A genealogical map

A few weeks ago Dave and I went to London to see Peter Brötzmann play at Café Oto in Dalston. It was a great night (except for the fact that the pre-gig interview overran somewhat and left us no time for a proper meal), and we’d booked a hotel not far away so we had a relaxed wander back there and didn’t have to rush for the last train. The next day I insisted that we walk into central London along the New North Road, Shepherdess Walk and Bunhill Row. It was a lovely sunny day, and I wanted to see some of the streets where my ancestors had lived and died.

My mother was brought up in Friern Barnet, but was born a little further south in Stoke Newington. When I started researching my family history I saw how the extended family members had moved around, sometimes every year, but all staying closely within one area. When you find them on the census, especially nowadays with instant access indexes, their addresses are just names, but when you actually plot those places on a map you see just how they cluster in an area.

When we got to the City, we decided to pop into the Museum of London. An exhibition of maps had just opened and I was interested to see it, but until we arrived I didn't fully appreciate what it would be. The Londonist website has invited people to send in hand-drawn maps which represent a personal vision of an area of London and some of these were on display. They were quirky and fun, by people of all ages and talents, showing landmarks and streets in a different light, one which showed their own priorities and interests.

This visit inspired me to do something which I’ve wanted to do for a long time: make my own map of London showing the journeys my ancestors made through the capital and the places they lived. So I dug out my old Rotring drawing pens, did the usual cleaning job on them that they always need after storage (hint: surgical spirit), and got to work.

It was quite a challenge to fit the map onto one piece of A3 paper. I went through several iterations of the street layout, distorting distances but keeping the topological features correct and leaving out all but the essential streets. Many streets have changed their names and some (particularly in the City) no longer exist at all. The whole Barbican area, for example, was bombed to bits in WWII and I had to go back to a map of the 1700s (at Motco) to approximate its position.

After years of creating diagrams and maps straight on the computer it was a real change to draw something in ink on paper. I did wonder how easy it would be to draw the street layout in Illustrator over a map and then distort it to my liking, but I decided that would be cheating. The Londonist website specified that the map should be hand-drawn so I accepted the challenge!

You can see the finished version on my portfolio, and on The Londonist website.


19 June 2011

Brian Duguid

Brilliant! If I did the same with the ancestors on my father's side, it would just be one big squiggle of activity around a few very close farms within a few miles of each other.

25 June 2011


To be honest, the London map only looks at my mother's ancestors, and my father's ancestors, like yours, came from small rural villages and stayed very much in the same area all their lives. A different challenge altogether!

10 July 2011


Jude, the first thing I saw on your map was 'Miranda Road' - I've just come back from there today! My sister now lives on Despard Avenue which is on the other side of Archway Road and she pointed out Miranda Road (for obvious reasons). It's been a running road of note but the first time I saw it - and your map - was this weekend. How spooky! Am going to stop reading your blog now as there are too many coincidences for one night! PS Think your map is a wonderful idea and something I intend to try, albeit in a less beautifully executed manner.

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