On first glance, maps and atlases may not provide much information about your ancestors, in terms of birth and death dates or marriage information. But if you look closer at the information that is available on maps, you find that you can make certain assumptions.
First and foremost, the early atlases of the counties provided a snapshot of the landowners at the time. In the case of a family, who somehow might have been able to avoid being caught by the tax assessor, an atlas might provide an indication of the family’s presence.
Secondly, although you can make certain connections between multiple families from information obtained on public documents, such as tax assessment or census returns, the atlas will show very clearly the families that were neighbors. At times, such information might help to point toward locating the maiden surname of a female ancestor, in view of the fact that oftentimes it was close neighbors who intermarried.
Thirdly, while a document such as a tax assessment return might indicate the residents’ occupations, they were usually shown on the atlas, if the occupation was something other than ‘farmer.’
In terms of historical, as compared to purely genealogical, information, the atlas will provide not only the location of, but the proper name of churches and schools at the time.
Township surveys tend to show connected tracts or plots of land in order to provide, for the tax assessors and collectors, a map to locate property owners. One of their values, as in the case of the atlas, comes from being able to identify neighbors.
Township surveys and connected plot maps are useful if you are attempting to trace the history of a tract of land. Being able to see the boundaries of a tract of land visually is much easier than attempting to identify it by interpreting the coordinates given in a deed.
Most of the county atlases / maps for the present-day counties that came from Old~Bedford are available at the various historical societies. Some have been reprinted and made available for purchase.
Land surveys for individual tracts of land are sometimes maintained in the county archives, whether at the court house or the local historical society. The surveys for an individual tract of land might also be stored along with the deed in the recorder of deed’s records, or copies might have been made and bound in the deed book dockets.
Surveys prepared for the patenting of a warranted tract of land tend to be maintained by the Division of Land Records, and can be obtained from the following address: Historical And Museum Commission, Archives and History, Division of Land Records, PO. Box 1026, Harrisburg, PA 17108-1026.