On the Street Where They Lived

Genealogists are often driven by a great curiosity about where, literally, they came from - the geographical landscape that shaped the fortunes and personalities of their forebears. Enter the ancestral map-maker: a detailed and historically-accurate account of the turnpikes and fishponds so familiar to those forebears can bring the past into sharper focus, and put flesh on their antique bones. Working from official cartographic sources, British cartographer Peter J. Adams has created a new series of Victorian British town and village maps which can be mounted and displayed alongside those family portraits.

To most people maps are usually either small-scale TV graphics showing the weather over large areas, state to state traffic arteries or city street plans for seeking that perfectly situated hotel; but for the serious genealogist a large-scale study of their area of interest is essential. For British research, to the delight of our family detective, there is an incredible wealth of such mapping created in the 19th Century by the Ordnance Survey. By the end of the 1850s not only was the whole of the British Isles surveyed at the scale of six inches to one mile, but work was well in hand on a new national scale of twenty five inches to one mile, a scale which allowed even the cabbage patches, orchards and garden paths to be shown in individual properties. The series was completed in 1895. An even larger scale of ten feet to one mile was worked on for the urban areas which showed detail of seat layouts in churches and public buildings before it was deemed too costly to keep up to date. Placing a particular ancestor in an individual property in a particular street can offer the researcher a whole new insight into the world of that person, their occupation, social status and life style. It can also even open up a whole new line of genealogical investigation. Peter was once told by a family detective how her research came to a full stop after she had traced a key individual called Butcher back to a particular street which she had found on a map of a small town on the American east coast. Showing the map to a knowledgeable fellow researcher she was told that this street lay in the then German Quarter of that town and perhaps her gentleman had changed his name from the German Metzger. This indeed had been the case and seven further generations of Metzgers were unlocked for her.

Most people love maps, particularly a map that shows the garden path from which their great, great, great, grandmother pegged out the family washing, something a photograph will never reveal. Peter therefore decided to use the original survey documents to recreate maps of individual villages and towns in the style of the period and make them easily available to genealogists. Each map centres the village or town in the sheet and is bordered and titled giving it an authentic Victorian appearance. Hand-tinting in the traditional colours makes a pleasing keepsake after all the hard research work.