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Newberry’s interactive county maps

It’s taken a lot longer than anybody thought it might, but they’re back.

The interactive county formation maps at The Newberry Library in Chicago have finally come back online.

They disappeared from the website in July 2015, prompting The Legal Genealogist to go into a tizzy.1

Because maps like these are a simply indispensable part of genealogical research.

When you have families, like mine, that migrated during the early days of the Revolutionary War to Rowan County, North Carolina, and then lived in Burke County, Yancey County and Mitchell County — but never moved after arriving in North Carolina — you really need an interactive way of viewing the boundary changes that impacted your families.

That’s what the historical county boundaries map database at the Newberry Library has always been.

And then it was gone.

Now, to their enormous credit, the Newberry folks listened to folks like me who whined when the database went offline. By December of 2015, we had a promise: the maps would come back.2

Originally, everyone hoped for the spring of 2016. Then the summer. Then the fall. Then the winter of our discontent.3

Now it’s spring again… and the maps are back.

As before, the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries is one of the easiest, most complete, sites to track county boundaries. As the site says, it has “maps and text complete data about the creation and all subsequent changes (dated to the day) in the size, shape, and location of every county in the fifty United States and the District of Columbia. It also includes non-county areas, unsuccessful authorizations for new counties, changes in county names and organization, and the temporary attachments of non-county areas and unorganized counties to fully functioning counties.”4

And the Atlas is “designed to be as comprehensive as possible, leaving no gaps in either space or time. The historical scope covers every day, starting in the early 1600s and extending through the end of the year 2000. Geographically, the range for each state includes all the territory within its bounds in 2000, regardless of what government created or altered a county there, plus any other territory that may have been within the state’s jurisdiction at an earlier time.”5

You can “(s)elect a state from the map to view all of the Atlas’ content related to that state, including shapefiles, chronologies, and metadata”6 and then “(c)hoose a date (day, month, and year) to view historical county configurations against the modern county network. Use the toolbar to zoom, pan, measure, view descriptions and citations, or print a desired map.”7

Now there are some things about the new system that I’d like to see changed. I’d love to see the titles of the jurisdictions (counties and districts) appear on the map as I zoom in — and wouldn’t it be nice to have that as something we could turn on and off as we need it? — and I’m not fond of the fact that the information box describing each jurisdiction as you mouse over it overlaps the map unless you have it open full screen.

But these are quibbles, overall, and the Newberry is inviting comments about the new maps so that continued improvements in the system can be made.8

So test it out, tell the Newberry what changes you’d like to see made…

And oh, by the way… it might be nice to just say thank you, Newberry.

It’s awfully nice to have the interactive maps back.


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Dear Newberry…,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 21 July 2015 ( : accessed 9 Apr 2017).
  2. See Judy G. Russell, “A gift from the Newberry,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 2 Dec 2015 ( : accessed 9 Apr 2017).
  3. A line, of course, from Shakespeare’s Richard III (“Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of York,” Act I, scene 1, lines 1-4). Just citing my sources here, like any good genealogist should…
  4. “What is the Atlas?,” About the Project, Atlas of Historical County Boundaries, The Newberry Library ( : accessed 9 Apr 2017).
  5. Ibid., “Scope.”
  6. State Data,” Atlas of Historical County Boundaries, Newberry Library ( : accessed 9 Apr 2017).
  7. Ibid., entry for North Carolina.
  8. Every map page notes that “This site is in testing mode, we welcome your feedback.”
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