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Online Maps[edit | edit source]

You can find online maps at:

  • Google Maps - Using Google Maps can be a really quick way to see the basic geography of the area you are researching. You can also use online tools with Google Maps to tag where your ancestors lived or to share your map information with your family. You can also use Google Maps to plan a trip to see where your ancestors lived. Google Maps, however, will only show you the most up to date information of an area. Therefore, you will want to use historic maps to understand geographic/boundary changes or to find communities/landmarks that no longer exist.
To learn more about how to use Google Maps for your genealogy research, go to this blog post by Miryelle Resek.
  • David Rumsey's Historical Maps Collection - This collection has over 90,000 free, high quality, map images online. Maps range from 16th-21st century from all parts of the world.
  • Old Maps Online Collection - This website has indexed over 400,000 maps for library, university, and national institutions. Each map in this index links to the original website that houses it.
  • You may also find maps at archives, libraries and historical societies. The following are some good collections you might want to start with:

How can maps help me research my family?[edit | edit source]

Maps will help you locate the places where your ancestors lived and give you context for the records you are using. Maps can identify political boundaries, place names, parishes, geographical features, cemeteries, churches, and migration/transportation routes. Historical maps are especially useful for understanding boundary changes or finding communities that no longer exist.

For more information about how to use maps for research, go to Five Ways to Use Online Historical Maps for Genealogy.

How do I access maps?[edit | edit source]

Go to this page to find pages about maps with online resources for each country.

You can also find maps by searching for a country on the FamilySearch Wiki. Then go to the sidebar on the right side, and select Maps.

Use tools like gazetteers, guidebooks, local histories, historical geographies, encyclopedias, and history texts to get the most out of maps.

Types of Maps[edit | edit source]

To select the right kind of map to solve a genealogical problem, it is helpful to know what kinds of information each type of map displays.[1]

Atlases[edit | edit source]

Maps are published either individually or as collection in an atlas. Many atlases feature geopolitical, social, religious, and economic statistics.[2] Historical atlases are especially useful because they tend to plot historic towns and landmarks more accurately than old maps do in relation to jurisdictional boundaries and geographic features. You can find online historical atlases at David Rumsey Map Collection

Census maps[edit | edit source]

If you know your ancestor's address (or general area of residence in rural areas), census maps showing enumeration district boundaries can indicate where in the census rolls to search for the ancestor. They aren't always available online but you can sometimes find them by searching the FamilySearch Catalog.

Chamber of Commerce maps[edit | edit source]

Chamber of Commerce maps show streets, government offices, courthouses, libraries, businesses, museum archives, and important landmarks. You can usually obtain them for free from the city/town's chamber of commerce or find them at the FamilySearch Catalog.

City and town maps[edit | edit source]

These maps show detailed street information, addresses, rail and mass transit routes, and landmarks.

County, parish, or province maps[edit | edit source]

These maps show roads, cemeteries, landmarks, local boundaries, and physical features.

Fire insurance maps (Sanborn maps)[edit | edit source]

Wikipedia has more about this subject: Sanborn Maps

The Sanborn Maps were originally created for assessing fire insurance liability in urbanized areas in the United States. These maps include detailed information regarding town and building information in approximately 12,000 U.S. towns and cities from 1867 to 2007. There are several online collections of these maps with over 6000 sheets are online in the following states: AK, AL, AZ, CA, CT, DC, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MO, MS, NC, NE, NH, NJ, NV, OH, PA, TX, VA, VT, WY and Canada, Mexico, Cuba sugar warehouses, and U.S. whiskey warehouses.

Each set of maps represented each built structure in those districts, its use, dimensions, height, building material, and other relevant features (fire alarms, water mains and hydrants, for example). The intervals between new map editions for a given town or city in the early decades of the twentieth century varied according to the pace and scale of urban growth — from a few years to more than five years. In all, Sanborn produced 50,000 editions comprising some 700,000 individual map pages.

These maps are useful to genealogists as well as researchers in many other disciplines. Here are links to several online collections:

You may wish to search for the term "sanborn maps" plus your location of interest.

Land ownership (cadastral) maps and plat books[edit | edit source]

These maps show boundaries of land plots, and usually the owners' names. Some cadastral maps show additional details, such as survey district names, unique identifying numbers for parcels, certificate of title numbers, positions of existing structures, section or lot numbers and their respective areas, adjoining and adjacent street names, selected boundary dimensions and references to prior maps.[3] You can find land ownership maps and plat books in the FamilySearch Catalog.

Military maps[edit | edit source]

These maps show extreme detail regarding geographical features, terrain, landmarks, natural resources, place names, and landmarks.

Railroad maps[edit | edit source]

These maps indicate preferred routes of travel during an era where the routes changed from one year to the next. These also aid in tracking the possible whereabouts of railroad employees since many railroads merged or changed names.
U.S Railroad Maps:
European Transportation Maps of the 19th Century:

Topographic or geologic maps[edit | edit source]

These maps show terrain, natural resources (forests, mining resources), and features that affected travel (rivers, rapids, canals, mountains, mountain passes, canyons). These maps can be helpful for family history research because geological features influenced how your ancestors lived. For example, your family may have only been two miles away from one county courthouse but traveled seven miles to another courthouse. This may be because it was easier to travel to without having to cross waterways or mountainous terrain.

Helpful Terminology[edit | edit source]

  • Boundary change maps show shifts in borders of townships, counties, states and territories over time.
  • City and town locator maps plot a town and often give its coordinates so that it can be plotted in an historical atlas or map to determine the county, parish, or state in which it resided during a given year. 
  • City plans often demystify the renaming of streets, parks, neighborhoods, and other features.
  • Gazetteer is a geographical dictionary or directory used in conjunction with a map or atlas. It typically contains information concerning the geographical makeup, social statistics and physical features of a country, region, or continent.[4]
  • Historical Geographies focus on how geographic phenomena has changed over type. Although historical geographies tend to focus on human impact in an area, it can also include ecological, geological, and environmental changes as well.[5]
  • Local histories focus on the history of a geographic area and a local community. It usually incorporates cultural and social aspects of a place's history.[6]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Most of the information from this section is taken from More than One Kind of Map, by George G Morgan, Orem, Utah:, 08 September 2000
  2. Wikipedia contributors, "Atlas," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia,, accessed 9 May 2019.
  3. Wikipedia contributors, "Cadastre," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia,, accessed 9 May 2019.
  4. Wikipedia contributors, "Gazetteer," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia,, accessed 25 April 2018.
  5. Wikipedia contributors, "Historical geography," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia,, accessed 25 April 2018.
  6. Wikipedia contributors, "Local history," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia,, accessed 25 April 2018.