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Using maps to sort through families

Updated: Jul 10, 2019

While researching the Decker families in the area surrounding Carbondale, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, I found there were hundreds and it seemed like a monumental task to sort them. I found newspaper articles, but couldn't determine who was who with so many Deckers sharing the same first name. This is my solution for better visualizing the early settlement of the Deckers in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties, Pennsylvania.

I am interested in the Deckers who lived in the area in the mid-1800s, so first I researched the county itself. Carbondale is in Lackawanna county. What I found out is that Lackawanna County didn't exist until 1878. Prior to that, the towns that comprise Lackawanna county today, were part of Luzerne county. Since I am looking for records from before 1878, I need to look at Deckers filed under Luzerne County.

Next I searched to find a map of the county from that period. The Library of Congress holds thousands of out-of-copyright maps you can download and open with any image editing program or even Microsoft Paint, which comes pre-installed on most computers. I found a map of Luzerne County from 1864 and saved it to my computer.

Next, I went to to search the 1850 census for Deckers in Luzerne County. To do this yourself, go to FamilySearch and click "Search". Enter the last name in the space provided. Click "Residence" and type the name of the county and state in the box. For example, "Luzerne, Pennsylvania". (Omit the word County in most cases, but you can try it both ways). Then Click the "Search" button to run your search.

In the page that follows, you will probably see hundreds or even thousands of results. You need to limit the results to just the census year you are looking at. We are looking for a more narrow view! Here's how to narrow the search.

First, click the Collections button above the results. Next, locate the 1850 Census, or whichever decade you wish to analyze, from the list. You may need to expand the Census year list as it only shows the top five. In this case, it was right on top so I just checked the box. Then click "Filter these results".

This should result in a lot fewer results and allow you to focus in on the family members within that county only, without duplicates in most cases. (I have seen the same family counted twice on the same census year, so it's not impossible). This should help you get a better view of where the various families were located, and will most likely provide you with clues to keep your search moving and progressing.

As you can see, each person is listed individually, but for the most part, people of the same household are grouped together. It took me a few hours, but first I created a simplified list of all the Decker households and then I plotted them out on the 1864 map I saved earlier. For anyone interested in the complete list, see my blog titled "Deckers of Luzerne County 1850".

This was the finished product:


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