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Research the Library of Congress Maps on Line

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Be still my heart; the perfect map for a writer of historical fiction and an amateur historian.[i]

Be still my heart; the perfect map for a writer of historical fiction and an amateur historian.[i]

After numerous edits, as I prepared the historical fiction novel I wrote for ‘final’ scrutiny, I determined that it might need a map or two. That decision led me to one of my favorite on-line research sites, the Library of Congress maps collection at I wanted my maps to have the look and feel of maps from the same period as my novel (1770-1820.) I found some great examples and, meandering off the course as so often happens in the research process, I found two maps useful to my genealogical research as well. In this blog, I hope to walk you through the very simple process of searching the Library’s fabulous collection by outlining how I found the map that inspired the maps for my novel as well as the other maps I discovered.

First, before you do anything, have a purpose in mind. I had set the goal of finding hand-produced maps of Pennsylvania and Ohio from a particular period as examples for my fictionalized maps. I still got distracted, but without a goal you could spend hours in a maze of old maps. That could be your goal I suppose but, really, isn’t there something you want to discover?

Next, log on to the Internet. (My wonderful, wonderful friend…Is it right to love an inanimate object, and is something so responsive really inanimate?) Anyway, head to the address indicated above.

When first exploring the site, I recommend using the search column you’ll find to the right of the page. It allows you to narrow the parameters of your search one step at a time. After all, you don’t want to miss something wonderful. By choosing ‘1700-1799’ in the ‘Dates’ section, 2,230 amazing handcrafted maps of the period appeared, just a few too many.

The narrower your search the fewer your results, and the site offers many ways to narrow your outcomes. One option, ‘Collections,’ allows you to look inside the numerous collections compiled by the Library such as this intriguing possibility, Discovery and Exploration. If you are a real map geek you can search by the contributor or maker of the map. Perhaps your goal is subject based such as the American Revolution; there is that option as well. And, while I don’t recommend it because many excellent early maps might be overlooked, you can search by language. For my novel, I chose to narrow my search to ‘1700-1799’ and Pennsylvania, reducing the results to 88. Just remember that if you decide to change your search criteria, you need to eliminate the old search by clicking on the ‘x’ by that search option in the right hand column. Here is one example of a handmade map that I found as inspiration.[ii]

Braddock's Route

Braddock’s Route

If your goal is narrowly defined, type in your specific search at the top of the page. You can still use the search column at the right to narrow your results even further! For example, when I started roaming the unknown, I began to wonder about the Ohio clan, the one I just can’t seem to release. Anyway, I typed in Washington County, Ohio and found the map shown below.[iii] With it, published in 1858, and knowing that my family owned land in that county by 1860 (based on the Federal Census)[iv] I was able to narrow the probable time that they entered Washington County from Coshocton County to about 1859. Now that gets a genealogist’s heart all in a flutter!washington county

[i] Bradley, Abraham. A map of the United States exhibiting post roads & distances. Map. From the Library of Congress, Map Collections. (accessed June 29, 2015)

[ii] Braddock’s route, 1755, Fort Cumberland to Fort Pitt. Map. From Library of Congress, Map Collections. (accessed June 29, 2015)

[iii] Lorey, Wm. Map of Washington County, Ohio: from actual survey & records. Map. 1858, From the Library of Congress, Map Collections. (accessed June 29, 2015) [iv] Federal Census, 1860; Census Place: Fairfield, Washington, Ohio; Roll; M653_1048: Page: 124; Image: 251; Family History Library Film:805048 (accessed April 22, 2013)

About croywright

The author, a writer of history and historical fiction, always yearned to go back in time.

One response »

  1. Testing the comment section of wordpress. Donna “The thing about time is that time isn’t really real. It’s just your point of view…” James Taylor, lyrics “The Secrets of Life”


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