click to view original photo

Map Reading 102

Reading a map is not easy. Ask all the frustrated drivers who have to stop and ask for directions, or turn to their digital navigation system! They still need to pass Map Reading 101. In Map Reading 102, Judy Rosella Edwards keys us in on some lesser-known map-reading directions.


Content Details

Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by:
Word Count: 947 (approx.)
Short URL:

Genealogists devote a lot of time to plat maps and other kinds of property designations. Early on, researchers learned to read township and range maps in an attempt to identify where ancestors lived. Focusing on names is only part of the picture.

Latin On Your Map

A plat map generated around 1960, by the Illinois Water Survey prior to the flooding of the Kaskaskia River to create Lake Shelbyville, clearly shows property owners' names. The map is divided into townships and ranges. Further detail includes elevations, along with latitude and longitude.

Many of the owners' names are followed by a variety of Latin abbreviations. These notations were added to clarify the number of people owning a property. The primary owner's name is spelled out. The abbreviations vary according to who the additional property owner(s) are.

Property owned by John Smith et ux means that John Smith and his wife jointly own the property. The abbreviation "et ux" means "et uxor," or "and wife." Such designation tells the genealogist that the owner was married and that his wife had co-ownership of property. Both their names appear on the deed and the property was paid for. Otherwise, the bank or seller's name would appear on the map since it is a map of property ownership, rather than residency.

Property owned by J. Edwards et vir, means land owned by a woman named J. Edwards and her husband. The term "et vir" means "and husband."

Most people recognize that "et al" means "an others," indicating other names also appear on the deed, but they remain unnamed and non-gender specific on the map. The one exception is the term "et aliae" meaning "other women."

Business owners are identified by the name of the business, such as Smith Farms, Inc., without indicating the number of owners, or who they are. However, an entity, such as the Trulock Foundation, et al, indicates that there are other owners, even though they are not listed by name.

Property owned under a name such as Ada May Thomsen, Trustee, is land that is being held for a beneficiary, such as someone underage. The trustee is not the owner and probably doesn't live on the land under their trusteeship. A property deed would spell out the relationship and other details.

Other individuals who might manage property for others include executors and conservators. An executor is someone legally appointed by a will to manage someone's affairs posthumously. A conservator is court-appointed for the task.

Property owned by a company whose name includes the designation, usually in parentheses (A Delaware Corporation) has filed for articles of incorporation in the state of Delaware. The designation has traditionally meant that the company was incorporated in this corporate haven where cases are determined by a judge, known as a chancellor, rather than being settled by jury. It was often favored because Delaware Corporation status mean the company could charge higher rates of interest. It also means the company was incorporated in a state that is often recognized as having extensive case history for businesses to draw on. It does not imply that a business is good or bad. It is merely a designation with meaning in the business world.

It is not common to see property owned by the United States of America these days. It seems every inch of the United States is owned by private party. An exception is public lands, and they do still exist. The U.S. government bought thousands of acres along the shores of the Kaskaskia River and developed Lake Shelbyville under the auspices of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This is not "unowned" land: it is land purchased from private owners by the United States of America.

Keep in mind that ownership does not necessarily mean residency. In 1960 the Christian Church of St. Louis owned property within the Kaskaskia River Basin. There was not a church on the site. It was merely owned by the church, probably with the anticipation of creating a religious entity in the area. Churches usually are located on small parcels of land surrounded by a range almost completely owned by someone else. Churches, graveyards and other landmarks are added to maps but such entities don't necessarily own the land around them.

Know The Locality

Understanding a map is so much more involved than merely reading it. The name Ernest Creek appears on this particular map of the former Kaskaskia River. This is not a creek. It is man named Ernest Creek.

Other land on this map is owned by N. Dewitt Boys. This is not a reference to someone's sons. N. Dewitt Boys is an individual. While there may be someone named N. Dewitt, that is not this individual.

Being aware of local names and verifying them can help avoid mistakes. We all know there are strange names in the world. Reading handwritten names on a map adds to the challenge.

How To Get More Information

Use the map as a guide, but go to the local courthouse to find the actual ownership designation. The deed will clarify the identity of all owners.

If a spouse passes away and a property owner remarries, the deed will specify which spouse shared ownership. For instance, if you know J. Edwards was married N. Dewitt Boys and owned property "et vir," you still don't know if N. Dewitt Boys was the husband whose named was on the deed. If Mr. Boys passed away and Edwards remarried to a second husband, their name might be on the deed. When it comes to sorting out family property, than is important.


Learn to garner little hints from reading maps. Learn your Latin. It just might come in handy.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2009.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

<< GenWeekly

<< Helpful Articles