United States County Boundary ChangesEdit This Page
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County boundaries changed many times before being finally established as they are today. An ancestor may have stayed in the same place, yet lived in several counties during his or her lifetime. County records, such as deeds and wills, are generally found in the county which existed at the time the records were created. You will need to know which counties were in existence when and where your ancestor lived.
The original counties in a state were usually very large. As the population in a county increased, the original counties were divided into several smaller counties. Over time, other counties were created from one or more counties. Sometimes a county was totally divided into other counties.
What You Are Looking For
- The name of the county where your ancestor lived at a particular time.
- When a county was created.
- From which counties the county was created.
- Whether the county was later divided into several counties, and if so, which counties.
These 4 steps will help you find which county your ancestor's town belonged to.
Step 1. Find the current county of your ancestor's town.
Check one or more of the following sources:
See Family History Library.
|randymajors.com's Historical County Boundary Maps||An online tool that uses Google Maps to display counties boundaries from ANY HISTORICAL YEAR. Type in ANY PRESENT-DAY PLACE in the U.S. and ANY HISTORICAL YEAR to see the map of county boundaries then in effect, along with all of the current Google Maps places, roads, etc to put the historical map in a current and familiar context! You can then click any county on the map to see the specific history of the boundary changes, and type in different years to see the boundary changes over time. Based on the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries, a project of The Newberry Library.|
Thorndale, William, and William Dollarhide. Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920.
This has maps of county boundaries as they exist today and as they existed in each census year through 1920. This book also includes information about the availability of census records.
Bullinger's Postal and Shippers Guide for the United States & Canada
An alphabetical list by town name, giving the county and state for each town.
Various geographical dictionaries, such as Webster's Geographical Dictionary, available at many libraries, list towns and cities with the name of their counties.
National or world atlases.
Many libraries have atlases such as the Rand McNally Commercial Atlas and Marketing Guide, which list towns, cities, and counties, and show their location on maps.
Step 2. Find county boundaries.
For suggestions on locating county and township boundaries, see Locating Township and County Boundaries.
Step 3. Record the information about the county.
Take notes about the date when the county was created and the name(s) of parent counties. If possible make a copy of a map from the book Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920, by William Thorndale and William Dollarhide which shows county's boundaries at or near the time when your ancestor lived there.
Step 4. Analyze the information.
Note the counties and towns next to the county where your ancestor lived. Often it was easier and closer for people to go to a courthouse in another county than to go to the one in their own county. You may need to check the records in 2 or more counties. Look for maps showing the roads, rivers, and valleys on which people may have moved by horseback, wagon, or boat. Record your observations for your family history.
Your ancestor's time in a county may have spanned 2 or more county creations. Determine which county would be over your ancestor's area when various events, such as buying land and paying taxes, happened in his or her life. Search for the records of that county.
Where to Find It
- By using such sites as www.cyndislist.com, you can find many maps on the Internet.
- See randymajors.com's Historical County Boundary Maps, an online tool that uses Google Maps to display counties boundaries from ANY HISTORICAL YEAR. Type in ANY PRESENT-DAY PLACE in the U.S. and ANY HISTORICAL YEAR to see the map of county boundaries then in effect, along with all of the current Google Maps places, roads, etc to put the historical map in a current and familiar context! You can then click any county on the map to see the specific history of the boundary changes, and type in different years to see the boundary changes over time. Based on the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries, a project of The Newberry Library.
Family History Centers
Many centers have some of the sources described in this guide. Centers can also borrow most microfilm available at the Family History Library. There is a small fee to have a microfilm sent to a Family History Center.
Family History Centers are located throughout the United States and other areas of the world. See the Family History Center Address List for the address and phone number of the center nearest you.
Family History Library
The Family History Library has many maps on film or fiche. For descriptions of records available through Family History Centers or the Family History Library, click on FamilySearch Catalog on the bar above.
- Click on Place Search, and type the name of the state, county, or town in the Place box. When searching towns or counties, add the name of the state in the Part of (optional) box.
- Click on GAZETTERS, HISTORICAL GEOGRAPHY, or MAPS from the list of topics for that place.
- Select from the list of titles to see descriptions of the records with the film or book call numbers.
- Use that information to obtain the records at a family history center or at the Family History Library.
Search for state records, then for county records, and then for town records. See Family History Library Services and Resources for information about contacting or visiting the library.
College Libraries, and Local Public Libraries
Some college libraries have copies of the sources described in this guide, particularly for their own states. Many large public libraries also have copies. Smaller libraries may be able to obtain the sources through interlibrary loan.
Any library near your home may have maps. It may be a public, university, or genealogical society library. The larger the library, the larger and more varied will be their map collection. Look in that library's catalog for a list of maps, atlases, or gazetteers for a particular city, county, or state.
- This page was last modified on 11 September 2014, at 20:44.
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