The new online map ain’t the old territory

When you set a story in the past and are researching its location, Google Maps isn’t the place to go. Why? Because looking at today’s online map, doesn’t tell you which of those roads were there twenty or thirty years ago.

Here’s a Google map of Liberty County where my four Florida Folk Magic novels are set:

Since I grew up in the area, I can tell you right off the bat that I-10 wasn’t there in 1954. We used highway 90 for east-west travel. Most state highways I know one way or another, but I can’t be sure of city streets.

If you can’t find anything online or in the library about road maps from an earlier era, one solution is going to a site like eBay where there are usually old road atlases and service station maps from almost every decade in the last fifty years.

A few dollars spent on a paper map is money well spent. You can, of course, rely on Google Maps Street View to get a general idea of what areas looked like, especially those out in the county where no new construction has occurred. When you do this, you often find out that certain roads are scenic byways and probably have separate websites where you can look up flora and fauna, including the yearly growing seasons for plants so you know when flowers appear. (Nothing worse than saying Flowers are blooming during a season when they’re not!)

Old maps and the websites describing protected areas will sometimes link to folklore and history sites–quite a treasure hunt.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “The Land Between the Rivers.” Since it’s set before there were any roads, the accuracy of highway maps wasn’t a research issue.