Geography Lessons

Want to learn your family history? Get a degree in geography.

Many beginning researchers believe that the most important documents they can find on their family are birth certificates, marriage licenses, and burial records. While all of these are vital, don't overlook another crucial family history document—the hard-to-fold but indispensable map.

When doing family history research, it's important to put your ancestors not only in their place in time, but also in their place in geography. Our ancestors, just like us, were going actual places. If you have never been to those places yourself, looking at a map gives you a better understanding of how your ancestors lived their lives.

If family legend relates the story of Great-Grandpa going to visit Great-Grandma every Friday before they were married, one learns a lot more about their dedication to each other if the two towns are thirty miles apart.

This is the tiny island where my paternal line comes from. Can any of you aspiring cartographers identify it? I'll send a few The Generations Project Season One episodes on DVD to the first person to correctly answer.

In the meantime, start looking around and asking relatives about ancestral locations. You never know what you might learn from looking at a map. Just don't ask me how to get it folded back up correctly when you're done.


David Balentine | June 25, 2010 at 10:51 AM

Is this in the Netherlands?

Chris Jones | June 25, 2010 at 11:22 AM

Tahiti or one of the Tahitian islands.

Adrienne | June 25, 2010 at 12:19 PM

Oooh, Netherlands is really close!

Jean-François de Buren | June 25, 2010 at 3:15 PM

I am going to say either Læsø, Denmark or Guernsey.

Anonymous | June 30, 2010 at 8:45 AM

I always like to "see" where my ancestors lived and worked and raised their families. Another invaluable tool is first-hand accounts of historical events, many of which are on the Net. For instance, my paternal ancestors were from Marion, S.C. It was most interesting to find a remembered account of Sherman's march and how close residents of Marion County came to being visited by his army. Only high waters and difficulty crossing the river saved them. Residents had already taken their cows and hogs to hide in the swamps--they were taking no chances. I can imagine the fear my ancestors must have felt at that time.

KG | June 30, 2010 at 8:45 AM

Thanks to the help of Google Maps, it appears the mystery island is Borkum.

Adrienne | June 30, 2010 at 11:42 AM

Congratulations to KG (and Google Maps!) Indeed it is Borkum, a tiny island off Germany and the Netherlands. Send your mailing address to me at and we'll get you the DVD.

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