Maps can reveal family treasure

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Maps are a great resource for genealogists. There are many types of maps, including digital ones, but the most popular is probably the cadastral map. It allows us to locate where our ancestors lived in a township and the best collection of cadastral maps can be found in The Colby Atlas of Maine Counties.

A cadastral map shows the lots in a township and lists the names of the property owners on a given date such as 1870. These maps show where your ancestor owned land and the land’s shape as well as where other relatives lived in the town, the neighbors, people who may have married into the family, industries, and even can help you locate where married daughters lived. Sometimes you’ll find it remarkable how a relatively small area of a town or rural area can reveal where future in-laws resided.

Maps can also give you a clear picture of the types of industry found near your family home. Even schoolhouses are shown so you can see where your ancestor went to school and how far he or she walked.

Cadastral maps can also help support family stories. I have a cadastral map of Atkinson which clearly shows where my great-grandfather’s farm was located as well as a wood lot he later purchased. Across the road was another farm owned by the Merrill family. Family legend says my great-grandfather was clearing the land in Atkinson (the family had originally lived in Bowerbank) on a hot day and went across the road to ask for water. The young woman who opened the door became my great-grandmother. She didn’t live in Atkinson. She was there to help Mrs. Merrill, who had just given birth. The map backs up the legend and explains how people from different towns may have met and later married.

The Atkinson map also shows where my great-grandfather’s brothers lived and near his property were several farms whose owners had familiar surnames. They all had sons who would later marry my great-aunts.

Maps can also help in your research even if your ancestor didn’t own the land he lived on. If you know he rented or roomed while working in a local factory, you can find the property owned by the landlord. Other maps can pinpoint where the factory or mill was and how close it was. If your ancestor owned a business, factory, or mill himself you can find that on the map as well and often they lived beside their mill or over the store they operated.

The Colby Atlases were published from the 1850s to the 1870s. You can find them in libraries and often you’ll find a single map mounted and for sale at antique shops. In that case, someone purchased an atlas and took it apart to sell the maps individually. That’s how I got my Atkinson map. While I’m sorry an atlas was cannibalized, I’m delighted to have the map which gives a snapshot in time of my family history.

Nancy Battick is a Dover-Foxcroft native who has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft. Nancy holds a MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. You can contact Nancy at

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