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October 18, 2017

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Maps provide another layer of knowledge

Stefani Evans

Stefani Evans

I'm a visual learner.

I learn best when I can picture the topic under discussion. When I want to learn about places I turn to maps. Maps provide visual tools that enable me to learn about a locality.

Maps come in a variety of guises for rural and urban areas and help me approach difficult problems from new angles.

I am researching a Santa Ana, California, housing tract (Tract 1415) that was built in summer and fall of 1950, so I concentrate on maps from 1950 forward.

This superficial sampling from the second half of the 20th century illustrates how maps aid our research. For purposes of this column I eliminate Santa Ana's earlier history, for which researchers may also find maps.

My survey also eliminates Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, because the company last published Santa Ana maps in 1950.

Because I research a housing development I will first seek the 1950 Tract Map the builder filed with the county prior to construction. Deeds to each lot designate Tract 1415, Orange County Misc. Maps Book 42, pages 29 to 31. The Tract Map graphically represents 139 residential lots numbered on four streets and boundary streets. I can now visit the tract and supply a street address to each lot number.

The Tract Map also provides the legal description for the entire tract, "a portion of the NW 1⁄4 of the NW 1⁄4 of Section 24, Township 5 South, Range 10 West in the City of Santa Ana, California." With that information I may research previous owners of the land.

The National Archives holds U.S. Census Bureau district maps 1900–1940. See Claire Prechtel-Kluskens, Enumeration District Maps for the Twelfth through Sixteenth Censuses of the United States, 1900–1940 (2003),

Census maps tell me that my Santa Ana housing development lies in census tract 747.02 from 1970 through 2000; that information unlocks the vault of census data for that census tract and my housing development. My housing development lies within Maps 33P and 34 in 1960; its future site of construction in 1950 lies within Map 30-204. I look for city-level census data for those years.

The Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce published a city map in 1953 that shows the pertinent streets within the southeastern fringe of the city limits. The reverse side of the map depicts developed areas of Orange County per census population in 1954. Both maps provide a snapshot of the city and county shortly after the first residents moved into Tract 1415.

The City of Santa Ana Web site provides a current map of the area with lot lines as part of the city's Neighborhood Improvement Program. Tract 1415 lies within the Mid-City section of the city: This map reveals how the city grew and that it widened one of the development's border streets, which removed several of the housing lots. When did the widening occur, and what became of the displaced residents?

The Local History Room at the Santa Ana Public Library holds promotional material on Orange County and Santa Ana from 1950 forward. These pamphlets, calendars, and brochures contain photographs and stylized maps that reveal the contemporary city and county in which original and subsequent residents of Tract 1415 found themselves.

Interviews with former residents prompted them to draw maps from memory that show houses, addresses, and residents.

Each map I view, whether composed by U.S. Census Bureau cartographers, Chamber of Commerce artists, or former residents, provides me another layer of knowledge about Tract 1415 and the residents who lived therein. I can't afford to overlook any of them.

Stefani Evans is a board-certified genealogist and a volunteer at the Regional Family History Center.

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