United States Gazetteers

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A gazetteer is a list and description of places. It can be used to locate the places where your family lived. Gazetteers describe towns and villages, sizes of population, rivers, and mountains, and other geographical features. They usually include only the names of places that existed at the time the gazetteer was published. The place names are generally listed in alphabetical order, similar to a dictionary.

Modern Place Names[edit | edit source]

Place Names in the FamilySearch Catalog

Places are listed by their modern names and boundaries. The catalog includes only places for which the library has records.

Other Sources of Place Information
For more comprehensive information, see:

  • Bullinger's Postal and Shippers Guide for the United States & Canada, Annual. Westwood, New Jersey: Bullinger's Guides, 1871-. (FHL book 970 E8b; 1961 edition on film 1320793 Item 7.) It is available at most large libraries.

Other helpful books or records are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:



National gazetteers include:

  • Find which county a town is in, what town a cemetery is in, or even where a post office is by using the free online U.S. Geological Survey's Geographical Names Information System.
  • Abate, Frank R., editor. American Places Dictionary: A Guide to 45,000 Populated Places, Natural Features, and Other Places in the United States. Four Volumes. Detroit, Michigan: Omnigraphics, 1994. (Family History Library book 973 E5a.)
  • Abate, Frank R., editor. Omni Gazetteer of the United States of America: Providing Name, Location, and Identification for Nearly 1,500,000 Populated Places, Structures, Facilities, Locales, Historic Places, and Geographic Features in the Fifty States . . . 11 Volumes. Detroit, Michigan: Omnigraphics, 1991. (Family History Library book 973 E5o.)

Historical Place Names[edit | edit source]

Because the names and boundaries of some places have changed or no longer exist, you may need to use sources that describe places as they were known earlier. An example of a national gazetteer that identifies places in the United States as of 1884 is:

  • de Colange, Leo. The National Gazetteer. London, England: Hamilton, Adams, and Company, 1884. (Family History Library book 973 E5c; film 845264; fiche 6046725.)

1840 Historical gazetteer of the United States:

How did your migrating ancestor find the correct destination out West? Quite possibly they had a copy of Brown's book:

  • Brown, Samuel R. The Western Gazetteer or Emigrant's Directory, Containing a Geographical Description of the Western States and Territories, viz. The States of Kentucky, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and Mississippi: and the Territories of Illinois, Missouri, Alabama, Michigan, and North-Western. Auburn, N.Y.: H.C. Southwick, 1817. Digital versions at NIU Library Digitization Projects and MyHeritage ($).

Some additional pre-1900 U.S. gazetteers are:

These sources are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under UNITED STATES - GAZETTEERS. Gazetteers and similar guides to place names for most states are listed in the Place Search under [STATE] - GAZETTEERS. For bibliographies of gazetteers see:

  • Grim, Ronald E. Historical Geography of the United States: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research, 1982. (Family History Library book 973 E33g.)
  • Sealock, Richard B., editor, et. al. Bibliography of Place-Name Literature, United States and Canada. Third Edition. Chicago, Illinois: American Library Assoc., 1982. (Family History Library book 970 E23s 1982.)

For river landings in many states across the country, see:

  • Adams, Louis A. Adam's Directory of Points and Landings on Rivers and Bayous in the States of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. New Orleans: W.L. Murray, 1877. Digital version at Internet Archive.

Websites[edit | edit source]

  • US Board on Geographic Names (BGN)contains current and historical information about physical and cultural geographic features in the U.S. and abroad.
  • GettyThesaurus of Geographic Names offers current and historical place name variants for administrative political entities (e.g., cities, nations) and physical features (e.g., mountains, rivers).
  • Home Town Locator.com Search for U.S. cities, towns, populated places, neighborhoods, and subdivisions and plot them on Google Maps.
  • Ghost Towns provides information on lost towns in the U.S. and Canada.
  • FallingRain is an alphabetical listing of U.S. localities.