03 June 2012

Geography in Genealogy

They go hand in hand. Geography and genealogy are - must be! - intertwined in your research journey. Following the path of an ancestral line opens new doors, exposes new details and provides new ideas on every branch of the family tree.

Let's go back to Oscar for a great example of what I mean. We'll stick to the geography specific information here.


  • Born in New York. 
  • Moved to Michigan as a toddler.
  • Lived with sister and family in Missouri as a young adult.
  • Enlisted in Union forces in Missouri Cav, originally. 
  • After the war, he went back to Missouri for a couple of years.
  • Homesteaded in Nebraska, spent the remainder of his years in a three county area.


Part of Oscar Brown's Homestead file.
Personal holdings of author.

I know the family moved to Michigan because Oscar ran for state senate at one point, and that tidbit was included in his political ticket in the local newspaper. From there, I was able to locate possible property records held by his assumed father, and the grave of his sister, leading to her family. I never would have found any of that if I had not known he spent time in Michigan.

On the 1860 census, he is listed in the household of his sister in Missouri. When I first found him here, I did not realize it was his sister, but was later able to match the family connection using documents in his pension file. From that information, I searched the Shelby County, Missouri area much more thoroughly, and was able to find employment records for him there after the war. We always assumed he went immediately to Nebraska, but that was not the case. Again, without the geography, those records would not have been located.

His homestead records, the remainder of his census records and other family information tell me about his life in Nebraska, along with that of his wife and children.

Even with all the records in the world, knowing what they experienced in their day to day is so meaningful to so many of us. I have a secret weapon in this part of the search: National Geographic.

The photos, the maps, oh my! A true world treasure, National Geographic has been documenting history since 1888.


This year, I obtained a copy of The Complete National Geographic software. Love it! Immediate access to every issue, every page, right on my desktop! If you have not explored this resource, I highly recommend it. (Note, National Geographic and its affiliates and I have no connection. I am not being compensated in anyway for this mention in my blog.) Simple searches on the software cd's provide exciting and informative background information on many facets of my ancestors' lives, and the places they lived. I have been able to fill my tree with amazing facts, and those maps! I could go on and on about the maps...

Have a great geography resource? I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!