Book Review: The Family Tree Historical Maps Book: A State-By-State Atlas Of U.S. History, 1790-1900

The Family Tree Historical Maps Book:  State-By-State Atlas Of U.S. History, 1790-1900, by Allison Dolan and the editors of Family Tree Magazine

In reading a book like this, which amounts to a US atlas of a slightly specialized sort, one has to ask what one’s purpose is in reading this.  Presumably, anyone reading this book would have an interest in genealogy and would have a desire to uncover information about ancestry and family origin [1], and the question one asks is whether this purpose is served by reading this book.  The answer is not either a certain positive or negative, and that is largely because in order for this book to be used correctly, one has to know a great deal about one’s family to begin with.  For example, one has to know where one’s ancestors were living in order to use the maps and other information here to figure out more details.  Failing this, if the reader comes to this book with only slight knowledge about their family’s whereabouts over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the reader is left looking at pretty maps that are hard to read and that seem to be chosen either to show what cities looked like or to show the shifting county boundaries within states over time, and while that can be amusing, it is not nearly as worthwhile.

The contents of this book are divided into two categories.  The first and largest group of maps is made on a state-by-state basis starting from colonial or territorial period and showing the gradual expansion of settled land and the division of territories into smaller states and of larger counties or unexplored “Indian lands” into land settled and platted and organized by white communities of farmers and ranchers and townfolk.  These maps, even though they are hard to read, contain a great deal of information about how many states of the Union were admitted into statehood without having their complete territory organized, much as Alaska retains a great deal of unorganized land even to this day.  Some states, like Ohio, barely had any organized land when they were admitted as states, which suggests that there was sometimes a rush to admit states in order to expand the Union before those states had reached a fully settled state, something to consider given the more recent delays on states [2] being admitted to the Union.  The second and smaller section contains maps of special interest involving the causes of death, the period of cloudiness in parts of the United States or the proportion of foreign-born people or the population density at various parts of American history.  Some people will be more interested in these special topical maps than others will.

So, does this map book help someone uncover their family roots?  More than likely, it will help those who have a fairly precise area known to where their family lived determine where to go for records about ancestors.  What territories and what counties previously existed where one’s family had lived?  If one knows the answer to this question, this book can be of use in traveling to places in search of archival information.  If one does not know the answer to this question, this is a map of pretty but difficult-to-read maps, and while that may be enjoyable enough as a way to pass a bit of time, and as a way to think about the practices of settlement and organization within the United States over the course of history, it probably will not be greatly useful in helping someone without much knowledge of where their family came from get the information they need to know more about the status and identity of their ancestors.  Still, one can never read too many pretty maps, and maps give a great deal of thought-provoking material for reflection, and so this book will be of use to many, at least in helping them figure out what they need to find out concerning their family background.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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7 Responses to Book Review: The Family Tree Historical Maps Book: A State-By-State Atlas Of U.S. History, 1790-1900

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