Research Tips: Randy Majors Website

Rand Majors Website Enhancements.

After my article last week, Randy Majors himself replied to my post. Among other enhancements to the tool, he enlarged the text that I had felt was too small! He also pointed out some additional features of the Historical County Boundary Maps tool on his site. I think these are great, so I want to highlight these tips and tricks. In addition, I will briefly describe some other tools on the Randy Majors website.

First off, Randy mentioned 3 enhancements to the Historical County Boundary Maps tool.

1. Enlarged the “detail” text about the county and added a colored background

These enhancements really help by drawing attention to this important information. Thanks, Randy Majors, for being so incredibly responsive to a simple suggestion!


New text size

2. Addition of a “Maximize” button to enlarge the map view

The arrow points to the Enlarge Map icon

The arrow points to the Enlarge Map icon

This is a small square just above the “Go” button. By clicking this, the size of the map is enlarged allowing the user to see more at once. I don’t currently see a way to revert to the smaller map (not sure why you would want to), but refreshing the page will reset everything (including the map size AND your search terms, so don’t refresh unless you really want to start over).

3. Show research locations

Area of Duncan, Arizona with Research Locations Shown

Area of Duncan, Arizona with Research Locations Shown

What an incredible tool. It works best if you zoom in to a certain area before checking any of the boxes. Let’s say you are planning a research trip. Type in the location you are going to in the search box. Then, check the box that says “Show research locations.” Once checked, you can also check any or all of the following:

  1. Courthouses
  2. Cemeteries
  3. Churches
  4. Libraries
Duncan Valley Cemetery

Duncan Valley Cemetery (click to enlarge)

If you click on any of the icons that appear, a window provides details about the location such as name, address, and phone number. It will also include a web address, if available. In addition, for cemetery locations it also includes a link to FindAGrave for more information and for ease of searching their records about that particular cemetery.

I believe the tool uses Google Places data, so it may not always line up exactly with the way FindAGrave stores it. I tested it with a few obscure locations with mixed results. For example, in the search here for Duncan, Arizona, the cemetery is shown simply as “Duncan Cemetery.” Clicking the link to FindAGrave produces a “No matching records” error. Apparently it is called “Duncan Valley Cemetery” so there was not a match. This is not really a bug with the app – it is simply a problem with the Google Places database.

I did another search for Glenwood, Utah and the cemetery link worked. The tool probably simply sends the name of the cemetery in the URL string to FindAGrave. With Glenwood, for example, it showed 2 results with the name “Glenwood Cemetery” and it allowed me to select the correct one. In this case it was Sevier County, Utah.

I think these kinds of tools are extremely helpful for planning out a research trip. Having everything so accessible will save you time!


Tips and Tricks

In addition, Randy Majors pointed out a few other tips and tricks for users of the tool.

  1. Copy and Paste. This is a simple, but effective tip for users of the tool. If you are using the tool to find the historical county jurisdiction of a modern-day place, you will probably want to record that information in your genealogy software (or website) of choice. Save time by highlighting the “Full place name” as displayed, then do a right-click and Copy the text. When you are in your software, enter the Place field and again right-click and choose Paste. If you like keyboard shortcuts (sometimes called hotkeys), use Ctrl+C to Copy (on a PC) and Ctrl+V to Paste.
  2. When doing a search for a place, you must type in a PRESENT-DAY place. Remember that the tool uses information from Google Maps. If you don’t know the present-day place name you might try this Wikipedia article. It is by no means comprehensive, but includes a list of significant cities that have changed names over the years. The list is arranged alphabetically by country. In some cases there are so many they link to a separate Wikipedia article for that country.
  3. After the county boundaries for your selected state have been displayed on the map you can click on ANY place on the map and it will display the Full Place name for that place and the time shown. This means you don’t have to do another search to get this information!
  4. When searching you can include significant places, street addresses, etc. Because it uses a standard Google Maps geocoding engine, anything that you can find by searching in Google Maps can also be located in this tool. So don’t limit yourself just to towns, counties, and states!

Other Tools on the Randy Majors Website

In addition to the fantastic Historical County Boundaries tool, Randy also includes a few other useful tools on his website. In the interest of time I will simply provide a very brief overview of these at this time.

Historical World Boundary Maps

Poznan, Poland (formerly in Germany)

Poznan, Poland (formerly in Germany)

As I mentioned in a previous article, a lot of boundaries other than just U.S. County boundaries have changed. The Historical World Boundary Maps tool works a lot like the Historical County Boundary Maps except with national political boundaries. Again, you enter a present-day place and any date from 2000 BC to present-day and click “Go!”

This is a large undertaking! For years prior to 1947 , it shows generalized boundaries and rough time periods for those boundaries. Click inside a country boundaries to see a popup with some additional information. For example, I searched for Poznan, a 1,000-year-old city in Poland. Back in 1900, this city was actually part of Germany. Pretty cool stuff.

AncestorSearch using Google Custom Search

Randy says this is one of his most popular tools. AncestorSearch allows you to enter information in a web form such as name, spouse, location and approximate year. The tool takes this data and transforms it into a more targeted Search using advanced Google Search techniques. Instead of wading through pages of irrelevant search results, this tool helps you quickly find websites that mention your ancestor or ancestors. Here are just a few tips taken directly from his site:

1. Type in as many search criteria as you want. Use of alternate names, a second person, place, or year are all optional.
2. Check out the preview of your search results as you type. Use this to quickly test alternate name spellings, locations, etc to see how they may impact your search results.
3. Click the “Run Full Google Search” button to run your search. Search results appear in a new window; close that new window to come back and refine your search.

Love the tools!

In conclusion, I am really excited about the tools that Randy Majors has created. All of these make it easier for the beginning genealogist to find information about his or her ancestors. Keep up the great work, Randy!

Share your stories of using the website in your family history research in the comments below!

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