The maps at the USGenWeb Archives Maps Library are great visuals for counties lines and in what time period. This will help you locate where you should search for a particular reside during a particular time period.
In reviewing some of these North Carolina maps from the UNC Library collection, I noticed names of “homesteads”, creeks and mountains for location purposes. Names such as Wm Hawkins, Jno Dobson, or Shadrach Creek, etc. By using the zoom, then the map locator in the top left corner, names can be identified.
1854 Survey Map of WNC Railroad: Second Section
1854 Survey Map of WNC Railroad: MacDowell County
1858 Map of the Surveys & Location of the Western North Carolina Rail Road
1881 Map of Railroad Tunnels
1894 Map of Marion, NC