Family Maps

By | January 21, 2023
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Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

By William “Bill” Ambrose, DDS

The “Family Maps” series of county land patentees has been an invaluable resource for Missouri Trail of Tears Association researchers in their efforts to better find the true path of the Trail of Tears across the state.  “Family Maps” are published by Arphax Publishing Co., and under copyright by Boyd IT, Inc., all rights reserved.  The series, issued by county, displays all the original landowners on their fractional sections of land with the dates of purchases located on all the township maps within that county.  

A Family Maps Spiral Bound Book Cover

Each county is presented by the townships located within the county, each township being identified by its Township and Range numbers based on the General Land Office system.  Land patents given to the original purchasers of lands from the federal government are issued by that same Township/Range system, additionally defining the Section Number and fractional portion therein.   Alphabetic indexes of patentees for the county and for each township are helpful finding aides included in each book.  Infrastructure like roads and churches and natural features like water courses have separate pages for each township. 

Example Family Map for Sections 4 through 16, Township 35 West, Range 4 East, of the 5th Principal Meridian

Most every county within the state is presented in its own “Family Maps” spiral-bound paperback edition; “Family Maps” also has a subscription website providing the same information in digital format which covers a large portion of the United States.  Admittedly, this GLO land patent information is not “newly discovered,” but significant synergism in understanding spatial relationships is gained when all this data is presented in this organized format.

The Public Land Survey System Principal Meridians and Base Lines

Significant new Trail of Tears contemporaneous resources have been discovered by the members of the Missouri Chapter in recent years.  Volunteer detachment leader Lt. B.B. Cannon was the first to find and follow the Northern Route across Missouri.  He kept a list of invoices by provider with that provider’s named location and the items purchased.  Also, several Missouri State Road Surveys on or near the Northern Route which accurately locate the landowners in 1837 by name have illuminated much about the Trail in Missouri.  These state road surveys were held at the Missouri State Archives in the office of the Missouri Secretary of State.  These resources were not widely known nor utilized in 1993 when the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail was mapped across the nine states through which it passes, including Missouri.  By combining the information in these new resources with the better organized land patent information from “Family Maps,” new accuracy and clarity is achieved for the Trail location and the true Missouri Trail of Tears story.

The basis for using this algorithm is that the detachments did not hunt game and gather grains and greens along the Trail.  The food for the Cherokees and their horses was purchased for them from farmers along the Trail.  Here’s a quote from Cherokee Chief John Ross about questionable circumstances being rumored concerning potentially difficult travel across Missouri for the last 3 detachments:

“(Those were) certain tales calculated to deter (the detachments) from pursuing their journey through Missouri on roads represented to be very bad and where it would be impossible to procure supplies for the subsistence of themselves and horses,”…….”but, however true the scarcity and high price for supplies immediately on the road might prove to be, that supplies should be procured, cost what they would, if they were to be had at all within reach of the route of travel.” 

Cherokee Chief John Ross

This quote from the Chief himself confirms the logic of our algorithm – the Trail is along the path of property owner-farmers who sold supplies to the detachments.  The Trail of Tears Association is, as the civil partner with the National Park Service, Department of Interior, as Superintendent of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, in pursuit of the Congressional goals for the Trail of finding and marking the Trail, finding the assets and true stories of the Trail, interpreting those to an interested public, and to engender stewardship of the Trail of Tears and its significance to the citizens of the United States.


If you have any suggestions, comments, or critiques please email Chris.Dunn@GeoVelo.com

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