Working with Map Overlays

Working with Map Overlays

Most folks that relic hunt have their own secrets for locating their favorable places.

One of the most popular that a lot of folks use are old maps. One key to reading maps is being able to place creek beds. Roads can change from time to time but generally speaking, waterways will seldom change. By starting with an accurate present day map and putting tracing paper over the map, the reader can get an idea where roads are today. Trace the roads onto your paper. Target has tracing paper for about $4 per pad.

The next step would be to get an old map with spots where you would like to hunt. The obvious problem here would be the scale that was used when the plan was drawn as compared to the present day scale. The relic hunter will be thinking, I see the park or house I want to hunt but how far is it from town? Or, how far is it from a major intersection. By using a printer with an expand or reduce feature, one can tinker with the settings to get the maps to the same scale.

You can test these measurements using an architectural scale. The easiest to use would be a 1/16th scale. That way a 1/16th inch would equal one foot and it has a lot more increments than a standard ruler. Lots of old maps will have circles that emanate from the center of town and they are marked 3 miles, 4 miles etc. So if the reader puts the scale on the distance between the circles and gets a number, he can half the number or quarter the number to mark 1/2 mile, 1/4th mile etc.

So if Charlotte Pike to West End avenue is a certain number of 16th’s (on your handy scale) then it should be the same scale on either map. Then you can trace the roads and streams on the old map using a different color pencil as you overlay your paper onto the old map. It is a good idea to tape the corners with masking tape so it will not move around. Do not be fooled by the dimensions shown on the plan. For instance: 1″=20 feet. Maps are sometimes 2nd or 3rd generation prints so you should verify your dimensions on your own.

Sometimes dimensions are given on a plan. That “given” dimension will be the same no matter what scale the map is printed to. Dimensions that are called out take precedence are what counts.


Goes out to Steve N, a local historian in Nashville Tennessee, for sharing this insightful information with us.

Final Thoughts

Working with Map Overlays can be a very useful tool in helping you find some long lost places to metal detect. You might even get lucky and find a few spots that have never been detected.

Happy Detecting!

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