Reason 1: Are You in the Right Place?


It is essential that you identify the right geographical area to locate your ancestor’s records. Remember that state and county boundaries changed, place names changed, and governmental responsibilities for areas changed over time. You certainly don’t want to visit or contact a courthouse that never would have had records you want to locate. You can avoid this pitfall by always asking yourself several questions:

  1. What were the birth and death dates of my ancestor?
  2. Where did he or she physically live in every period of life?
  3. What type of record am I seeking?
  4. What governmental entity had jurisdiction of the geographical area at the time the record was created?
  5. Where is the courthouse for that particular county?

Start with a contemporary atlas to determine the precise location where your ancestors lived. Next, locate a historical map of that same area at the time your ancestor was there and when the documentary evidence you’re seeking was created. There are thousands of digitized historical maps available on the Internet. The David Rumsey Map Collection at is a great place to start. However, you can also use your favorite web search engine and enter historical map and the name of the state, county, province, or parish. You can then check the search results for good detailed map historical maps. Determine the boundaries at the time, and then compare the historical map with the contemporary atlas. You will want to seek documents in the courthouse of the governmental entity that had jurisdiction of the geopolitical location at the time your ancestors lived there.

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