Finding Your Ancestors in the Streets
March 06, 2012
In the course of your research you will very likely discover where your ancestors lived, at least for a brief period of time. The reason for that is because documents are tied to locations. When you find your ancestor in a census record, they are found in a particular town or city. Vital records are also created by a particular town or city.
It is not until we get to records created at the federal or county level that we might lose some of the details. Even those records, if you view the originals, will provide a clear pointer or at least a hint as to where your ancestor resided or was born. When you think about it in this way, we are armed with more information that we realize.
The location of our ancestor's residence provides us with an unusual resource. I'm sure you've heard of the MapQuest database. MapQuest has literally mapped out the world. You can find street locations for any continent. You can get directions for routes you would like to take and view satellite images that give you a sense of the terrain. Genealogists have long used MapQuest to view maps of our ancestors' towns or to create maps of their migration route. Today let's look at an often overlooked use of the website.
They named a street after my ancestor!
Don't look for a map of your ancestor's town. Search instead for your ancestor's surname as a street name.
Perhaps your ancestor was one of the original settlers in town. It is very likely that they had a street named after them. Locating the street will help you zero in on specifically where in town your ancestor lived. Keep in mind that if the family flourished in a particular town that the street could be named after one of the other members of the same family and not your direct ancestor. However, if this is the case, the street is likely named after the first settler.
The great thing about street names is that is that neighborhoods develop through the years. That means your ancestor may have had a street named after them in 1745, 1880 or 1950. It all depends on when the street was laid out and the neighborhood established. Even today streets are still being named after individuals.
Finding your ancestor
In order to find your ancestor's home you will want to search MapQuest by putting their surname as the name of the street.
For example, if your ancestor comes for Fultonville, New York and their surname is Dillenbeck, type "Dillenbeck, Fultonville, New York" in the search box. Be sure to leave off words such as road, street or lane because you won't know which one will apply ahead of time. Sometimes you might need to include a postal or zip code to help MapQuest find the right town.
If you are lucky enough to discover that a road was named after your ancestor's family you will have a better idea of exactly where in town your ancestor lived. Next you will want to contact the local historical society to see if they can give you more information on the origins of the street name and the family that lived there. Perhaps the house is still standing and they will be able to provide you with photos.
Give it a try - stop searching for maps and start searching for your ancestor's surname in the streets! You should be able to find at least one ancestor who had a road named after them.
Guest blogger, Marian Pierre-Louis, is a historical researcher who loves to share, encourage and inspire others on their genealogy research journey. You can see her upcoming webinars on Legacy Family Tree and read her blog, Marian's Roots and Rambles. She is the author of Ten Brick Wall Tips for Beginners, Discovering Your Massachusetts Ancestors, Brick Walls: Cracking the Case of Nathan Brown's Parents and Researching Your Connecticut Ancestors.
Wow! I love old maps, but never thought to do this, Marian! Thank you for such a great reminder. Clearly I'm going to be glued to this computer for awhile.
Posted by: Celia Lewis | March 06, 2012 at 10:22 AM
In Nova Scotia, Manitoba & BC I have streets named after Whiddens. Saskatchewan names a lake after soldiers KIA.
Edmonton AB CAN
Posted by: Ray Whidden | March 06, 2012 at 10:50 PM
What a brilliant idea. I typed in 'STEINKE, Queensland' and instantly found a Steinke Road near Laidley. My extended STEINKE family lived in many places in the Lockyer Valley, so with this uncommon surname I didn't even need to specify a town.
Posted by: Judy Webster | March 07, 2012 at 01:27 PM
Most countries have a government board which approves geographic names for places and features (but not usually streets). For the U.S. the website is: http://geonames.usgs.gov/pls/gnispublic/f?p=132:1:2287917080647731
Try your ancestor's surname. I found one branch of my family at Farrell Corners this way. They had left Ireland after the others and had lost touch somehow.
Often the queries can be set to search for former names or "local" names.
Posted by: Maureen Farrell | March 09, 2012 at 11:19 AM