Plotting against the family

While finding the location where your ancestors lived on a map is interesting, it is even more exciting to create your own maps that are specific to your family history. One way genealogists produce their own maps is by plotting land records: They take the legal description of the land from a record and place it into land-plotting software, which then creates a map showing the land boundaries. A couple of programs for plotting boundaries are DeedMapper by Direct Line Software

(www.directlinesoftware.com/factsht.htm) and Metes and Bounds by Sandy Knoll Software (www.tabberer.com/sandyknoll/more/metes andbounds/metes.html). You can also find a number of commercial plotting programs by using a search engine such as Google (www.google.com).

Another way to create custom maps is through geographical information systems (GIS) software. GIS software allows you to create maps based upon layers of information. For example, you may start with a map that is just an outline of a county. Then you might add a second layer that shows the township sections of the county as they were originally platted. A third layer might show the location of your ancestor's homestead based upon the legal description of a land record. A fourth layer might show watercourses, or other terrain features within the area. The resulting map can give you a great appreciation of the environment in which your ancestor lived.

To begin using GIS resources, you first have to acquire a GIS data viewer. This software comes in many forms, including free software and commercial packages. One popular piece of free software is ArcReader, which is available on the ESRI site at www.esri.com/software/arcgis/arcreader/about/ features.html. Then you download (or create) geographical data to use with the viewer. There are a number of sites that contain data, both free and commercial. Starting points for finding data include Geography Network (www.geographynetwork.com) and GIS Data Depot (data.geocomm.com). For more information on GIS software, see GIS.com at www.gis.com.

You can also use maps from other sources and integrate them into a GIS map. For example, when visiting cemeteries, we like to use GIS resources to generate an aerial photograph of the cemetery and plot the location of the grave markers on it. When we get back home, we use the aerial photograph as the base template and then overlay the grave locations on it electronically to show their exact positions.

Using our example of grave-hunting in the German Reformed Cemetery (discussed earlier in the chapter), we generate an aerial view by going to Microsoft Virtual Earth (maps.live.com, or you can get to the site through a link under Mapping Services on the GNIS results page that you generated if you followed the step lists in the section titled, "Where is Llandrindod, anyway?").

Figure 7-6 shows the photograph at its maximum zoom. The cemetery is the slightly lighter, triangular gray area near the center of the photograph (it's bordered on the west by the highway and on the east by a grove of trees). This view of the cemetery helps a lot when we try to find it "on the ground."

From the photograph, we know it's right off of the highway, in between two farms, and across from a triangular lake (although we have to keep in mind that the aerial photograph may have been taken long ago — some things might have changed since then).

After plotting the gravestone locations based on GPS readings at the cemetery, we generate the picture in Figure 7-7. We store that picture in our genealogical database so it's easy to find gravestones at that cemetery should we (or anyone else) wish to visit it in the future.

Figure 7-6:

An aerial map generated at the Microsoft Virtual Earth site.

Figure 7-6:

An aerial map generated at the Microsoft Virtual Earth site.

Figure 7-7:

An aerial map on which we plotted family gravestones that we visited and for which we gathered GPS readings.

Figure 7-7:

An aerial map on which we plotted family gravestones that we visited and for which we gathered GPS readings.

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