On the Road with your Genealogy Research

Posted by Aaron on

A map of Fauquier County, Virginia. 1863. Image provided by Library of Congress.

It seems every family has an elusive family member that can’t be located. Where do you turn when you hit a genealogy roadblock?  Maps can help you determine if your ancestor owned land, what type of terrain the property was on and if they had transportation options.

The Virginiana Room, located at the Warrenton central library, has an extensive collection of materials and sources to help in your research. In addition to microfilm, newspapers and census records, (just to name a few) we have maps to help you navigate your research. Here are the most common maps to consider in your genealogy search.

  • Boundary maps provide an overview of how things are related to each other. For example, where exactly did the river flow through the county?  The Map Guide to the U.S.  Federal Census, 1790-1920, shows U.S. county boundary maps, including background information on each census year. Visit Heritage Quest to explore this resource online via the library’s genealogy and local history page.
  • Insurance maps provide information on the buildings in U.S. towns and cities, primarily to determine the level of fire risk. The Virginiana Room’s collection includes Sandborn maps for the City of Warrenton 1886 – 1941 on microfilm; additional Sandborn Insurance Fire Maps for other U.S. cities and towns are available through the Library of Congress online collection.  Access to every map is not currently available but the Library of Congress is in the process of uploading additional maps.
  • Landowner maps show parcels of land and who owns them. They may not indicate who the current owner actually is, but they can help you locate a specific area where your ancestor may have lived. They are also helpful when combined with a census record to help narrow down a particular neighborhood or section of town. They also indicate township and section lines, section numbers, acreage of holdings and sometimes names of landholders. Some of these maps are available in the U.S. Indexed Early Land Ownership and Township Plats, 1785-1898. You can search this database using the library’s access to Ancestry (for in library use only). I’ve been fortunate to have located many family members using this type map.
  • Topographic map shows the lay of the land, including elevation changes, waterways, roads, etc. These are helpful in determining why an ancestor chose a specific location or why they may have left that location. We have topographic maps available for viewing in the Virginiana Room. A CD-ROM can be viewed in the library which has a Fauquier County Topography Map, which includes a road name roster or index.
  • Transportation maps include major roadways, railroads and canals. They are useful in locating the type of transportation that your ancestors had access to, or not.  The Virginiana Room has a few maps of the local area.
  • Maps of Fauquier County: View Historic Fauquier County Maps online or search the online catalog using the keyword “Fauquier County Maps.”  Maps and notes pertaining to the upper section of Fauquier County include historical maps of Northern Fauquier and Loudoun County. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) survey records include information on historic homes, manuscripts, typescripts, printed material and maps. We also carry current road maps and atlases.

We hope you don’t let the detours and roadblocks stop you from your journey in researching your ancestors! If you need further assistance, feel free to email the reference staff or call: 540-422-8500 ext. 6862.

– Jody, Librarian, Warrenton central library

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