Maps are an important source to locate the places where your ancestors lived. They help you see the neighboring towns and geographic features of the area from which your ancestor came.
Maps are also helpful in locating places, parishes, geographical features, transportation routes, and proximities to other towns. Historical maps are especially useful for understanding boundary changes.
Maps are published individually or as an atlas, which is a bound collection of maps. Maps may also be included in gazetteers, guidebooks, local histories, historical geographies, encyclopedias, and history texts.
Maps must be used carefully for several reasons:
- There are often several places with the same name. For example, there are over 50 towns throughout the various states of Mexico that begin with the name Dolores.
- The spelling and even names of some towns may have changed since your ancestor lived there. For example, the town presently known as Arroyo Seco was formerly named El Rincón, in the state of Sonora.
- Place-names are often misspelled in English sources. Difficult names may have been shortened and important diacritic marks omitted.
- Political boundaries are not clearly indicated on all maps.
Finding the Specific Town on the Map
To successfully research maps from Mexico, you must identify the town where your ancestor lived. Because there are several towns that have the same name, you may need some additional information before you can locate the correct town on a map. You will be more successful in identifying the town on a map if you have some information about the town. Using gazetteers and other such sources to identify the municipio and district your ancestor’s town was in will distinguish it from other towns of the same name and help you locate it on a map. See the Mexico Gazetteers article for more information.
Finding Maps and Atlases Online
There are collections of maps and atlases available online. All of the following websites are free to use:
One of the pages on the Internet of greatest relevance is hosted by, “The University of Texas at Austin” and is called, Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection. This collection has a specific section for Mexico. It also counts with maps of North America that are relevant because of the areas which belonged to Mexico and Spain. Although those files are of extreme importance, one of greater, is the one pertaining to links to other pages on the Internet. It is important for the large amount of the sources that one finds there.
Another extremely good web page is that of the David Rumsey collection. Similar to the afore mentioned collection, it also has an ample selection of Mexico maps. The maps include a date range that extends from the present to antiquity and it also boasts of maps pertaining to areas that once belonged to Mexico and/or Spain.
There are also historical maps of Mexico available on the Nuestros Ranchos site.
To access the maps on these sites you might need to disable your computer's pop-up blocker.
- Mexico Secretariat of Communications and Transportation Digital Atlas
Often one forgets the more recent maps. Google's map site is one of the best for quickly determining, not only the place of interest, but also the towns, cities, topography, etc. that are found in the environs. Many times one only knows the name of the town and not necessarily the state. Entering the name of the town in Google maps search area helps in finding the state. If one searches for the city and country on the Google home page information can be found on the municipality and state. This information is important when one is trying to determine jurisdictions amongst other things.
Types of Maps
Different types of maps help you in different ways, for example:
- Historical atlases describe the growth and development of countries, showing boundaries, migration routes, settlement patterns, military campaigns, and other historical information.
- Road atlases are useful because of the detail they provide.
- Other types of maps include: parish maps, state maps, tourist maps, topographical maps, and air navigation maps. City maps are extremely helpful when researching in large cities such as Mexico City.