The first site is probably one that you have used before. It is the Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records site which can be found at http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/default.aspx. There are two main parts of the website which I find very useful. The first is the Land Patent search site. A search on this site might result in finding a digital copy of the original land patent your ancestor was granted. This document provides the Section, Township and Range, as well as the specific parcel of land that was purchased. The second area of the website provides the Plat Image which consists of the original survey maps for the land. These old surveys can provide you an idea of the landmarks which were present at the time the land was originally surveyed.
The combination of these two documents provides you with some pretty interesting information. However, there is another site which lets you map these old parcels on a current map in Google Earth. Google Earth is a satellite mapping program which can be downloaded at http://www.google.com/earth/index.html. Google Earth is a wonderful tool which allows you to look at current, as well as historic, aerial imagery. So, how do you take the information from the land patent and find the location on Google Earth? Well, that takes another website called Earth Point. This site does have a subscription service, however the information I will provide allows you to map locations for free. Earth Point can be found on the web at http://www.earthpoint.us/TownshipsSearchByDescription.aspx.
Once there, you can enter the data from the land patent, such as state, township, range and section in the blanks on the Earth Point website. Make sure you have Google Earth running before you click the "Fly To On Google Earth" button. When you click the button Google Earth will pop up and you will see a pink box showing the section where the parcel was located. You can then figure out what part of the section was granted to your ancestor.
Pretty cool, right? So, maybe now you want to see what that early property might have looked like. Or maybe you have old photos of the house and you would like to post those to a mapping website, like Google Maps, so others can see what the area looked like back in history. There is a fairly new website called What Was There located at http://www.whatwasthere.com/. This site lets you upload your old photos and incorporate them into Google Maps and the Street View. Once you upload the photo to this site you can search the Street View for the proper location and angle to superimpose your photo on the existing property. You can fade in and out to see how well the two pictures match. One thing I would like to see added to this site is the ability to warp the pictures so they fit the current scene a little better. Other than that, this site is a wonderful tool to get a glimpse into the past.
Mapping adds another dimension to your research and brings it to life. Try these new websites and let me know what you think.