Sunday, August 28, 2016

The US Census - Beyond the Names - Mapping Your Ancestors

Welcome back and thanks for your continued support of my blog. I am back at it again and thankfully I have some time off work to get back to more blogging. My previous blog post was about using the US census to discover immigration records. This post will be about using the census to map your ancestors.

I have always found it interesting to see where my ancestors lived and I like to compare present day photographs with the historic photos to see how the areas have changed over time. A few years ago my family took a day trip and visited Fernandina Beach, Florida, the location where my wife's 3rd great grandparents settled when they immigrated from St. Heliers, Channel Islands. The town still has its historic town center with all the buildings turned into tourist shops and restaurants. But since we hadn't been there for a couple years we were amazed at how much things had changed in just that little time. How much must it have changed since the 1860s when they immigrated there?

Back in 2011, I wrote a blog titled Mapping Your Ancestors. That post talked about some of the tools that you can use to compare areas over time. But how do you use the census records to see how people migrated and how areas have changed?

Each census provides basic information that can help locate your ancestors' general locations. For example, my wife's 3rd great-grandfather Corydon Bloomfield Reeder moved frequently during his life. We first find him in the 1850 census. Based on that census, we know he was born in Ohio but was living in Monroe Township, Delaware County, Indiana. During the 1860 census he is listed as living in Umatilla Crossing, Lower Umatilla Precinct, Wasco County, Oregon. The 1870 census has him living in Cayuse, Umatilla County, Oregon. In 1880, he is living in Thomas Fork Valley, Uinta County, Wyoming.

Now I can map these points to see where he lived. This is a simple task that can be done with a spreadsheet and Google Maps. First, create a table with the dates and locations in your spreadsheet program. You can use MS Excel or try Google Sheets as a free replacement.

Example of location spreadsheet

I only included the locations from the census records in the example table above but you can add as many locations as you have. For example, you can add locations from tax records, children's birth records, marriage records, etc to complete your map.

Once you have the spreadsheet complete you should save it as a csv file which can be imported into your mapping program such as Google Maps or Google Earth.

Map for Corydon Reeder

For the map above I have added several more sets of data to the census data. This includes land grants and marriage records. In Google Maps each type of data can be colored a different color. When you click on the pin the data from your spreadsheet for that point is shown. This is a great method to show how people have migrated over time.

But what if your family didn't migrate and they stayed in the same place all their life? Well, there are tools for that also. One thing you can do if they were landowners is find plat maps for the region. One of my favorite sites for plat maps is Historic Map Works. They do charge for downloads and printed maps but you can search their map database for free and see the maps you need.

1860 Plat map - Jackson Township, Auglaize County, Ohio

1880 Plat map - Jackson Township, Auglaize County, Ohio

1898 Plat map - Jackson Township, Auglaize County, Ohio

The three plat maps above show the same parcel of land and its ownership. In 1860 this land was owned by G. H. Severin and consisted of 90 acres. Mr. Severin was actually George H. Severin. In 1880 you can see that the land was owned by the G. Severin Heirs and consisted of 110 acres. In 1898 the land is owned by Catherine Severin. Catherine was my great-great-grandmother. Her first husband was William Severin, the son of George H. Severin.  You can also see that sometime between 1860 and 1880 the Severin family acquired some land to their northwest corner from either J. Wente or H. Heitkamp. The changing land holdings can give us clues as to marriages, deaths, and other events. For example, we know that George Severin died between 1860 and 1880 since the land is owned by his heirs in 1880. Also knowing who the neighbors were can give us clues as to how well they knew each other and why certain families married.

The 1860 and 1870 census records for George Severin list his location as Jackson Township, Auglaize County, Ohio. Additionally these censuses list his real estate values. In 1860 his real estate was valued at $2,800. In 1870 the census lists his real estate value as $3,000. So there was a $200 increase in his land value between these censuses. Was that when he acquired that additional acreage? We would have to look at land records to find that out.

The censuses during the 20th century provide additional detail on locations. I especially like the ones that have house addresses. You can use Streetview on Google Maps to see what the place looks like today and see if their home is still standing. But I especially like using real estate sites such as Trulia and Zillow. Why is it useful to use current real estate information in your research? Well, let's take a look at some examples.

In the 1920 census, my great-grandfather Ray Westerheide is listed as living at 317 Nassau Street, Dayton, Ohio. His occupation at this time was as an assembler at Delco Lights. From one of the real estate sites we get the following information: results for 317 Nassau St., Dayton, Ohio

You can see the homes here are probably the original homes from when Ray lived there. They are typical shotgun style homes. The one on the right appears to have been updated with a second floor added. But it appears that his home is no longer there. We also get information on the current neighborhood and home values.

By the 1930 census, Ray had moved to 122 South Frankfort Street in Minster, Ohio. Ray was the manager of a Kroger grocery store at this time. results for 122 S. Frankfort St, Minster, Ohio

From this information you can see that the house was built in 1924. So I might be able to assume that Ray and his family were the original owners of this home. His family consisted of Ray, his wife, and their 6 children so they probably needed the extra space provided by this home.

So, from the information I found in the censuses I was able to develop all of these maps to get a better idea of what the area was like when they lived.

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