Essential tools Google Maps and the Phillimore Atlas
These are the two sorts of map I use on an hourly basis. The first is the simplest,
googlemaps.co.uk – you just type in the place name and the map enlarges itself over the place you want. By zooming in further, you can see road names and often locate the exact address given on birth certificates. By zooming out, you can see the wider area. A click of a button transfers you from a simple map to a satellite view of the landscape, so sometimes you can hone in on an ancestral home and see the field and woods on one side, and the high street and harbour on the other, and understand exactly why your ancestor was described as a fisherman in one document and a woodcutter in another. By typing in another place name – perhaps the parish where a possible baptism for your ancestor was found in an index – you’ll be sped away to that place, and see how far the two places were apart. You can see at once if they were plausibly close, or implausibly distant.
The other maps that I use all the time are those in the Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers, produced by The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies in Canterbury. For each county there is a map reproduced from 1834 as well as a map showing parish boundaries. Especially when working back before 1837, knowing the name of the hamlet or city street where your ancestors lived is only truly useful if you know under which parish these places fell, as it is in the register of the relevant parish that their baptisms, marriages and burial will be found – or, if not there, in the records of the neighbouring ones. The Phillimore maps also show the boundaries of the broader ecclesiastical jurisdictions, the regions controlled by archdeacons and bishops, which you need to know in order to look for the many records those offices generated, particularly marriage licenses, wills and bishop’s transcripts ( BTs). The more recent editions include Scotland, too.