Making migration more visible

A map, cork board, foam core and frame make a great way for me to map my ancestors!I love looking at my genealogy map, which hangs on the wall in my office. Using color-coded pins with little label flags, I pin my ancestors’ birth and death places.

As much as I enjoy adding pins to the map, I probably let a year lapse between pinning sessions. But just the other day I took a little time (as part as my weekly genealogy research commitment) and added ten ancestors to the map. It was a fun exercise — and it was educational too.

Focusing on ancestors’ birth and death places helps me think about migration. Looking at the map makes that migration feel more real.

I added a generation in my latest pinning session, so I now have five generations pinned on my map. I was born in Washington state; as I go back in generations, I go farther east with the pins. (Not a big surprise, I know.)

In this past pinning session, I reached an eastern seaboard state, Georgia. A glance at the map showed me that the distance from Georgia, where my great great grandmother, Margaret Elizabeth Dye, was born, to Alabama, where she died, wasn’t as far as I’d thought. Margaret was born in 1844 in Henry County, Georgia and was married in 1865 in Shelby County, Alabama. Her husband, Laban Taylor Rasco, was born in Alabama and did fight in the Civil War in Georgia, so maybe she was a war bride? (I’m thinking not because there were many Dyes in the cemetery where she is buried in Cullman, Alabama.) These are the kinds of stories I hope to suss out as I look to go deeper, rather than higher, in my family tree.

The map helps bring questions to light, making migration patterns more visible. I know that there are higher-tech ways to do this. But my old-school map and pins make me happy.

Find historical maps on

mapofusI’m not sure how I happened across the website, but it seems like quite a find for history and map lovers, and, of course, family history researchers.

The site consists of links to many, many high-resolution historical maps of the U.S. (and a few other countries), as well as a small selection of battle maps for the Revolutionary War, and Civil War maps promised to come soon.In addition, there is a Historical  Atlases section, which provides some city maps as well. I was able to see 1852 and 1880 maps of St. Louis, where I live. They were fascinating.

It also offers an interactive U.S. map where you can watch the territories and states as they’re established throughout time. Each state also has an interactive county map.

The maps are available free of charge (at this point anyway). This seems like a really easy way to check county (and other) boundaries on various dates while you’re doing your genealogy research.


Improving my ancestor map

A map, cork board, foam core and frame make a great way for me to map my ancestors!I love the map I’ve put together to mark the birth and death places of my ancestors. Back in October, I blogged about the strategy I put into place on what to pin and how I make the pin flags. I pinned as far back as great grandparents before I hung the map, and that’s where I ran into a snag. I had been using a fabric-covered Homasote bulletin board that I had just pinned the map to. But when I rearranged my office and went to hang the map on the wall, I realized that the old bulletin board was so bowed it wasn’t going to hang well.

So I put a lot of energy (probably too much) into figuring out how to have an attractive, pinnable map hanging on my wall, and here’s what I came up with:

My husband, Barry, who in a prior life worked in a frame shop, helped me assemble the frame (well, he did it for me). I took all the pins out of the map and took it off the old board. Barry layered the map on top of the cork board on top of the foam core and slid them into the frame. Naturally, there’s no glass covering the frame. I then had the pleasure of repinning all the pins!

The result (pictured above) is attractive, I think. And very functional. I haven’t taken the time to add more pins (though I want to!), but even just with my parents, grandparents and great grandparents pinned, it’s such a treat to glance up and see where my roots lie. (That would be in Alabama, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, and Washington…and one outlier in California.)

I’m not a big DIYer, but this was one project that was not difficult for me. And I’m very pleased with the result!

Pinning my map

The first pins on my genealogy mapI wrote a couple of weeks ago that I was purchasing a large map of the United States so that I could mark where my ancestors lived and get a better sense of my geographic origins. I figure it will also be helpful in planning research trips. Mapping my genealogy has proven to be great fun.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought as to how to mark the map. I didn’t know if I should include just birth places, just death places or both. Should I include marriage places? How would indicate who a pin represented? Should I color code? If so, how many colors? What kind of pins?

After a week or two of thought, yesterday I settled on this strategy:

  • I’m using one-inch-long pins with colored heads
  • I’m color-coding the pins by branch of family (to match the way I’ve color-coded my paper files, one color per grandparent and his/her ancestors)
  • I’m marking both birth and death places
  • Each pin is the appropriate color and has a flag on it indicating the ancestor and birth or death date

I’m using Avery return address labels (#5167) for the flags.  That seems to be a good size to capture the information legibly. On the first line, I put first and middle initials and last name. On the second line is the birth or death date. The info is right justified. Once I’ve printed out the label, I fold it in half around the pin and it sticks to itself.

I’ve decided to pin systematically and have started with my grandparents and great grandparents. Once I finish pinning all the ancestors for whom I have verified information and the backlog is complete, I’m anticipating the thrill of adding a pin when I establish the birth and death date of an ancestor.

I’m kind of shocked at how fun and rewarding this is. Time is flying as I work on it. A side benefit is that it’s making me realize the ancestors for whom I’m missing birth cities or counties (my paternal grandparents, for instance!).

This is just one of the many ways that family history research is such a fun and satisfying hobby for me.