The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

August 27, 2012

Frankie Meyer: Internet a useful resource for researching territories, borders

By Frankie Meyer
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — The Internet has made genealogy much easier. One can now easily answer the following types of questions:

When ancestors followed the Old National Road to Missouri, what was their route? What path did ancestors take as they headed south from the Pennsylvania area through North Carolina? What about the Great Valley Road?

These types of questions are answered at a website set up by Beverly Whitaker. To find her site, do a search for “early American roads and trails.” Examples of the types of details are the area where each trail started, the towns through which they passed and the year they were established.

Whitaker also includes rough maps showing the corridors of the roads. Some of the roads are Wilderness Road, National Road, Oregon Trail, Trail of Tears (which was actually several trails), Pennsylvania Road and Great Valley Road.

Genealogists need to learn about these types of roads in order to understand the movement of ancestors across our nation. Without that knowledge, many mistakes can be made. Suppose that an ancestor wrote in a diary that she lived in Louisiana in 1802. One could easily assume that she lived where Louisiana is today. But at that time, most of the area west of the Mississippi was known as the Louisiana Territory.

Did an ancestor record that he or she lived in the Northwest Territory in the late 1700s? At that time, the region included areas such as Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. In 1860, the Utah Territory, Nebraska Territory, Washington Territory and New Mexico Territory included many states. Thus, a knowledge of boundary changes is essential.

The University of Texas libraries sponsor a site that has hundreds of maps that show boundary changes. To find that site, do a search for “Perry Castaneda Library Map Collection of Historical Maps of the United States.” That site is organized by Early Inhabitants, Exploration and Settlement, Territorial Growth and Military History.

The Early Inhabitant maps include information on areas where early Indian tribes lived. Some of those maps go back to the 1500s. The Exploration and Settlement section provides information on early towns along the coasts and has maps that show the year-to-year boundary changes that occurred during the settlement of our country. Details on the areas where military campaigns have been fought are found in the Military History section.

Helpful maps are also found at the USGenWeb sites for each state. To find those maps, do a search for “USGenWeb” and add the name of the state you want to learn about.

Suggestions or queries? Write to Frankie Meyer, 509 N. Center St., Plainfield, IN 46168, or email