As you all know by now, Google Maps is fantastic. However, sometimes it’s limiting for the kind of historical materials we have. For example, I have this map of Nelson, New York, which is a lovely, quiet, little place about 25 miles east of Syracuse. The Oneida Public Library’s collection of the 1873 Atlas of Madison County includes a map of Nelson, complete with houses identified by name and even business listings with notes. So neat!

But how can I get this historic map to align with the Google map? I’m not even that confident in the accuracy of the 1873 map, and some of the reference points and names have surely changed:

1873 Map of Nelson and Erieville on New York Heritage Modern Map of Nelson and Erieville on Google Maps

Enter Google Earth! Google Earth is an incredibly powerful but easy to use tool that you can download for free. In Google Earth, users can add images in the form of semi-transparent layers, as I’ve done with this same old map of Nelson:

Google Earth with Nelson Map Overlaid

Google Earth allows users to stretch, twist and move the layers around so that this map lines up with the satellite view about as well as I can manage.

Another great feature of Google Earth is that it marks the location of images that have been uploaded to Panoramio. An image of the Welsh church marked on the 1873 map is visible on Google Earth- just imagine how cool this is in densely populated, photo-rich cities!

The atlas this map of Nelson came from is especially great because of how much information it holds. It’s a treasure trove of information for genealogists and curious residents. I wonder if the folks at 2477 Eden Hollow Road in Nelson know that the 19th century resident of their home, T. M. Richardson, paid cash for everything from sheep to hides and more? They could if they checked out the 1873 Madison Atlas!

Another participating institution in New York Heritage is the Erieville-Nelson Heritage Society, which has done a fantastic job of identifying the people and places of their 19th and 20th century postcards and photographs. Several of the Erieville-Nelson photos feature Robert Odell, the postman for Erieville in the early 20th century. If you look in the middle of the 1873 map, directly to the right of the Erieville Reservoir (also known today as Tuscarora Lake), you’ll see that Mrs. Odell lived on what is now Chaphe Hill Road. A genealogist looking up the Odells can find Mrs. Odell’s residence in one of New York Heritage’s collections and photos of Robert and Elsie Odell in another New York Heritage collection. By bringing all of these small historical collections together, we can make great connections and ties between the materials.

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About This Site is a research portal for students, educators, historians, genealogists, and others who are interested in learning more about the people, places and institutions of historical New York State. The site provides immediate free access to more than 160 distinct digital collections that reflect New York State's long history.