Posts

Happy Independence Day! Enjoy This Historical County Boundary Animation

In honor of this 4th of July, here's an animation of county boundary formation in the United States starting in 1629 up through the present day, derived from the Historical U.S. Counties on Google Maps tool:

And here's a close-up focusing on the northeastern U.S.:

Explore all of the historical county boundary lines in your area of interest in great detail using the Historical U.S. Counties on Google Maps tool.  I'll leave you with this example centered on Independence Hall in Philadelphia, 4 July 1776:

Wishing you and your families and friends a happy and peaceful 4th!


Show me ALL of the names!

You've always been able to search or click on the map and have information about the ONE spot where you clicked appear at the bottom of the map, like this:

"But wouldn't it be nice," many people have asked over the years, "to see ALL of the names of the counties on the map rather than just the one that I clicked?"  Or something to that effect.

Now you can.  Just go to the Historical U.S. Counties on Google Maps tool and check "Show labels..." checkbox in the lower left corner of the map, and your map will be pleasantly filled with the historical county names as of the date you typed, like this (click the image below to enlarge it):

-- CONTINUED BELOW --



This new functionality to add names has been added to the following tools:  Historical U.S. Counties on Google Maps, County Lines on Google Maps, ZIP Codes on Google Maps and Area Codes on Google Maps.

Here's an example of the labels on the County Lines on Google Maps tool:


Look out in future updates for new drawing tools as well!

Thank you for the feedback! Now, what have I done with it?

Thank you to the 182 people that provided valuable feedback via the user survey I had running over the last 30 days on the randymajors.com map and search tools.

This post provides a brief summary of the feedback, as well as a handful of enhancement ideas that came from the surveys.

First, what are people using the tools for?
Given the history of this website, it's no surprise that the largest proportion of users use the tool for genealogy purposes, especially the Historical U.S. County Boundary Maps and AncestorSearch: Google Custom Search tools.
However, it was quite interesting to see the diversity of uses for the other tools, especially the present-day County Lines on Google Maps, ZIP Codes on Google Maps, City Limits on Google Maps and Township Range on Google Maps tools.  The list runs the gamut: business planning, general interest/entertainment, determining jurisdiction, real estate, education, sales planning, field/scientific research, travel/route planning, volunteer work and sales tax determination.

Another question asked how often people use the tool:
I was surprised to see just how many people (nearly 60%) were discovering the tool for the first time!  Those that already knew of the tool(s) seem to use them quite a lot, with about 18% using the tools several times per week (with many people commenting they use the tools several times daily).  The next highest slice being users that use the tool a few times per month (14%).  Only 9% use the tools once per month or less.

Another sign of user engagement could be gleaned from the question asking how long users typically spend using the tool:
35% of people use the tool(s) for over 15 minutes per visit to the website, and 37% use them for 5 to 15 minutes per visit.  Only 6% of respondents typically use the tools for less than 1 minute per visit.  I was very happy to see these engagement numbers, as the average "time on site" according to many sources is 2 to 3 minutes.  Those same industry average surveys show that only 20% of websites have average visit times of over 5 minutes, and only 3-4% of sites have visit times of over 15 minutes.  So apparently, you're finding the tools to be quite useful!

The final question I asked was "Overall, how satisfied are you with the tool?"  I was very pleased and humbled to see that by far the vast majority of users gave it a 10 score of "Extremely satisfied" or close to it:
I also asked an open ended question about ideas for improvements to the tools.

One idea that came up several times was the ability to show townships and township/range/section.   As a result of that idea, I've added both townships to several tools and created a new Township Range on Google Maps tool, discussed here.

Another idea that came up several times was to make the map window larger.  Since hearing that feedback, I've enlarged the maps considerably.  First, the map tool pages on the website now occupy the full width of your screen (the higher your screen resolution, the more you'll see).  I've also increased the height of the map to go to the bottom of your screen view, which for higher resolution screens, this nearly doubled the height of the map.  Finally, I added an " expand" button in the upper right of most map tools to fully enlarge the map window to your screen width.

The final idea that was mentioned more than once was the ability to show your current location.  I've added that functionality to most of the maps as well:  just click the " Locate" button in the upper right of the map.  (I wrote about these last two enhancements here.)

Well, that concludes the user survey and summary of the feedback from it.  But you can always provide feedback via the "Help improve this tool" link found at the bottom of each tool's page, or you can provide feedback directly only to me by using the "Get in touch with Randy Majors" form found on the bottom right of every page on the website.

Thank you again for the excellent feedback, and I hope to keep improving the tools and adding new ones in the future as well!

See for miles and miles...or at least a few more inches

Probably the most common request I hear is something along the lines of "can you make the map window larger?"

Well the wait is finally over.  All of the randymajors.com map windows are now optimized to fill more of your screen, no matter what your screen resolution is.

This update applies to County Lines on Google Maps, City Limits on Google Maps, Township Range on Google Maps, ZIP Codes on Google Maps, Location Explorer on Google Maps, Historical U.S. County Boundary Maps, Climate Info on Google Maps, Time Zones on Google Maps and Area Codes on Google Maps.

For those on slightly lower resolution screens, your map window was likely already filling a decent amount of the screen, but for those on higher resolutions, the map window may have been taking up only half of the screen height.

I've also made the header and top margins smaller on the website, and made the map tool pages fill up the entire screen width.  Hint:  if you want to map even a little larger, you can click the 'expand' button in the upper right of most map windows.

And finally, on an unrelated note:  In the spirit of a little fun and continuing to expand our geographic horizons, you'll notice that the map tools all open to a different random location each time you go to a tool.  For example, the first time I opened the County Lines on Google Maps tool, it randomly took me to Franklin County, Massachusetts.  The next time I opened it, the map was focused on Thurston County, Washington:

I thought this would be a fun way to learn about areas we may not be familiar with.

As usual, once the map opens, you can then go to your place of interest by either typing a place or address in the "Search places" box above the map, or use the zoom tools and explore.

Also, if you're using the Historical U.S. County Boundary Maps tool, you can now see across multiple state lines at the same time!  The tool will also let you if there is ever an overlapping jurisdictional claim.  Here's the Utah/Colorado border area in 1880:


Enjoy!





Are you talking about townships or townships?

You're in luck either way:

If you want to map Township/Range/Section, I've just released a new tool called Township Range on Google Maps that maps them all the way down to the quarter quarter section. These townships are part of the Public Land Survey System found in roughly 30 states in the U.S. (which you can read about here).  You can search by address, place, GPS coordinates, or do a reverse find by Section, Township, Range.  They look something like this:


Using the Township Range on Google Maps tool shown above, you can:

  1. Search by address or place using the "Search places" box above the map
  2. Use the "Find parcel" tool on the left side of the map if you have a known Section Township Range you want to map
  3. Just click around the map to see which township, range, section and even quarter and quarter quarter section you clicked in  
-- CONTINUED BELOW --



On the other hand, if you want the other type of townships (e.g. the level between county and city in many states) discussed in my last post, they can be found on both the City Limits on Google Maps tool and the County Lines on Google Maps tool by checking the box in the lower left corner of the mapHere's an article on this type of township.  This is an example of this type of township on the map:

Be sure and read the coverage notes and usage tips below each map tool.

Hope these are useful in your research!  Feel free to share with anyone you think may find the tools useful.

Townships have arrived!

One of the most commonly requested features I've heard over the past several months is the ability to map townships.

Well, now you can on both the County Lines on Google Maps and the City Limits on Google Maps tools by checking the "Also show townships" box in the lower left corner of both map tools:


If you're using the City Limits on Google Maps tool and you search for a place or address that is in a township, that township will be highlighted on the map for you even if you don't have the "Also show townships" checkbox checked.  This is based on the assumption that if you're using the City Limits tool, you probably want to know if a place or address is part of a city-like entity, which townships often are.  So, searching for Manalapan township, NJ will produce a map like this:

Checking the "Also show townships" checkbox adds all of the rest of the townships to the map.

To see townships on the County Lines on Google Maps tool, just check "Also show US townships".  If you then click on the map or search a place or address that happens to also be part of a township, you will see that information listed at the bottom of the map:


So, just remember, if you want to see the City or Townships highlighted on the map, use the City Limits on Google Maps tool.

Enjoy!  Feel free to share this tool and leave any comments below.


For those who want to dive a tad deeper...

By way of background, townships are primary governmental or administrative divisions of a county (separate from a city or town) found in much of the northeastern and midwestern U.S. states.  Here's a map showing where townships are present:

These are the townships that can be viewed on the County Lines on Google Maps tool and the City Limits on Google Maps tools.

The above townships are not to be confused with the Townships that are part of the Township, Range, Section designation used by the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) in 30 states in the west, central and southern U.S.  This latter PLSS type of Township/Range/Section can be viewed on the Township Range on Google Maps tool on this website.




Several upgrades to the City Limits on Google Maps tool

Following on from the enhancements to the County Lines on Google Maps tool, I've made several improvements to the City Limits on Google Maps tool as well:

1. In addition to the city limits drawing, you can optionally choose to show county lines as well.  Just check the "Also show county lines" checkbox in the bottom left corner of the map:

2.  There are a couple of enhancements related to Latitude/Longitude or GPS coordinates.  The first one is that the Latitude/Longitude of the place you clicked on (or typed) appears at the bottom of the map (Also, the area of the city in square miles now appears below the map too).  The other new feature is that you can now type GPS coordinates into the "Search places" box above the map.  For example, let's say you have a GPS coordinate of 105.25° W, 40° N.
The format for typing GPS coordinates into the map is Longitude first, Latitude second.  Longitudes west of the Greenwich Prime Meridian* are always a negative value, as are latitudes south of the equator.  So in this example, you would type -105.25, 40 and a drop-down menu will appear with the fully formatted coordinates for you to click on.  Like this:


3. Some users commented that it was sometimes hard to see the city limits of the city you're looking at when that city is adjacent to a lot of other cities in a metropolitan area, for example.  To help with that, your selected city's boundaries are now highlighted in brighter red and its interior shaded light yellow to help it stand out a bit (note I didn't want to shade the yellow too dark or it will obscure the roads and other map features within the city you're looking at).  Here's an example showing Rochester, New York:

4. You can now use your current location by clicking the "⊕ Locate" button in the upper right corner of the map.  The Locate button will be more accurate on smartphones and other devices containing a GPS; desktop browsers typically show an approximate location.

5. One final enhancement, per user request:  you can click the "☐ expand" button in upper right to get a larger map window optimized for your particular screen size.  After expanding the map, click the "☐ reset" button in the upper right to return to the original map size.

Be sure to read the coverage notes and usage tips below the tool.

I hope you enjoy these enhancements!  Feel free to leave comments below.


P.S.  Also, thanks to all those who have taken a few moments to provide feedback on the tools in the user surveys!  I'm receiving really good feedback, and am humbled at the number of great things people are using the tools for.  I'll aim to provide some high-level summaries of the survey results in the next couple of weeks.  If you haven't provided feedback yet, and would like to, please find the details here.  I very much appreciate it!


* By the way, speaking of the Greenwich Prime Meridian, I've also released a new tool that shows Time Zones on Google Maps.  With it, you can see the time zone boundaries, time zone name, GMT offset, and the current local time anywhere in the world!  Be sure to read the usage notes and coverage info below the tool.  Here's a sample screenshot, with city/county details shown:

County Lines on Google Maps enhancements, Time Zones and Area Codes tools released

This is just a quick note to let you know of a few enhancements to the County Lines on Google Maps tool, as well as the release of the worldwide Time Zones on Google Maps tool.

First, for the county lines tool:

1.  When searching in the US, you can now choose to also show City Limits at the same time as County Lines.  Just check this little box in the lower left corner of the map:
With "Also show US city limits" checked, you'll be able to click on a place on the map (or type a place or address in the "Search places" box above the map) and see not only the County, State, and Country, but the City too.  For example:

2.  There are a couple of enhancements related to Latitude/Longitude or GPS coordinates.  The first one (which has been present for a few months), is that the Latitude/Longitude of the place you clicked on (or typed) appears at the bottom of the map, as shown above.

The other new feature is that you can now type GPS coordinates into the "Search places" box above the map.  For example, let's say you have a GPS coordinate of 105.25° W, 40° N.
-- CONTINUED BELOW --



The format for typing GPS coordinates into the map is Longitude first, Latitude second.  Longitudes west of the Greenwich Prime Meridian* are always a negative value, as are latitudes south of the equator.  So in this example, you would type -105.25, 40 and a drop-down menu will appear with the fully formatted coordinates for you to click on.  Like this:


Click the top choice in the drop-down menu, and you end up somewhere in Boulder, Colorado in this example:


3. Some people like to search for places by typing in an address, place, city, etc. into the "Search places" box above the map.  But some people like to just start exploring the map by clicking around, zooming, panning etc.  If you're in that latter category, you can do that now...you don't have to type if you don't want to!

4. You can now use your current location by clicking the "⊕ Locate" button in the upper right corner of the map.  The Locate button will be more accurate on smartphones and other devices containing a GPS; desktop browsers typically show an approximate location.

5. One final enhancement, per user request:  you can click the "☐ expand" button in upper right to get a larger map window optimized for your particular screen size.  After expanding the map, click the "☐ reset" button in the upper right to return to the original map size.


As always, the County Lines on Google Maps tool includes county boundary lines, or their equivalent, for any place in the U.S., Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico and Switzerland.  Be sure to read the coverage notes and usage tips below the tool.


I hope you enjoy these enhancements!  Feel free to leave comments below.


P.S.  Also, thanks to all those who have taken a few moments to provide feedback on the tools in the user surveys!  I'm receiving really good feedback, and am humbled at the number of great things people are using the tools for.  I'll aim to provide some high-level summaries of the survey results in the next couple of weeks.  If you haven't provided feedback yet, and would like to, please find the details here.  I very much appreciate it!


* By the way, speaking of the Greenwich Prime Meridian, I've also released a new tool that shows Time Zones on Google Maps.  With it, you can see the time zone boundaries, time zone name, GMT offset, and the current local time anywhere in the world!  Be sure to read the usage notes and coverage info below the tool.  Here's a sample screenshot, with city/county details shown:

And one more new tool:  Area Codes on Google Maps




How can I improve the randymajors.com mapping and search tools for you?

With many tools getting quite a lot of usage on the randymajors.com website, it's a good time for me to ask users what I can do to improve the tools.

I'd be grateful if you would take a few minutes to provide feedback on the tools you use by following the links below.  Your feedback will help ensure I focus on the things that are most important (including new tools you wish existed!).

Please click links or images below to be taken to the survey for that tool.  Your responses will remain anonymous.  (Visit the tools using the links on the right side of this page; visit the surveys using the links below.)

County Lines on Google Maps (this is the present-day county lines tool, see the historical county lines tool below)

ZIP Codes on Google Maps

Historical U.S. County Boundary Maps (this is the historical county lines tool, see the present-day county lines tool above)





Thanks so much for your time!
Randy



For the map and geography geek in you...

For those of you who are map and geography geeks like me, I've just released a new tool I created on Google Maps that I hope you find both informative and maybe even fun!

I named the tool Location Explorer on Google Maps.

Think of it as kind of a "drill-down" for any chosen U.S. location -- be it a place or address. Not sure how to best describe it...so let's use pictures:


For the above example, I simply typed an address in Salt Lake City, and the 12 above maps appeared.  The maps show all of the following "topics" for your chosen location (the address or place you typed), depicted by the red dot:

  • City Limits
  • County Lines
  • State Lines
  • ZIP Code Boundaries
  • Area Code Boundaries
  • US Congressional District Boundaries
  • Latitude and Longitude (by request, I've also added Township and Range to this map window, where applicable)
  • Watershed (also known as Drainage Basin)
  • Closest National Park or National Forest, including boundaries
  • Elevation
  • Slope (the steepness of the land)
  • Aspect (the compass direction the land slopes down in)

In addition to seeing the above topics on the 12 maps, the name or other relevant information for each topic is labeled in the upper right corner of each map.

If the map isn't exactly where you want to see the above information for, you can simply click any of the maps at a new nearby location or just type a new location above.  You can also zoom in or out using the + and - buttons in the upper left of the first map or last map.  Note that all of the maps stay "in sync" with each other as you change locations.

One thing...please be patient as the map layers the tool uses are very large, and the maps may take up to 10-15 seconds to finish drawing.  To get a much more detailed understanding of how to best use the tool, and exactly what is depicted on the maps, be sure and read the detailed tips and coverage notes below the map on the page.

NEW:  You can also view several different climate topics for any U.S. location, as described underneath the tool.  It looks something like this:


I hope you have as much fun exploring the tool as I've had building it!  And yes, you can definitely call me a geogeek.

(As a reminder, if you want to explore many of these topics individually on a large Google Map, you can use these tools:  County Lines on Google Maps, City Limits on Google Maps, ZIP Codes on Google Maps and Area Codes on Google Maps.  For historical county lines, use Historical U.S. County Boundary Maps)