The geographic distribution of genetic diversity can reveal the evolutionary history of a species. For crop plants, phylogeographic patterns also indicate how seed has been exchanged and spread in agrarian communities. Such patterns are, however, easily blurred by the intense seed trade, plant improvement and even genebank conservation during the twentieth century, and discerning fine-scale phylogeographic patterns is thus particularly challenging. Using historical crop specimens, these problems are circumvented and we show here how high-throughput genotyping of historical nineteenth century crop specimens can reveal detailed geographic population structure. Thirty-one historical and nine extant accessions of North European landrace barley (Hordeum vulgare L.), in total 231 individuals, were genotyped on a 384 single nucleotide polymorphism assay. The historical material shows constant high levels of within-accession diversity, whereas the extant accessions show more varying levels of diversity and a higher degree of total genotype sharing. Structure, discriminant analysis of principal components and principal component analysis cluster the accessions in latitudinal groups across country borders in Finland, Norway and Sweden. FST statistics indicate strong differentiation between accessions from southern Fennoscandia and accessions from central or northern Fennoscandia, and less differentiation between central and northern accessions. These findings are discussed in the context of contrasting historical records on intense within-country south to north seed movement. Our results suggest that although seeds were traded long distances, long-term cultivation has instead been of locally available, possibly better adapted, genotypes.Heredity advance online publication, 17 September 2014; doi:10.1038/hdy.2014.83.