MDAH Offers Online Map Search

A new research tool on the MDAH Web site makes it easy to search and view scanned maps of Mississippi. Maps from repositories around the world were surveyed for the Inventory of Historical Maps of Mississippi (IHMM), the most complete collection of pre-twentieth century maps of the state to date. Users can search more than one thousand maps by keyword or through fifteen descriptive categories, which include title, author, publication date, features, geographic coverage, links to scanned images, and more.

Thanks to the work of Paul Davis, who carried out the survey, the database can be searched not just for information about the maps, but also for information contained in the maps. In the 1980s, Davis, a map aficionado and former director of the Mississippi Automated Resource Information System, began locating historical Mississippi maps to help fellow researchers. “I and other researchers became frustrated trying to identify historic maps that met specific criteria such as date, place, and special natural or cultural features,” Davis said. “Most indexes itemized only major map features, but a closer look at most maps revealed many additional features.”

To create the IHMM, Davis examined each map in minute detail. The project was enormous and time-consuming, but in the end yielded a rich database of physical features, large and small, man-made and naturally occurring, that users can now search—information like town and county names, but also roads, forts, marshes, gardens, and residents’ names.

“Sometimes patrons doing genealogy have tunnel vision about a family’s location and need to look outside modern county lines,” said MDAH reference librarian Joyce Dixon-Lawson. “Historical maps can be very useful for this, and the inventory database is a much faster and easier way for people to find maps related to their research.”

Davis spent much of his spare time searching at the Library of Congress and the National Archives in Washington, D.C., as well as at the state archives in Jackson. Davis considered publishing his inventory as a book but decided instead to make it available as a free electronic finding aid on the MDAH Web site.

“Paul Davis’s generosity has made it much simpler for people to work with maps online,” said MDAH Electronic Archives section head David Pilcher. “Some donors give things like photographs or family papers, but Mr. Davis donated thirty years of his research about Mississippi maps.”

The IHMM includes maps from forty repositories, including MDAH, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the French Archives Nationales, and Davis continues to add maps and other information. See the Inventory of Historical Maps of Mississippi online at http://mdah.state.ms.us/arrec/digital_archives/mapindex/.

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