Frequently Asked Questions
1. HOW CAN I LOCATE A PARTICULAR COMMUNITY, STREAM, SCHOOL, CHURCH OR CEMETERY?
Often features like streams, cemeteries, and churches, that are still present, are best located on modern maps such as county highway maps and the U.S. Geologic Survey topographic maps. Both types of maps are quite detailed and go to great lengths to name most features, so they can be useful for identifying creeks named in old deeds, hollows and roads named after a particular family, or historic cemeteries. Volume 4 of the Omni Gazetteer provides a simple, statewide index to all place-names in Tennessee and identifies the quadrangle map on which a particular feature can be found. If a place-name has completely disappeared from the modern landscape, then it may be necessary to use an older map to identify the earlier site, in conjunction with a published finding aid such as Morris and Rhea 's Tennessee Gazetteer 1834, the guide to Tennessee Post Offices and Postmasters , or a county history. One group of older maps that is especially thorough and precise in its naming of features is the Division of Geology series, done for various Tennessee counties between 1915 and 1935. The Post Office - Rural Free Delivery county maps in this series are also very useful for locating historic roads, communities, and even residences.
2. WHERE IS A PARTICULAR CIVIL DISTRICT?
There is a series of 1836 maps for many counties that shows civil district boundaries with descriptions. The Beers Company demographic maps and the Division of Geology - Post Office series also show the configuration of civil districts at particular times. Census compendia (1870 and 1880) and descriptions of census enumeration districts (1900 and 1910) can provide communities and place-names associated with certain civil districts. All these sources must be used with caution, since civil district boundaries may shift frequently. Boundary line changes may be gleaned from the Acts of Tennessee.
3. WHERE DID MY ANCESTOR LIVE?
Between 1871 and 1907, the Beers Co. of Philadelphia did a series of maps of Tennessee counties showing landowners' names and the approximate location of their farms. These maps are available for Bedford, Davidson, Gibson, Giles, Hamilton, Haywood, Knox, Madison, Marshall, Maury, Montgomery, Rutherford, Shelby, Sumner, Williamson, and Wilson Counties. There are two Civil War maps for Middle Tennessee (Maps #139 and #2519) that show farmers' names on the land. We also have a set of 1939 - 1941 TVA land ownership maps (Record Group 70, mf.) showing the names of property owners and the boundaries of their property over much of the Tennessee Valley. Other than finding their ancestor's name on one of these maps (a rough approximation, at best), the best way for a researcher to learn the precise location of an historic homestead is to do a property title search through careful use of the deeds and related records.
4. WHERE WERE PARTICULAR ROADS, FERRIES, CAMPS, RAILROADS, AND OTHER HISTORIC FEATURES?
Early statewide maps, such as those of Matthew Rhea (1832), the District Surveyors (1806 - 1819), and the Civil War engineers provide good depiction of the road system, ferries, communities, and churches. Specialized maps will show the locations of Civil War camps, railroads, iron furnaces, river landings, etc. The best maps for locating extant cemeteries (other than small family burial plots) are the modern county highway maps.
We do not have maps of early land grants in Tennessee, except for scattered plat books and drawings for certain locales. The plats for the North Carolina military grants are included with the warrants of the Secretary of State's Land Office in Raleigh, N. C. (Mf. 1177).
The Map Database is up-to-date with respect to the collection. Every effort is made to consolidate our map collection by bringing newly discovered or out-of-the-way maps to the attention of an archivist, so that they may be copied and added to the Map Collection. This is especially true for fragile, folded maps tucked away in older published sources. There are many atlases, fire insurance plat books, and maps in the Congressional Series whose handling and copying by patrons should be limited. Library staff should exercise caution in pulling such early editions from the stacks, particularly since the maps they contain are often available in microfilm or microfiche.