news for historians and genealogaholics!

From Charles Page, on the Madison County mail list, from an article in the “Oneida Press” newspaper. Some of the earliest Madison county records have been located in the dark corners of the court house. These records were thought to have been burned by the Loomis Gang in the old Morrisville courthouse fire!

The new county Historian, Mary Messere, located them and she and some volunteers are sorting through to see what has to be done to make them presentable.

So don’t give up hope folks, when you hear that all the records burnt! If I hear any more news on this story I will post it on this Blog site.

The second item of great interest, though not for New York State researchers, is that I was contacted by Mr. Traveler Wendell, who works for the Digital Library Center at the University of Florida. He wanted me to pass the news on that they have ALL of the Florida Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps available on-line and open to the public at I see that Orlando has changed slightly since the first year of 1884 that they have.

The U of F also has some other very nice digital collections at

Though they are not New York maps, he wanted me to let our readers know and to pass it on.

Now if we could only get the University of the State of New York to do this…

Dick Hillenbrand – Upstate New York Genealogy –


So you say, “you like maps?”

Well I “LOVE” maps. Maps of all kinds, and use them all the time for genealogical and historical research. I use modern and old ones when ever I can, but some of my favorites are the “Land Ownership Maps,” sometimes referred to as Cadastral. The ones for the United States and for me the important New York State ones that were created were usually done by canvasers that actually walked the roads of each county and measured the distances with a hand held wheel, and stopped to talk to all of the residents. The maps that were created will usually show all of the owners, or resident’s names, with their residences marked as well as various types of businesses, schools, churches and sometimes cemeteries, along each route. These maps were made for commercial purposes and not usually funded by any governmental decree, or at least not that I have found.

The large county wall maps were printed on paper, then individually hand colored with different inks to delineate the various town or other civil boundaries, and then they were usually backed with canvas to allow for rolling them up on a wooden roll like a window blind roll, or so as to allow to be hung on the wall for display and examination. The early series usually start in the 1850′s or so, (with some rare exceptions back into the 18th century,) and were usually published into the early 20th century. The customers for the maps at the time would have been Insurance Companies, Salesmen, Libraries, Local Government Offices, or even individuals.

The next series that you might be even more familiar with are the various individual County Atlases. The counties were also canvased in the same way and individual maps of each town or group of small hamlets or cites would have been printed and hand colored on their own page of the folio sized books. These maps of both types are a wonder to behold and so, so important for genealogical research.

When you view the maps and find your ancestor’s house you will no doubt become excited to see nearby surnames that you have also come across in your research. Remember in this time period there were no roads like we think of them today. Concrete or Asphalt paving is a relatively new industry. The roads in your ancestor’s times were usually dirt trails or paths that were always very dusty in the dry times and soupy with mud and ruts in the wet seasons, and in New York, covered with snow that usually could only be rolled, not plowed, to allow passage by sleigh in the winter. So keep in mind that the men you look for almost NEVER went very far to find a bride!

Well you already know I like the Internet, and now there is one GREAT site that I am so excited about I can hardly contain myself, and that is Historic Map Works.

This is an absolutely fabulous resource! You will be able to search for old maps that cover the locations that your ancestors resided in. You can search by the city or town, or an actual address, or even by GPS co-ordinates, and this will list the maps that thay have that cover your area of interest, (not all are yet included in this database, but they are working on it.) There are several maps that will overlap and many from various time periods. Most of them seem to be from the early to late 19th century, however there are earlier and later ones also available. There are all types of Atlas Maps, Wall Maps, Land Ownership Maps, Nautical Charts, and at the time of this writing they offer over 100,000 maps in full living color and all scanned and digitized for detailed scrutiny. It is not easy to cut and paste, but you might want to purchase a high quailty full size reproduction published with methods to closely represent the antique qualities.

They are also building a collection of digitized City, County and Business DIRECTORIES!
All of their maps and directories collections are growing all the time. If you do not find your exact location at this time, return often because the collection gets added to daily.

This is a subscription service, but the price is very nominal at only $29.99 per year.

I am just becoming familiar with this site and this company but you will be hearing more from me after I get to use it some more.

Ps: if you do decide to subscribe, please tell them Dick Hillenbrand at sent you.

USGS/GNIS, USAPhotoMaps, Jdmcox, MAPS

We all love maps!

Maps of all kinds are used in genealogical research and I want to bring to your attention some on-line services that are now available that will help you locate various locations in the US. Some of these are international in scope but this discussion will be on the domestic versions.

I have written before about the (USGS/GNIS) and still use it often because it is just about the easiest way to locate a specific locality or item by name. The acronym is handy because the official governmental title of this agency is The United States Board on Geographic Names / United States Geological Survey / Geographic Names Information System. Their website homepage is: If you forget to bookmark this link you can always go to our website at and look for it under our “Favorite Links.”

Now to do a search you want to go to:

You can enter a single word and state and a list of available candidates will pop up to choose from. You then may select items like; a “populated place, civil, locale, county, city, town, summit, island, stream, lake, river, cemetery, school, dam,” and probably dozens of other categories. This will be a way for you to find the cemeteries that were closest to your ancestors, just as a for instance.

Now that you have the name and location of a specific place name, and have an idea where and which county it is located in, you will need to go to a modern mapping website or piece of software to look at it.

I use some of the CD-ROM based mapping programs like Microsoft Streets and Trips, and DeLorme’s mapping programs. I also have written before on my website and blog about terraserver, (do a search of my blogs,) and I still use that quite a bit, but I want to call your attention to a really good on-line system called USAPhotoMaps. You will have to go to: to get instructions on how to use it and to download the program on to your computer to be able to use these maps and aerial/satellite photos. I suggest you read and understand as much information as you can without overloading on jdmcox’s website, because there are tons of other features and utilities described.

USAPhotoMaps uses the maps and information from terraserver and tiger/streets to download a specific map location right onto your own computer to be able to take with you on disk or in your laptop, or handheld computer, while doing research in a library or on location. You will not need an Internet connection once you have the maps and photos on your own machine. Incidentally, this is all free of course. Jdmcox does ask for a donation if you feel that it is truly worthwhile. It is, believe me.

Now, that being said, it is a little hard to get used to and figure out how to use it to it’s full advantage. First you have to download the program and install it, just once. Then you have to select a location. What you will see is a screen full of squares with a little dot in the center. Huhh? What do I do now?

It will ask you for a title of this search/map/photo. I usually use the title that I just searched on. The reason for this is that after you have performed the following procedures you will have created a nice set of maps to keep on your machine by title.

Well now you have to learn some very simple keyboard routines. Use the letter “F” and the squares will ‘fill’ with an image. Zoom out and you will see the image shrink and another set of squares will surround it. Use “F” again and all of the squares will fill with more images. Eventually you will have an image that makes sense to you in the size of area that will be convenient to work with. Once you have filled the image areas they will remain and you can zoom in or out without having to fill them again.

As I recall the first set of images that are created will be the aerial view of the locality. Once you have identified that it is what you want then you can use the letter “T” and it will toggle to a ‘topographical’ map screen. Lo and behold it is again just a set of squares with a dot in it. Well you do the exact same thing that you did before. Use the letter “F’ and the map squares will all fill in. Once you have created both sets and saved them you can always toggle back and forth between the photo and the map. Use the letter “P” to toggle to ‘photo.’

On some of the counties that I do a lot of research in, I fill the images in for the whole county at all of the zoom levels, so that any time in the future that I want to recall that set of maps I can use them at any zoom level while I toggle back and forth to look at specific details.

This description just covers the rudimentary usage of this excellent program. You’re on your own to try some of the enhancements and other utilities. The whole process is quite time consuming but well worth the effort. My hat is off to jdmcox for dreaming this program up!

Dick Hillenbrand

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