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I Love Maps!

My parents taught me how to read a road map when I was young. They would let me tell them where our next turn was on trips to my grandparents, a road they both knew very well. It was a good way to learn because I couldn't get us lost, since they knew how to get there without a map.

I love all kinds of maps--antique maps, road maps, topographic maps, informational maps and on and on...

I use them in my research and they are helpful. One of my favorite set of maps are the maps available at the Bureau of Land Management, which you can read about in "Land Records You May Have Missed."

Robert Benjamin Ross, Jr. and Sarah Caroline Derrick

One set of my 2 gr-grandparents are Robert Benjamin Ross, Jr. and Sarah Caroline Derrick. Robert and Sarah were born the same year--1850. Robert, most likely in McDonald Co, Missouri, since that is where his parents can be found in the 1850 census. Sarah was probably born in Benton Co, Missouri, since that is where her parents are found in the 1850 census.

If you have been studying your family history you know that our ancestors moved a lot. Or at least mine did. So it is no surprise that two people born in different counties could meet and marry. But in this case, there were a couple of facts that looking at maps helped me solve quickly.

According to the Robert's family Bible, he and Sarah were married in Benton Co, Arkansas. So two questions arose:

1. Since Sarah was most likely born in Benton Co, Missouri, was the Bible in error?
2. How did these two meet and marry?

Initially my mother and I thought there might be an error in the recording of the marriage. We thought it was a little odd that Sarah was born in and married in counties with the same name, but in different states.

I decided to look at maps of Missouri and Arkansas. What I discovered was quite helpful and answered both of my questions in just the few minutes it took to find the maps and review them.

1879 Arkansas-Missouri Border

Benton Co, Missouri is in central Missouri, while McDonald Co, Missouri is in the Southwest corner of the state, bordering both Oklahoma and Arkansas. The county in Arkansas that borders McDonald Co, Missouri is Benton Co, Arkansas.

McDonald Co, Missouri
This map information led me to review the 1860 and 1870 censuses to determine exactly how the two families migrated, if they did and when. It also provided me with the communities that they lived in or lived closest to.

Robert's family was in the same community from 1850 through to 1870. Sarah's family can be found in the Benton Co, Missouri censuses from 1830 to 1860. In 1870, her family is living in Benton Co, Arkansas. So the seeming "error" was not an error. They lived in counties with the same name in different states. That answers question #1.

But how did they meet? Even though they lived in neighboring counties and young men did leave home in search of adventure, I was curious. While they married in Benton Co, Arkansas in February 1870, in June 1870, they are living with Robert's parents in McDonald Co, Missouri.

Again the maps answered my question. Robert's family lived near Buffalo Creek and Pineville, Missouri in McDonald County. Sarah's family lived near Sulphur Springs, Benton Co, Arkansas. The distance is a little over 5 miles. So even though they lived in different counties and different states, they may have been in the same community. I still don't know the exact story of how they met or what their courtship was like but I now know that they lived close enough together to have known each other for some time.

What I Learned

I learned that maps can help me see the relationships between different locations where my ancestors lived. This can help me sort out a family puzzle.

I learned that I need to use maps as close to the time period I am researching as I can.

I learned that I should keep an open mind about what my facts tell me about the family.

I learned that county names are frequently repeated across many states. My sister-in-law contends that almost every state has a Washington County. Therefore, I need to be clear about what state the county is in.

I learned that maps can be incredibly helpful in my research.

I learned that my parents gave me a great gift when they taught me how to read a map.

Share your experiences in using maps to help you with your research.
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