08 December 2018

Now use your current location on all randymajors.com mapping tools!

This enhancement applies to the following tools:

County Lines on Google Maps
ZIP Codes on Google Maps
Historical U.S. County Boundary Maps

On all of these randymajors.com mapping tools, you always had to start by typing in a city, address, place, etc. and then clicking the "Go!" button.

Now with this latest enhancement, if you want to know more about your current location, you can just click the "Use current location" buttons (shown at left and highlighted in red below) and the map will immediately zoom in to your current location.




Depending on which of the above tools you're using, once the map zooms in,  the name of the current county, ZIP Code, or historical county will appear, along with all of the applicable boundaries.

How might this be useful?
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- You're on the road and standing on your ancestor's farm and want to know what county the farm was part of back in 1850
- You're in an unfamiliar area and want to know where nearby research locations are where you can dig deeper (e.g. courthouses, libraries, cemeteries)
- You're travelling in a rural area (and not sure of a town name or address to type, or it's inconvenient to type) and you need to determine your current county or ZIP Code
- I've heard of people using the tool for a wide variety of other uses that benefit from quickly finding out your current county, from geocaching to real estate title work to disaster support relief

Feel free to share in the comments if you have other uses for this!

Technical note:  The "Use current location" functionality will be more accurate on smartphones and other devices containing a GPS.  It will work on most desktop browsers as well, but will typically be more of an approximate location.  

05 December 2018

Google Maps service fully restored on randymajors.com

Following a couple of days of problems, Google Maps functionality has been fully restored on the randymajors.com website and the following tools should be fully operational again:

County Lines on Google Maps
Historical U.S. County Boundary Maps
Historical World Boundary Maps
ZIP Codes on Google Maps

Background:  Over the last couple of days, there had been many reports of "over query limit" and rate-limit problems when people were using the above tools.  Working with Google support, those limits have been reset.

This issue was caused by pricing changes that Google has put in place for users of the Google Maps API, upon which the randymajors.com website relies.  The bottom line is that the website has the potential to become quite a bit more expensive for me to maintain.  As I want keep these tools free and unlimited for everyone, the only way to partially offset these costs is if users of the website click on ads when they find them useful.

Thank you for your patience and for your support of these freely available tools.


31 October 2018

First County Lines, now ZIP Code boundaries on Google Maps!

Quick link to the tool:  ZIP Codes on Google Maps

After the great response to my County Lines on Google Maps tool, I've heard a number of suggestions for other types of boundaries that Google Maps doesn't show.  One that has come up a number of times is for ZIP Codes. 

Yes, you can see one ZIP Code boundary at a time on Google Maps desktop version, but that's of limited use if you're trying to see all of the ZIP Codes in an area and don't know what they are (for example, it's not intuitive how to get Google Maps to show the ZIP Code boundary for the place adjacent to the current ZIP Code you're viewing).

So I've created another free tool that shows ZIP Code boundaries on Google Maps here:  ZIP Codes on Google Maps

As with the other tools, just type any address or place name, then click Go!  Zip Code boundaries will appear near your chosen place, and the ZIP Code will appear at the bottom of the map, as with this example around Chicago.

Click around on the map to see the ZIP Codes for where you clicked, or type another address or place name to see the ZIP Code boundaries there.

Sorry for those outside the U.S., this tool currently only supports U.S. locations.  Depending on demand, I may add postal codes for other countries in the future.

Please feel free to leave any comments or suggestions below, and share with anyone you think may find this tool useful.

22 September 2018

County Lines on Google Maps tool adds coverage of 4 more countries

Just a quick note to let you know that New Zealand, Canada and Switzerland have been added to the County Lines on Google Maps tool!

Update as of 29 Dec 2018:  Mexico Municipalities have been added, which are the next level administrative division below State.

So, the full line-up of countries where you can see counties is:

- United States
- United Kingdom
- Ireland
- Australia
- New Zealand
- Canada
- Mexico
- Switzerland

Please note that not all countries use counties. So in those cases, the tool will show the administrative division that exists between the state and local level.  Here are the particulars:

- US coverage includes all 50 states plus Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa
- Within the UK, England displays Counties and Unitary Authorities, Scotland displays Council Areas, Wales displays Principal Areas, and Northern Ireland displays Districts
- Australia displays Local Government Areas (LGAs)
- New Zealand displays Territorial Authorities
- Canada displays Census Divisions, which are Counties in some provinces but may include other geographies
- Mexico displays Municipalities, which are the next level administrative division below State
- Switzerland displays Districts

Here are a few screen captures to show samples of the new coverage:


16 September 2018

County Lines on Google Maps adds coverage for Australia

If you're Australian or familiar with Australian government hierarchy (which I wasn't!), the first thing you may ask is what is a "county" in Australia, as it evidently doesn't exist.

According to Wikipedia, "Unlike Canada or the United States, there is only one level of government in each state, with no distinction such as cities and counties."  Instead, Australia uses Local Government Areas (LGAs).

So now the County Lines on Google Maps tool includes all of the Australian LGA boundaries!

Here's a snapshot from the southeastern part of Australia, with the city and state name for the red marker displayed at the bottom of the map:

For reference, the following is a list of the types of Australian Local Government Areas.  All of the boundaries of these Australian LGAs can be displayed on the County Lines on Google Maps tool:

- Aboriginal Councils
- Areas
- Boroughs
- Cities
- District Councils
- Municipalities
- Regional Councils
- Rural Cities
- Shires
- Towns

Hope you find this addition useful!  Feel free to leave comments or suggestions below, and share the tool with your Australian friends.

15 September 2018

Noteworthy enhancements to County Lines on Google Maps tool

I've just updated the new County Lines on Google Maps tool to include a few noteworthy enhancements:

1.  You can now view counties across multiple states at the same time.  This can be especially useful if you're exploring an area near a state line, as shown below.  The county and state name is displayed at the bottom of the map.

2.  Once you've typed in your initial place of interest, you can then click around the map to display other counties, or type a new place if you prefer.  The performance speed for doing all of this has been improved considerably.

And, as mentioned in a recent post:


(If you're looking for Historical U.S. County Boundaries, that tool can be found here.)

Feel free to share with anyone you think would find this tool useful, and leave any comments or enhancement suggestions below.

13 September 2018

County Lines across the pond - UK and Ireland coverage added

Thanks to many of you for the great feedback on my new County Lines on Google Maps tool!

Several of you commented (or lamented) at the UK and Ireland not being included.  So now they are!

Here are a couple of screenshots:


As before, to get started just type any place name (just as you would in Google Maps) and click Go!  You can then type another name, zoom in, click in another county, and so on.


I hope you find these additions useful!
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Note: Within the UK, England displays Counties and Unitary Authorities, Scotland displays Council Areas, Wales displays Principal Areas, and Northern Ireland displays Districts.

30 August 2018

Here's how you can see all County Lines on Google Maps

Quick link to the tool:  County Lines on Google Maps

Did you ever notice that Google Maps doesn't display all county boundaries?

Sure enough, try it...best you can do is to get one county's boundaries to draw at a time by searching for that county in Google Maps. Like this, where I searched for "Park County, CO":

Well, what if you want to see all of the county lines in Google Maps?
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You can now, by using this free web page that I created: County Lines on Google Maps

UPDATE: In addition to the US, you can now also view county lines in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Switzerland and Mexico.

You'll see all the county borders for the state you're looking at, drawn on top of a fully functional Google Map! Feel free to share if you find it useful!
TIP: Enlarge the map to full screen by clicking that button in the upper right corner of the map!

Note: US coverage includes all 50 states plus Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa.

For those looking for historical county boundaries on Google Maps, here it is: Historical U.S. County Boundary Maps

06 March 2018

How you may be sabotaging your search for ancestors...and how to fix it!



OK, let's say you're searching in the 1880 United States Federal Census for an ancestor that you know lived in Denver, Colorado at that time.  The ancestor's name is James Smith and you think he was born sometime around 1850.

Navigating to Ancestry.com's 1880 Federal Census search page, you type the above information into the
search form, as shown at right.  As you start typing "Denver" into the "Lived in" box, Ancestry very kindly offers you suggestions.

You think to yourself, "Why thank you, I'll choose the first option, 'Denver, Denver, Colorado, USA'.  Sounds about right."

You click Search and get the results shown below:









7,611 search results!  Ouch.  And that's with the "Exact" boxes checked next to the First and Last Names as shown above.



So you think, "Hmm, time to edit my search and check some more 'Exact' boxes so I can narrow down my search results."  Since you know your ancestor lived in Denver, you check the "Exact to this place" box, as shown at right.  Assuming this should give you what you're looking for, you click Search.




This masterpiece result is what you get in return:








"Wait, how in the world could there be ZERO results?!", you fume.  "And for a common name like James Smith??"
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As you're scratching your head and thinking about engaging Ancestry in a Twitter-storm, you remember something about changing county boundaries that some blogger named Randy Majors seems to drone on about.  You think, "Could that be relevant in this case?  I doubt it because I live in Denver and I know that Denver is in Denver County." 

But something tells you to check anyway.  You go to the free Historical U.S. County Boundary Maps tool found at randymajors.com/p/maps.html.  Pretty easy, just type "Denver, CO" into the first box below, and "1880" for the year/date and click "Go!"  This is what you see:


"Eureka!", you exclaim.  Or actually "Arapahoe!", since that's the county Denver was a part of in 1880, according to the highlighted box at the bottom of the map.  (Learn more about where this information comes from below the map here.)

Armed with this invaluable sliver of wisdom, you return to the trusty Ancestry 1880 Census search form and edit your search.

This time, you start typing "Denver, Arap..." into the "Lived In" box (and you may or may not get an auto-complete suggestion).  Either way, you stubbornly type the whole thing:  "Denver, Arapahoe County, Colorado, USA" and then check the "Exact to this place" box again, as shown here:




You click Search and hold your breath.

But not for too long, as Ancestry quickly returns a truly beautifully manageable quantity of 10 search results:









Happily finding the James Smith you were looking for, you begin your next search: Robert Johnson, who lived in what is now Chicago in around 1830.  That's Cook County, right?  Ah, but now you can't be fooled!


And lest you think this is a limitation of Ancestry's search, try the same thing at FamilySearch and you will get the same ZERO results for a James Smith born around 1850 if you type "Denver, Denver, Colorado" into the Residence Place box, and you will get around 10 results if you type "Denver, Arapahoe, Colorado".

Technical side-note:  My advice about typing the full place name (with the correct county) in the form "Denver, Arapahoe, Colorado, USA" applies across ALL Search forms, whether you do a global search across the entire Ancestry website or a search within a specific Collection.  So even searching within the 1880 US Federal Census, "Denver, Denver, Colorado, USA" will automatically appear as you start typing "Denver" -- even though Arapahoe County was the only county in which Denver, Colorado existed in 1880. 


So in conclusion, is it necessary to know the correct county name for the place and date you are searching?  Asked and answered (hopefully!) :)

Should you check the historical County information every single time you search?  You probably should if it's the first time you're searching in that area in a given year.  But at a minimum, my suggestion is this:

If you check an "Exact" location box when searching and get either ZERO or other very erratic results, it could very well be that you're looking in the wrong county.  And now you know how to quickly find the right county!  Enjoy!

(And be sure to read the "Quick Tips for Using this Tool" just below the map)

04 March 2018

For Your Maximum Viewing Pleasure

Yesterday, I released one of the most frequently requested features for the Historical U.S. County Boundary Maps tool (as a reminder, this tool lets you view on a Google Map the county boundaries as of any HISTORICAL date or year for ANY U.S. location!).

The new functionality is simple but very useful:  the ability to work with a much larger map in an immersive full screen experience!  (Also, keep reading to learn of a couple more enhancements.)

To go into fullscreen view, just hit the button in the upper right corner of the map, highlighted in red below.  You will see a much larger map window, as shown in the bottom image below!  It's difficult to show the difference in size in a blog post of a limited width, so the images below are captured at the same scale for comparison.

You'll really see the difference when you display the county boundaries and zoom in on the map, as shown below.  And you can continue to work with the map, change dates, locations, etc. while remaining in fullscreen mode.  When you're done, just hit the upper right button again or hit the Esc key to get out of fullscreen view.  (By the way, sorry, but Google Maps does not support full screen functionality on iOS, so the fullscreen functionality will be best leveraged on your desktop or laptop computer.)

Also new: the information about the county boundary change from the Newberry Library's Atlas of Historical County Boundaries is now shown at the bottom of the map, highlighted in red below.  This includes details on the latest boundary change as of the date you typed, and reference to the particular statute that triggered the boundary change.

Finally, the "Show Research Locations" option is now at the bottom of the map (shown at the bottom of the highlighted red box above), and includes many more options you can overlay on the map.  These are places you can visit to potentially do more research or find more records for your ancestors.  Here's the full listing:
Then, click the icons that appear on the map, as they will link you to more information about the place, including Find A Grave listings for cemeteries!

Also, be sure and read the updated Quick Tips underneath the map, also shown below for your convenience:



I hope you find these improvements useful!  Please leave comments below if you have any questions, issues or ideas for future improvements!