Playing Favorites with Books

By Carolyn L. Barkley

Can you name your favorite book? Can you name just one or does the list just grow and grow?

I’m in the process of having built-in book cases installed in my home office/library. The process of removing books from the shelves to get ready for the new ones to arrive has provided me with the opportunity (that’s a cheerful way of looking at all the lugging and stacking) to take a renewed look at my collection. There’s something very satisfying about handling books and peeking into their contents. Sometimes the moving gets put on hold as a particular book, perhaps one that I’ve forgotten about, catches my attention and I have to spend time dipping into its contents. This work has led me to consider which ones are favorites.

Some books, particularly fiction, are favorites due to the enjoyment they provide. One of the joys of retirement has been the time to read for pleasure. On the other hand, some books are favorites because of the success they offer in genealogical research for ourselves or our clients. For me, my favorite book-of-the-month (actually one of my favorites of all time) is the Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920 by William Thorndale and William Dollarhide. It sits within easy reaching distance of my desk chair and laptop.

Our research may focus on one main geographical area, but inevitably, some ancestor moved to another state, sometimes at quite a distance from the rest of the family. This move instantly makes us beginning researchers in the new geographical area, requiring us to familiarize ourselves with county names and the chronology of county formations. The Map Guide is the book for you. The preface states that the Guide “shows county outline maps at ten-year intervals, the old county boundaries being superimposed over the modern lines…The maps begin with 1790, the earliest federal census, and end with 1920.� Counties in existence for a particular federal census are in black; names and lines in white illustrate the difference between the specified census and 1920. In some cases, maps are included for state censuses if the lists were sent to Washington, such as the map for Nebraska in 1885.

In addition to the maps themselves, explanatory notes discuss border disputes, county creation dates, census availability, year of statehood, and other helpful information to assist researchers. Examples include: the loss of the 1790 federal census for all counties in Delaware; an 1885 Nebraska state census map where notes indicate the transfer of partial counties from the Dakota Territory to Keya Paha and Knox Counties in 1882 and also the extension of Burt, Cuming, and Wayne Counties into part of Omaha and Winnebago Indian lands; and a listing of the Indian jurisdictions in the Oklahoma Territory when it was created in May 1890.

If you are beginning a new segment of research in a state or county unfamiliar to you, The Map Guide will quickly become your favorite book and one that is indispensable for your home library. It provides a quick look-up to help move your research forward.

If you need even more detail, check out GoldBug’s Animap, a county boundary historical atlas for Windows users. This software, available on CD or as a download, provides 2,300 historical maps showing changes in county boundaries for each of the forty-eight contiguous states for every year since 1776. This software is very helpful if you have a town which has disappeared from modern maps or which is no longer in the same county it was in the year your ancestor was living there.
You may also wish to consult the U.S. Board on Geographic Names website which allows you to search the names of cemeteries, churches, geographical features, hospitals, and more, both domestic and foreign.
Map Guide to the U. S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920 is definitely one of my favorite and most often used books. What’s your favorite? I hope you’ll comment and let us know!

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