One of the best things about family history is that it is constantly taking you to new places and times. Even if your ancestors stayed put for generations, the places where they lived changed and evolved through the years.
Knowing your ancestor’s surroundings can be critical to your research in terms of locating new records. Where would the family most likely have done business? Worshipped? Or perhaps relocated? Transportation routes and the environment may have impacted those decisions. Too often we have to visualize our ancestor’s surroundings based on what we can glean from records, but with historical maps we get a visual of the places our ancestors lived as they were at the time. And the more detailed the map, the better.
England’s Ordnance Survey began in 1791 in an effort to produce detailed maps of areas in southern England for military uses. Though it took the better part of a century, the Survey eventually mapped the entire country, and the maps were published between 1805 and 1874. In the meantime, the rapid expansion of railroads and urbanization had changed the face of the country, and maps were being put to greater civilian uses. New surveys led to new maps published between 1876 and 1896, and they were revised again starting in the interwar years. Ancestry now has two sets of these maps – the Revised New Series Maps, 1896-1904, and Popular Edition Maps, 1919-1926.
These detailed maps cover much of Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland-though only Scottish Borders are included in the latter). They include features such as forests, mountains, larger farms, roads, railroads, towns, and more to help you better understand and even visualize the world your ancestor lived in. This map lists the names of several larger farms and even shows a road that dates back to Roman times.
Elevations are noted, as are some distances, and natural features like marshes, rivers, lakes, hills, woods, and orchards are marked. Man-made features like churches, windmills, lighthouses, railroads, post and telegraph offices, and parks are also included. Roads are classified by class in the Revised New Series and ranked for various types of traffic in the Popular Edition. Below are legends to each collection, and additional information can be found on the Cassini Historical Maps website.
You’ll also note some abbreviations on the maps. The Ordnance Survey website has a helpful list of these abbreviations. So if you’ve got British roots, take a closer look at your ancestor’s neighborhood to get a better feel for their surroundings and some new insights into their lives.