Posts

Showing posts from 2019

NEW: Enjoy ALL of the map tools AD-FREE and FULL-SCREEN!

Over the years, I've had lots of requests for a way to subscribe to the various map tools on randymajors.com rather than having advertisements displayed.

This has been a challenge, as I want to keep the map tools free of charge for everyone to use, and the advertising helps offset the significant costs associated with the development and operation of the tools.

I'm excited to say that you now have an opportunity to choose what works best for you:

Free map tools supported by advertising, OR...
Make a small monthly contribution to enjoy AD-FREE, FULL-SCREEN map tools

The above screenshots are from the County Lines on Google Maps tool, but ALL map tools on randymajors.com now have this same look and feel.*

Here's how the ad-free version works:

  1. You decide how much you want to contribute as part of an automatic monthly subscription, $5.00 or $9.00 (both amounts give you access to all map tools; you decide how much value you feel you receive from the tools)
  2. You get access to ad-free, full-screen versions of ALL map tools for this flat monthly contribution
  3. You can cancel your contribution at any time and go back to using the map tools supported by advertising 

Contribute here:


A small monthly contribution gives you access to ALL MAP TOOLS AD-FREE and FULL-SCREEN
Google Account e-mail*:
* Requires a Google Account (free) to login to the Ad-Free map tools.  This is usually a Gmail email address, unless you sign into your Google Account using a non-Gmail email address.  (If you're unsure which email address you use to login to your Google Account, check by trying to login here)
- Requires a PayPal account to set up the monthly contribution; cancel at any time and go back to using free map tools with ads
- Typically within 5 minutes, you'll receive an email letting you know you can now Login to the Ad-Free Version of the map tools using your Google account; get in touch using the contact form below with any questions

I hope you enjoy this option!  If you have any questions, don't hesitate to get in touch.

Happy mapping!


* The ad-free version is available for ALL MAP TOOLS, including:

Have you tried AncestorSearch on Google Search for searching for ancestors (or living people) lately?

QUICK LINK TO THE TOOL:  AncestorSearch on Google Search

For a change, this post focuses on Google Search rather than the Google Maps tools on this website.

If you've tried searching for a mention of your ancestors (or living people) using Google Search, you've no doubt run into this little issue from time to time:
Google Search returns too many results


175 MILLION results?  OK, this might take a while...




Enter AncestorSearch on Google Search, a free search tool that uses Google search enhancements so that you are much more likely to find mentions of the ancestors (or living people) you're looking for that are otherwise buried in thousands of Google search results.  Basically, it uses Google advanced search operators behind the scenes so you don't have to spend time typing a bunch of awkward symbols.

An example is probably the easiest way to illustrate how AncestorSearch works.  Let's say I am looking for mention of a marriage of a couple of ancestors.  I might type something like this into Google Search:
OK, only 2,030 results to start to wade through ;)  But as I look through the first page of results, none of them pertain to my ancestors.

So instead, let's do the same search on AncestorSearch on Google Search:

In the above example, I've just typed in the names and locations into the appropriate boxes, then clicked the "Run Full Google Search" button in the lower right corner.  Another browser tab opens with the search results:

ONE result!  Nice.  And when I click the search result, it happens to been an archive page showing a full biography of my ancestors.  (You'll often get more than one result, but it will typically be a very manageable number)

So how does the AncestorSearch tool do this?  In short, Google advanced search operators.  The AncestorSearch tool doesn't do anything magical, but it's a big time saver over typing out all of those quotation marks, reverse name order, pipes and so on.  In the above example, this is the search string that the AncestorSearch sends to Google Search:

"adam smith"|"smith, adam" "caroline meinzer"|"meinzer, caroline"|"caroline meincer"|"meincer, caroline" "stephenson " marriage|married|marriages|wedding|wed|nuptial|nuptials|marry|intention 1860|1861|1862|1863|1864

Now, you can type all of that out manually into Google Search if you really want to...

Give AncestorSearch a try on your ancestors or on living people you're trying to find record of.  For example, Peter Calver, founder of LostCousins, stated in his newsletter "the first time I tried it, it led me to a new 'lost cousin'".

Here are some quick time-saving tips when using AncestorSearch:
  • Use the Tab key to move between input boxes
  • Use the Enter key when you're ready to perform the Google Search
  • Don't worry about upper case or lower case; Google Search is not case-sensitive
  • After you've searched, if you have too many or two few results, just close the browser tab that shows the search results, and make changes in AncestorSearch tab and try again
  • All of the boxes are optional, fill in as many or as few as you want
And here are a few power user tips:
  • If you have too many results, you can narrow the results by checking "Exact" for the year, or checking any of the Marriage, Births or Deaths checkboxes
  • If you're using a county name in the "Place" box, be sure and check that you're using the correct county name for the year you are searching by using this tool:  Historical U.S. Counties on Google Maps (I find it's best to try searching both with the current county name and then again with the historical county name, as there is a lot of inconsistency in how historical place names get recorded)
  • If you know that your ancestor's name is often misspelled, just add the alternate spelling in the "Alternate Last Name" box.
  • The AncestorSearch tool has recently been optimized so you can more easily use it on your smartphone as well!  
And finally, here are a few pro-power user tips:
    • Another way to narrow your results further is to check the "Only return search results where persons' names are within 10 words of each other" checkbox at the bottom of the tool (it does what it says on the tin)
    • If you are getting inundated with search results from the major people finder websites, check "Exclude search results from the major people finder search tools" to skip searching those sites
    • Use the "Other search terms" input box at the bottom of the form to add an additional search term, or to ONLY search one website by typing site:wikipedia.org or to EXCLUDE search results from a particular website by typing -site:wikipedia.org
    • Multiple terms can be used in the "Other search terms" input box to add Google advanced search strings to your search, such as this (typed exactly as shown here):
      -site:wikipedia.com -"colorado springs" -denver
      This example excludes search results from wikipedia.com and excludes search results that contain the phrase "colorado springs" and excludes search results that contain the word denver
    • You can "pretend" the last name boxes are first name boxes and vice versa if you want to type alternate spellings of a first name.  The tool doesn't care which is the first and which is the last name.
    • After clicking the "Run Full Google Search" button, you can edit the search string on the Google Search page that appears, or just close that tab to go back and refine your search 

    Did you make any new finds with AncestorSearch?  Please share them in the comments section below!

       

    Check out the new Custom Maps on Google Maps tool

    The new Custom Maps on Google Maps makes it easy to create your own custom Google Map using any combination of ZIP Codes, counties, cities and more!

    You can use this tool to quickly create:

    • sales territory maps
    • delivery area maps
    • service area maps

    ...all on Google Maps!

    If your territory is composed of dozens of ZIP Codes, you can choose to 'merge' them to show an overall territory boundary.  Then, add your own title to the map, and even choose colors.

    An example link you create looks like this:

    https://www.randymajors.com/p/customgmap.html?zips=10023,10024,10025,10026&zipboundary=show&title=My+Service+Territory

    The resulting map would look something like this:


    Be sure and read the full instructions starting at "How do you create your own sales territory, delivery area, or service area map based on ZIP Codes?

    Some websites that make use of this custom map functionality


    What county am I in?

    "What county am I in?"

    That's one of the most common Google search terms that people use where randymajors.com appears in Google's search results page.

    Given that's evidently a popular query, I thought I'd make it easy for people to immediately get the answer to their question.  Just go to this page:

    www.randymajors.com/p/what-county-am-i-in.html

    Or even easier, you can just click this to see what county you're currently in:

    what-county-am-i-in.com

    You'll get a map with the answer at the top, like this:
    what county am I in


    TIP:  If you're traveling about and already have the map open, you can just click the "⊕ Locate" button in the upper right corner of the map to update your location on the map.

    Why might this be useful?

    Well, if you're currently at home or your work office, you very likely already know what county you are in.  But if you're traveling, you might want to use your mobile phone to determine what county you are currently in.  Based on user survey results from this past summer, users commonly want to know their current county for these purposes, to name a few:
    • house hunting/real estate
    • determining sales territory
    • field research
    • volunteer/emergency work
    • determining jurisdiction
    • sales tax
    • various hobbies such as geocaching
    • general interest
    For this to work, you must have location services enabled on your mobile phone/browser/computer, and if asked "Allow randymajors.com to use your current location?", answer yes.
    Hope this makes it one step easier to find out what county you are in!






    Big upgrade to the Section Township and Range tool: more detail, more flexibility, new labels

    After the infrastructure upgrade I mentioned in the last post, the increased speed of the maps enabled me to add much more detail to the very very large map layers (over 12 Gigabytes!) that comprise the Public Land Survey System (PLSS), also known as Section, Township and Range.

    When you open the tool, you will now be presented with a Google Map overlaid with township and range lines, including labels, such as this:

    Section Township Range on Google Maps example from Wyoming with labels

    Note the Township and Range labels above.  For example, the box where the red dot is has a label "14N 67W" which is shorthand for "Township 14 North, Range 67 West".  (Note:  If you get a message that says "Area not covered" when you open the tool, then you're looking in an area that doesn't use the PLSS)

    As you zoom in, progressively more detail and labels will appear, such as the Section numbers shown here:

    Section Township Range on Google Maps example from Wyoming with section labels

    And if you zoom in REALLY close on one township, you will even see the quarter quarter sections and their labels.  In this example, we can see the red dot in a box labeled "NENW", which is shorthand for "NE quarter of the NW quarter" of section 36:

    Section Township Range on Google Maps example from Wyoming with quarter section labels

    Head spinning?  Click for a primer on what the PLSS / Section Township Range system is all about, including which states use the system (which is most states outside of the original thirteen colonies).

    TIPS and reminders for how to use the Section Township Range on Google Maps tool:

    1. Search for any address, city, place or even GPS coordinates by using the "Search places" box above the map:

    Section Township Range on Google Maps Search places box

    The panel above the map will show it's section, township and range, such as when I typed "Pikes Peak, Colorado" and got this information:
    Section Township Range on Google Maps Search places box and results



    2. If you know a Section, Township and Range you want to find (for example, from an old deed such as BLM Land Patent records or a current land description), use the "Find Parcel" panel below the map.  TIP:  If you don't know the Section number, just leave it blank.
    In this example, I specified Township 4 North, and Range 69 West, 6th Principal Meridian, Colorado, then clicked "GO!" and got this map with the township highlighted in yellow:

    Section Township Range on Google Maps Find parcel panel

    If I had specified a Section number, the map would have zoomed in all the way and highlighted the section:

    Section Township Range on Google Maps Find parcel panel with sections

    TIP to speed up entering info into the Find Parcel panel:  Use the TAB key to move between boxes, and type the first letter of each drop-down (e.g. type S for South, type C twice for Colorado).  Click "GO!" when you're done entering info.

    3. Geeky fun:  If you want to know what Township, Range and Section you're in right now, use the  button in the upper right corner of the map!

    4. As always, share this tool with friends that might find it valuable!

    Remember, the Township Range Section map layers are VERY large (did I mention they're over 12 Gigabytes?) and drawing time may sometimes take a while, especially if there are a lot of labels.  So, on occasion the tool will require patience :)

    Hope it helps you in your research!



    A quick update on the increased speed of the mapping tools

    After some infrastructure upgrades, all of the randymajors.com mapping tools are now operating faster!  In my time tests, I was seeing drawing speeds that were 2.5x to 3x faster than before the upgrade.

    The very largest of map layers, such as Section Township Range on Google Maps, seem to see the biggest improvement (drawing in 5-6 seconds now vs 25-30 seconds before the upgrade), although other layers such as Historical Counties, County Lines and ZIP Codes also drew about 2x faster that before.

    So you should on average see the information panel above the maps update a bit faster and see the maps draw a bit faster, especially when zoomed in to the state level or closer.  Enjoy!

    This update applies to all of the following tools:

    Off topic: Catch my wife Laura on JEOPARDY! tonight

    Tune in to JEOPARDY! tonight to catch my wife Laura displaying her trivia prowess 😎

    (I'm so lucky to have such an adorable smart wife 😍 )

    Laura Majors on JEOPARDY!

    Overlay present-day county lines on the Historical U.S. Counties on Google Maps tool

    Based on an idea from a current user (thanks Steve!), there's now an option to overlay present-day county lines on top of historical county lines.

    This gives you the ability to see at a glance if you're researching in an area and timeframe where the county lines have shifted between the historical date you're viewing and the present-day.  To use this feature, just check the "Also show present-day county lines" checkbox in the lower left of the map on the Historical U.S. Counties on Google Maps tool. 

    When you check that box, you'll see thin red lines (present-day county lines) overlaid on top of the thicker brown lines (historical county lines).  You'll also see the "Present-day County" name listed in small red text above the map (next to the latitude/longitude).

    As an example, let's say we're researching the Nashville area as of 15 Jul 1830.  (Type Nashville in the "Search places" box above the map and type 7/15/1830 in the "As of date" box above the map).
    Then, check the "Also show present day county lines" checkbox, and you'll get a map that looks like this:

    Present day counties overlaid on Historical US Counties on Google Maps tool, showing Nashville in 1830

    On the above map, I've highlighted in yellow where the present-day county information is shown, based on the exact location of the red dot on the map. This tells us that this location was Davidson County, TN in 1830 and today, it still is Davidson County.

    But, see the faint red lines in the above map?  Those are the present-day county lines.  So we can clearly see that the western side of Davidson County in 1830 is another county today, as is a small section in the southwest corner of 1830 Davidson County.  To find out what present-day county is in those two areas, just click the map.  You'll get this:
    Present day Cheatham County on Historical US Counties on Google Maps tool, showing Nashville in 1830

    The above map shows us that the western part of 1830 Davidson County where I clicked (the red dot) is now Cheatham County. 

    This alerts us that if we are researching an ancestor who lived in Ashland City in 1830 (see the northwest part of 1830 Davidson County), those records may be housed in Davidson County's courthouse (barring the court house didn't burn down!).  Importantly, it tells us that if we're doing an 1830 Census search on Ancestry or FamilySearch (for example) for those ancestors that lived near Ashland City in 1830, we should make sure and filter the place based on Davidson County since that is where Ashland City was located in 1830 (even though it's in Cheatham County today).  I wrote an in depth how-to on this topic here:  How you may be sabotaging your search for ancestors...and how to fix it!

    What about that little southwestern part of 1830 Davidson County?  What county is that area part of today?  Well, you'll have to go to the Historical U.S. Counties on Google Maps tool and find out!

    Now feel free to add City Limits to your County Maps -- and actually see what's going on!

    This enhancement pertains to the County Lines on Google Maps and Elevation on Google Maps tools.

    As you may already know, you can choose to show US City Limits on your county lines map by checking the "Also show US city limits" checkbox in the lower left corner of the map.

    If you've done that before, and happened to be looking in a busy metro area, you get a somewhat jumbled mess of red lines, making it hard to distinguish counties and cities.  Here's what it used to look like:
    City Limits on County Lines on Google Maps, all red lines

    Now, when you check the "Also show US city limits" checkbox, you can still see the red county outlines, AND now you get a colorful array of cities gracefully outlined in light grey:
    City Limits on County Lines on Google Maps, colorized


    Hopefully this way it's easier to distinguish the county lines (red) from the cities (light gray, lightly filled in with pastel colors).  But who am I kidding, it's New York, so it's still going to look kinda busy!

    By the way, don't forget you can also show the names of the counties on the map by checking the "Show county labels" checkbox in the lower left corner:
    City Limits on County Lines on Google Maps, colorized and labeled with county names


    Head on over to the County Lines on Google Maps tool and check it out!


    A Colorful Post about City Limits and ZIP Codes

    This post is all about color.  In particular, adding color to the city limits and ZIP Codes in these tools:
    A few people have wondered if I could add color to the city limits -- you know -- kind of like in those old Rand McNally road atlases, or National Geographic maps.

    Now, the city limits are colored in by default.  So when you use the City Limits map tool, the map will look like this:

    City Limits in the Los Angeles Area on Google Maps, colorized

    This should make it much easier to distinguish the individual cities, especially in large metropolitan areas.  (In the past, the city limit lines were all red, making difficult to distinguish the individual cities from one another.)

    Here's a before and after with ZIP Codes, including labels.

    Without color:
    Arkansas ZIP Codes on Google Maps, all red lines

    And Colorized using the button in the upper left of the ZIP Codes map:
    Arkansas ZIP Codes on Google Maps, colorized

    Hopefully, this enhancement makes the maps a little easier on the eyes ;)

    Check out these new enhancements here:
    Enjoy, leave comments, and share with those who care!



    New Tool shows Elevations on Google Maps, all over the world

    With the new Elevation on Google Maps tool, you can find the elevation of any place worldwide.

    Use the "Search places" box to type an address, city or other place, and see it's approximate elevation, or just explore by clicking around the map.  In addition to elevation, the tool will also display other information about your chosen location, such as city, county, state, country and latitude/longitude.

    Here's an example showing the historic center of Mexico City at about 7,359 feet:

    Elevation on Google Maps tool showing Elevation of Mexico City


    Want to see an elevation profile along your path or route?

    Just click the blue "Elevation Profile..." button on the left side of the map.  Then, slowly draw the path by clicking along your desired route, then click "Stop Drawing" when you're done. (You can also just draw a straight line if you want to see the elevation profile across a whole state, for example).  Here's an Elevation Profile across Colorado:
    Elevation on Google Maps tool showing Elevation Profile across Colorado

    Want to use the metric system?  You can also change the units from feet/miles to meters/kilometers by clicking the "Use m/km" button.

    One more cool feature:  Ever been curious about other places that are the same elevation?  For instance, if I search for Madrid and check the "Show similar elevations" (then zoom the map out), I get a map showing a set of contour lines representing all the places within +/- 50ft elevation (or +/- 50m):

    Elevation on Google Maps tool showing similar elevations to Madrid
     
    If you're any kind of card-carrying map geek like me, you'll find that feature pretty fun to play with! ;)

    For a more complete understanding of the capabilities, be sure and read the QUICK TIPS and the COVERAGE NOTES below the Elevation on Google Maps tool.

    Please feel free to share this tool with your friends, and leave any comments below!

    Enjoy!

    Create a custom County Lines map or ZIP Code-based Sales/Service/Delivery Territory map on the fly -- overlaid on Google Maps

    I've had requests from several people to add the capability to create links on their website that would open up the County Lines on Google Maps tool already focused on their region of interest.
    Several have also wondered if there is a way to create a ZIP Code-based Sales/Service/Delivery Territory map on the fly.

    Now you can!  Here's how it works:

    Create a map zoomed to a State and show County Name labels

    To simply zoom to a state and optionally show county name labels and a map title, create a link such as this:

    https://www.randymajors.com/p/countygmap.html?state=CT&labels=show
    TIP: copy/paste the links below and customize to suit your needs

    The parameters you can use are as follows:
    • state - expects a 2-character state code as used by the USPS, for example, ?state=CT
    • onestate - optionally shows ONLY the counties in the state specified by the state parameter by using the word show, as in, &onestate=show (in other words, this will hide the county boundaries that are outside of your state of interest)
    • title - optionally give your map a title (use the + character to represent spaces), for example, &title=Connecticut+Counties
    • labels - optionally shows county labels by using the word show, as in, &labels=show
    • color - optionally choose the color used for the Map Title, expects a 6-character hex color code without the leading # character, for example, &color=00FF00 would create a green map title (free tools are widely available on the internet to find your hex color)

    Create a map zoomed to ZIP Code(s) and optionally show the ZIP Code Boundaries and add a Title

    To zoom to one or multiple ZIP Codes, and optionally show their boundary (e.g. for a service territory, sales territory or delivery area), create a link such as this:

    https://www.randymajors.com/p/customgmap.html?zips=10023,10024,10025,10026&zipboundary=show&title=My+Service+Territory
    TIP: copy/paste the links below and customize to suit your needs

    The parameters you can use are as follows:
        • zips - expects a comma-separated list of one or multiple 5-digit U.S. ZIP Code(s) (do not use spaces between the commas), for example, ?zips=10023,10024
        • zipboundary - optionally shows a merged overall boundary based on the zips (e.g. for a service territory or delivery area) by using the word show, as in, &zipboundary=show 
        • cities - optionally shows U.S. city limits by using the word show, as in, &cities=show 
        • title - optionally give your map a title (use the + character to represent spaces), for example, &title=My+Sales+Territory
        • color - optionally choose the color used for the Map Title and the ZIP boundary, expects a 6-character hex color code without the leading # character, for example, &color=00FF00 would create a green map title and ZIP boundary (free tools are widely available on the internet to find your hex color)
        • labels - optionally shows county labels by using the word show, as in, &labels=show

        Maps created from the above two examples

        The first example links you to a County Lines map centered on Connecticut, showing you the county lines and labeling the names of the counties on the map:
        Google Maps with County Boundaries example from Connecticut including county name labels


        The second example creates a Service Territory Map based on a list of ZIP Codes (10023,10024,10025,10026) and creates a title for the map:
        Create a custom County Lines map or ZIP Code-based Sales/Service/Delivery Territory map on the fly, overlaid on Google Maps


        A few important things to make this work:

        1.  You must use the question mark ( ? ) right after .html, as shown above and below
        2.  Do NOT use spaces anywhere in the URL or query parameters
        3.  You must separate query parameters using the ampersand ( & ), as shown above and below
        4.  User the + character to represent spaces in the title parameter

        TIP:  For simplicity, you can drop the https://www from the front and just create the link as:

        With this functionality, you can feel free to create links on your own website that open a window to the Custom Google Maps Tool, zoomed into your area of interest and showing a ZIP Code based sales territory, service territory or delivery area!

        Some websites that make use of this custom map functionality


        Feel free to share this with others who may find this functionality useful!


        NOTE:  The above article relates to PRESENT-day County Lines.  Here are the instructions for linking to HISTORICAL County Lines.

        How to link to an HISTORICAL County Lines map for any Year and Geographic Area of Interest -- overlaid on Google Maps

        NOTE:  This article relates to HISTORICAL County Lines.  Here are the instructions for linking to PRESENT-day County Lines.

        If you have a website or blog and want to create a link to an HISTORICAL county lines map for ANY YEAR and ANY US STATE,  this article is for you!

        Using the instructions below, you can create a link to Historical U.S. Counties on Google Maps for any historical year already zoomed into a particular State, and optionally display the labels showing the county names as of that historical year.

        Here's how it works:   

        To create a map zoomed into a state for a given year, create a link such as this:
        https://www.randymajors.com/p/maps.html?state=CT&year=1788

        To create a map zoomed into a state for a given year, and show county name labels, create a link such as this:
        https://www.randymajors.com/p/maps.html?state=OR&year=1865&labels=show
          TIP: copy/paste the above links and customize to suit your needs

          To explain the above example links, there are three words (called "query parameters") you can use to create a link.  Note, they must be specified in the order shown. 
          • state - expects a 2-character state code as used by the USPS, for example, ?state=CT
          • year - expects a 4-digit historical year, from 1629 through 2000, for example, ?year=1788
          • labels - optionally shows county labels by using the word show, for example, &labels=show

          Here are the maps produced by the two examples above

          The first example links you to an Historical U.S. County Lines map centered on Connecticut, showing you the county boundaries as of 1788:
          Historical U.S. Counties on Google Maps example from 1788 Connecticut

          The second example links you to an Historical U.S. County Lines map centered on Oregon, showing you the county lines as of 1865 and labeling the names of the counties on the map:
          Historical U.S. Counties on Google Maps example from 1865 Oregon with county name labels

          A few important things to make this work:

          1.  You must use the question mark ( ? ) right after .html, as shown above and below
          2.  You must separate query parameters using the ampersand ( & ), as shown above and below
          3.  You must specify the query parameters in order: state, year and optionally labels

          TIP:  For simplicity, you can drop the https://www from the front and just create the link as:


          With this functionality, you can feel free to create links on your own website that open a window to the Historical U.S. Counties on Google Maps tool, already zoomed into your area of interest and showing county boundaries as of the year you're interest in!

          Share this with others who may find this functionality useful!


          No more bouncing maps and evasive red dots!

          Just a brief note here to let you know of a fix to an issue that has been reported by a number of users of all of the randymajors.com map tools (such as the County Lines on Google Maps, Historical U.S. Counties on Google Maps and all the others).

          The issue was related to the maps "bouncing" and the red dot (shown below) moving even though the user didn't intend for it to move.
          Red dot that shows current location on all randymajors Google Maps mapping tools

          In particular, if the user was panning around the map (e.g. dragging the map with their mouse) in order to see something just off the edge of the map, prior to this fix, the red dot moved and the map bounced (changed center) as you panned.  Basically, it was taking whereever you ended the drag of the mouse and making that the new map center.  Furthermore, it would take that new center point represented by the red dot's new location and then update the information pane above the map based on that new location. 

          Several people found that behavior to be in the range of unexpected to annoying.  

          An example may help further explain the issue:  If you searched for Phoenix, Arizona using the "Search places" box above the map, then once the map appeared with the red dot on Phoenix, you panned (or dragged) the map in order to view what is southeast of Phoenix.  In the past, the County Lines on Google Maps tool would move the red dot to where you ended the "mouse drag" and change from reporting the name as Maricopa County (where Phoenix is) to reporting it as Pinal County or Pima County, depending on how far your dragged the map.  

          Also, just single-clicking the map would re-center the map where you clicked and update the information panel.

          All that (bad) behavior is gone now!

          So, with the new behavior, here's a run down of what does and does not move the red dot (and update the information pane above the maps).

          Moves the red dot and updates the information pane:
          • Typing a new place or address into the "Search places" box above the map
          • Single-clicking the map to "explore" the place you clicked
          Does NOT move the red dot nor update the information pane:
          • Panning the map by dragging it with the mouse (or using two-fingers to move the map on iOS) 
          • Zooming in or out using the "+" or "-" buttons in the upper left corner of the map (or pinch-zooming on iOS)
          These last two changes enable you to explore around the edges of the map view by dragging the map around WITHOUT changing the red dot's location and information pane.  

          And you can now single-click around the map to see information about where you clicked WITHOUT the map center "bouncing" around and changing unexpectedly.

          Using the same example above, now if you search for Phoenix, Arizona using the "Search places" box, the red dot will appear on Phoenix and the information pane will report Maricopa County.  Now if you drag the map to the southeast to see something on the edge of the map, the red dot will stay put in Phoenix, the map won't bounce, and the information pane will still report Maricopa County.

          That was a bit more wordy than I intended it to be, but bottom-line: just view the four bullets above and you should understand the new map behavior.

          Or even easier:  The click and pan behavior now operates like the Google Maps you know and love.

          And hopefully this new map behavior is in the range of expected to enjoyable :)

          Happy mapping!

          Why have all the map tools changed...again?

          If you've recently used any of the map tools on randymajors.com (such as Historical U.S. Counties on Google Maps or County Lines on Google Maps, etc) you may have noticed some changes.

          So why fix it if it ain't broke?!

          The biggest reason is that all the map tools were about to break due to Google shutting down their Fusion Tables technology, which is what I had been using to draw all of the maps.  So after some very, very heavy-lifting for many weeks (just ask my wife!) I was able to move all of the map tools to another Google technology.  Hopefully it's mostly transparent to you, the user, as the new tools still use a Google Maps-based map.

          But some things have changed.  The biggest difference you may notice is how you search for a place (e.g. a city, address, etc.).  To search for a place, all map tools now have a "Search places" box above them, like this (outlined in red here to highlight it):
          Search places on Google Maps with Historical County Lines

          The cool thing is that as you begin to type a place or address, it will help you autocomplete what you're looking for and you can just click the choice you want from the drop-down list that appears.

          The other biggest change is based on lots of feedback that people wanted the map to occupy more of their screen.  I moved the website over to a new "responsive" template, which is a fancy-techy term for a website that works to optimize itself for all different screen sizes and devices.  The new layout of the site enables the website to occupy the entire width of your screen, which in turn makes the map bigger.  Also, instead of the "information boxes" appearing within the maps at the bottom of the screen like this...:
          Historical County details as found in Newberry Atlas

          ...now, you'll see the same info just above the map, like this:
          Historical County details as found in Newberry Atlas now at top of the map

          With the change to the new website layout, the listing of tools are now on the upper left side of the page , like this:
          Links to most popular tools on this website including Google Maps with county lines, city limits, ZIP Codes and township range section
          If you DON'T see that list of tools on the upper left side of the page, it means that you are likely running on a lower resolution or smaller screen, and so you get this little "hamburger menu" instead in the far upper left corner of each page on the website:
          Menu button to expose links to Google Maps with county lines, city limits, ZIP Codes and township range section
          Just click it and the left menu bar will appear, including the listing of tools.  This is done so that the left sidebar doesn't take up valuable space on your screen.

          There is also a change in behavior when you click the maps.  Now, the place you click on the map is always marked by a red dot so you know where you clicked, and the information pane above the map is updated based on the location of the red dot.

          Also new:  MOBILE!  The map tools should now also be usable on high end mobile devices as well.  You'll get the same basic layout, like this (from iPhone) with the added benefit that the text should now be readable (it really wasn't before):
          Mobile version of Google Maps with county lines, city limits, ZIP Codes and township range section

          I hope these changes are on-balance good for you.  At a minimum, they're at least better than the website getting shut down because of the Google Fusion Tables sunset :)

          With so many changes, no doubt some will take some getting used to.

          And I likely didn't get everything just right, so please please let me know what is and isn't working for you in the comments below, or in the "Get in touch with Randy Majors" form in the very bottom left of each page.



          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:
          Animation of Historical U.S. County Boundary formation

          And here's a close-up focusing on the northeastern U.S.:
          Northeastern US animation of Historical U.S. County Boundary formation

          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:
          Historical U.S. Counties on Google Maps showing Philadelphia on 4 July 1776 including details from the Newberry Atlas

          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:
          Newberry Atlas historical U.S. county detail shown at bottom of map

          "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):
          Ability to show historical county name labels from Newberry Atlas of historical U.S. county boundaries

          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:
          Ability to show labels of County Names and ZIP Codes on Google Maps with County Lines and Google Maps with ZIP Codes tools


          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?
          Google Maps county lines, ZIP codes and city limits tools being used for business planning, general interest/entertainment, determining jurisdiction, real estate, education, sales planning, field/scientific research, travel/route planning, volunteer work and sales tax determination
          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:
          Google Maps tools with county lines, ZIP Codes, city limits and township range are being used many times per week by most repeat users
          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:
          randymajors map tools have very high engagement with 35 percent using the tools for over 15 minutes per session, and 37 percent using the tools for 5 to 15 minutes per session
          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:
          randymajors map tools user satisfaction shows users rated the tools a 10 for extremely satisfied, followed by 9 and 8
          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.). As a shortcut, you can also see your current county and answer "What county am I in?" here: www.what-county-am-i-in.com

          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!