Family history: using maps

Understanding your lost relatives is a little easier when you can place them geographically. Today there are huge online resources of historical maps which make this easier.

If you are searching for someone today and you have an address, the best place to start is the simplest: Google MapsJust type in a place name and map focuses on the area you want, making it easy to find addresses from birth certificates, for example. When you are dealing with an area of the country with which you are unfamiliar, using GoogleMaps allows you to familiarise yourself with the area and perhaps connect up a couple of clues which previously did not make sense. For example, birth certificates or baptism records with addresses which do not tally with other clues you have. Looking at the area on a map can often clarify the options.


1925 Carr Naze and Filey Brigg [photo:]

Britain From Above allows you to look down on early to mid-20th century homes, from the skies. For example, I grew up on the North Yorkshire coast near Filey, below are two photographs from the area. Top is a 1925 photograph showing Carr Naze and Filey Brigg; the pic below shows Crescent Hill and Foreshore Road in Filey in 1932. The town is completely recognizable, compared with Filey today.


1932 Crescent Hill and Foreshore Road, Filey [photo]

If you are searching historical records, the British History Online website is a good place to start. There you will find an enormous amount of information available for Britain and Ireland between 1300 and 1800.

If your research takes you beyond the UK, Old Maps Online is a portal to historical maps in libraries around the world. Curious, I searched for Ronda in Andalucía, where we spend part of our time and where I wrote this post. The nearest map I could find which referenced Ronda was this 1943 map [below], sourced from the British War Office.


British War Office GSGC of Ronda area

The more you study the maps and read the local history of the area of the people you are researching, the more you will understand them.


1952 Wimbledon Park from the south-west [photo:]

As part of my research for Ignoring Gravity, I got to know the area around Southfields and Wimbledon, London, particularly well. Rose Haldane, my heroine, was born in 1968, but her flat is clearly visible on this photograph from Britain From Above’s archives in 1952. Perhaps her birth mother or father lived in the same area in the 1950s? Want to know more about Ignoring Gravity? Click here to watch the book trailer.

This post was inspired by the article ‘Mapping Your Family’ in the February 2015 issue of the UK’s Who Do You Think You Are? magazine. Click here to either take out a subscription of buy this issue to download.



‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra Danby [UK: Beulah Press] Buy now

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Use maps to locate your family in the country #familyhistory via @SandraDanby


  1. I love Google Maps! I have started to put pins in for places where my ancestors lived. It’s interesting to save the spots and then make some surprise connections. Not so easy if the roads no longer exist today of course – often the case in London it seems or maybe just because my family were living in the slums…

    • sandradan1

      Hi Lucy, Yes I plan to use Google Maps when I’m planning a setting for my next book, a location I don’t know. Have you used HistoryPin [see my post tomorrow]? SD

    • sandradan1

      We are so spoiled these days with the research materials available online. It makes family history research more accessible and more exciting. 🙂 SD