Use to Map Your Ancestor's Land - dummies

Use to Map Your Ancestor’s Land

By April Leigh Helm, Matthew L. Helm is an interesting subscription site that enables you to see public land-related information on a map with functionality to show you how the land changed over time. Until recently, the site contained only land information from two publications — Arphax Publishing’s Family Maps and Texas Land Survey Maps — including 2.4 million people seen through thousands of maps. But in August 2013, released the First Landowners Project.

The First Landowners Project allows users to see more than 7 million landowners’ names and information on one master map. Initially, this new and improved site contains data for 17 states. Over the next few months, plans to release data for all 23 western states, so this number will grow substantially.

The First Landowners Project is available only to subscribers, but the legacy functionality of the site is available through a free demonstration account.

First, you need to register for a free demonstration account. (Of course, if you already have a subscription to, you can skip this registration process.) Follow these steps to register for a demo account:

  1. Go to

  2. Click the Register Your Demo Account link at the top of the page.

  3. Complete the online form, providing your e-mail address; your password (which you confirm by typing a second time); first, middle, and last names; name of your hometown and state; and your gender.

  4. Click the Terms of Use link to review the terms for using the site. After reading it, select the check box indicating you agree to the terms.

  5. Click Submit.

The free account allows you to view videos in the training library and access how-to articles. through the legacy viewer

The free demonstration account allows you to use the original map viewer available at To get started from the welcome page, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Original HistoryGeo Viewer (Legacy) link.

  2. If you get a pop-up message indicating that some functionality has been disabled as a result of HistoryGeo’s move to the new version of the site, click OK.

    The original viewer launches, showing a map of the U.S. You can navigate the map using the up, down, left, and right arrows on the right of the map, and you can zoom in or out using buttons just below the arrows. map viewer.

  3. Click the Map Chooser button at the top of the screen.

    A list of the maps, which are available for use, pops up.

    The pop-up Map Chooser window lets you choose which maps you want to view on HistoryGeo.

  4. Highlight a map in the list, and then click Open.

    For this example, select Cooke Co TX-Map E (Cemeteries). This brings up a cemetery map for this county.

    An open map in

    A message pops up informing us that this is a survey map, and a link in the message navigates to a website with more information about the Texas Land Survey Maps. Click the close (X) button on the pop-up message.

Although the free registration won’t allow you to see all of the maps in the collection, you can conduct a surname search (on the Search tab) to see how many results you’ll generate for a surname you’re researching. The list provides the locations with the map names. This may give you an indication whether it’s worthwhile for you to subscribe to to get access to the more detailed information.

Expand options with the First Landowners Project

The new version of the viewer — known as the First Landowners Project — is available only to subscribers. The functionality is quite handy though, so it warrants a closer look.

The First Landowners Project enables you to search by surname the original owners of public lands in the U.S. You can also restrict the search by state and county, if desired. In examining this site, search for Matthew’s ancestor, Jacob Helm, in Illinois.

The results contain numerous Helms, but you know Jacob lived in Fayette County, so you can home in on him and his brother rather quickly. Then, by clicking the green person icon, you see details about the land parcel and even connect to an image of the original Bureau of Land Management document. shows the history of a parcel's ownership.

In addition to being able to see information about the piece of land, you can add markers on the map to indicate events in your ancestors’ lives, save people to your list of favorites, and plot migration patterns for multiple ancestors or families at a time.