More about Maps


Ironically even as my post on maps and gazetteers was scheduled to go online last Saturday I was attending the National Family History Week talks hosted by the Northern Territory Library, one of which was about maps.

I was riveted by Geoff Carr’s presentation on maps and mapping. Geoff is a cartographer with the Northern Land Council and his experience really added to the interest factor, including talking about making maps from notes by anthropologists in the field plotting locations of dreaming lines and sacred sites from information provided by Aboriginal elders: a whole other type of mapping for family history! Geoff also showed us a wonderful array of map types. Geoff has given permission for me to share some of his tips with you:

  • Check the provenance of a map: why it was made, for whom and how it was created: not all maps are created equal. Just because it’s on a map doesn’t make it infallible.
  • Always include a scale mark on the section of a map you wish to enlarge. Otherwise as the map section gets larger you will not realise just how far apart places actually are.
  • Always, always look at the legend (the written bit, often on the bottom of the map). This will tell you when it was published, the scale, and what the symbols mean.
  • Always carry your GPS with you so you can pinpoint the precise spot.
  • A simple, clear map is better than a cluttered map. But that made me think of those beautiful old maps with art work of wind and dragons etc…we saw one at the Napoleon exhibition in Melbourne recently. They may not be as helpful but they did look gorgeous.
  • Geoff talked about pinning places on Google Earth and using it to map locations, but many geneabloggers are already doing this.
  • Click on the history button in Google Earth to see what was at an address some time ago (the button looks a little like a clock). Although Geoff said some places have long timelines, I’ve only found maps back to 2001 for the places I’ve searched: much will depend on where you’re looking.
  • Aerial photos are more accurate than satellite images. You can buy these at different places. I got my aerial photo of the Fifteen Mile at Murphy’s Creek from Qld’s Dept of Lands years ago. But of course Google Earth is free so you’re only likely to use the aerial photos for somewhere you’re very keen to have, or to get an older aerial image.
  • The older the aerial photo the more distortion you’ll get away from the centre-point (nadir) of the picture.  The scale won’t be exact on the edges.
  • Explore the various guides and help facilities on Google Earth
  • Did you know there’s a program called Google Earth Pro? No, I didn’t either but it’s available for $399 a year and for that it can be used by two users. It did sound like tremendous fun as it apparently has far more options because it’s used by mapping professionals.
  • Geoscience Australia provides lots of helpful information and the place search option will give you coordinates for the place.
  • An evil tip to unbalance a cartographer? Fold a map in front of them!

Thanks Geoff for a fun, interesting and educational talk.

My 1968 copy of the Readers Digest Complete Atlas of Australia.

While on the subject of maps I wanted to add a book reference to my blog post. If you can get your hands on an old (1960s) copy of the Readers Digest Atlas of Australia via e-bay or online bookstores, it’s worth having. (in fact there’s one on sale right now)  The National Library has some more recent holdings). I’ve found all sorts of things in this atlas that are difficult to find elsewhere because it also shows the old properties and stations. For example I was able to pinpoint the location of an outstation for a property (ranch in American terms) for another family. Unfortunately they don’t appear in the index so ideally you need an idea of the general area it’s in before you go hunting.

The other talk that I really enjoyed was by a man who had been adopted in England as a child. He and his wife had recently decided to return to England for a visit and to follow up his birth mother, whose name they’d got from his original birth certificate. Further sleuthing on Ancestry and phone books led him to his half-sisters and the man who would have been his step-father, all of whom welcomed him into the family. His mother had died in the late 1990s. His journeying was very emotional and it was a touching story. I really admired George’s courage in sharing his story with other family historians. Thanks George!

2 thoughts on “More about Maps

  1. Thanks Pauleen, and Geoff, for all this valuable info. Just brilliant!!!
    I bought it!!! :-) Well, I’ve “committed to purchase” the Atlas and just waiting to receive Invoice.
    Laughed over you “evil tip”. Am guessing that they must be rolled not folded???

    • You’re welcome Catherine but sorry I’ve led you astray ;-) No apparently they must be hung with special side thingos.They are supposed to be flat, flat, flat. BTW the evil tip was Geoff’s.

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