Your ancestor talked with his neighbors, attended church with them and probably celebrated and traded with them. Mapping out who lived near your ancestor may tell you a lot about your own ancestor’s life.
Start by using the online Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records. Click on Land Patents. Enter the state and county information for your ancestor. Then enter the township, range and section numbers where he lived. Leave the name section blank. When you click Search Patents you will get a list of people in that section who bought land from the federal government. To find more neighbors, make additional searches on the sections around the one in which your ancestor lived. These people may or may not have lived on the land they bought.
Compare these land ownership records with the 1860 census records. You will probably find some differences. The people in the census may not have owned the land on which they lived.
Now you have a list of names you can use to search for neighbors who served in the military with your ancestor and look for memoirs, newspaper articles and court records that may have involved your ancestor.
If you are interested in creating a map, read Ancestral Archeology: Using Google Maps to Recreate Your Ancestor’s Neighborhood.