The branches of my family tree stretch from Jackson, Calif., to Jason, N.C., even though none of my relatives (that I know of) live in either of those places.
How is that possible?
Simple. Instead of a boring family tree that simply lists my relatives' names, I've created an illustrated version using maps. And thanks to the U.S. Geological Survey's online tools, it's easy to track down towns, lakes or other geographic features that match a particular name, then download and print free, detailed maps.
The maps can be cropped to highlight the featured names and framed to make a colorful family tree perfect for Mother's Day. My family is small enough that the version I made for my Mom includes three generations in one frame, but if your family is large, try limiting your "tree" to just your name and that of your siblings. Or keep it super simple and frame a map for Mother Lake, Minn., or Mother Vineyard, N.C.
Never miss a local story.
This also is a great gift for weddings if you can find maps that match the happy couple's first names. Or group together sentimental locations like Love, Miss., Happy, Ark., or Matrimony Point, Maine.
* a computer
* word processing or photo editing software
* photo paper
* scissors or craft knife and ruler
* white cardstock
* foam core board (optional)
1. Start by searching the domestic names database at the U.S. Board on Geographic Names website: http://geonames.usgs.gov. There, you can enter a name and see populated places, bodies of water and other geographic features that might match.
If you get multiple results, jot down a few since some maps might display the name you're seeking more prominently than others.
2. Next, go the U.S. Geological Survey website, www.usgs.gov, and click on the "maps, imagery and publications" tab. There, you'll find an option to download topographic maps using the site's map locator.
3. In the map locator, type in the town (or other feature) and state you found in step 1. For example, I started with my dad, Rob, and found Robert, La.
4. The map locator will display a small image of a map, with a marker pinpointing the location you requested. Click on the marker to bring up a list of downloadable maps. Usually, there are several options. I find the maps listed as "7.5 x 7.5" to be the best scale for this project.
5. The map will download as a PDF file. When you view the map, find the name you're looking for and rename the file in a way that refers to the location so you will be able to find it again easily. For example, I saved the Louisiana map as "Robert_lowerleft" to remind myself that the town I was looking for was in the lower left corner of the map.
6. The maps are large -- about 22 by 28 inches -- but since you only will be using a small section of each, you will want to crop around the town name you have selected -- a roughly 4-by-4-inch square is plenty.
If you have Photoshop, you can open the PDF file in Photoshop, select an area around the town name, and then copy and paste it into a blank document. Or, when viewing the file in a PDF viewer, you can use the "select" or "snapshot" tool to select the area you want, and then copy and paste it into a word processing document.
7. Repeat for as many names as you plan to include in your finished project.
8. If you're using a collage-type frame with multiple openings, or a frame that has a mat with multiple openings, print your cropped maps onto photo paper, then cut out and arrange them on a blank sheet of white cardstock so they fit the openings. Glue in place and frame.
9. If you are using a large frame with a single opening, you can just print the cropped maps onto photo paper, cut them out and glue them onto white cardstock. Or, if you want to add a little depth, mount the cropped maps on foam core board cut to the same size.