Online Resources - Historical Maps, etc.
There are a variety of online resources to help you identify the locations where your ancestors lived. This page is a directory of links to my favorite resources. Keep coming back as I will be continually adding to this list.
They are divided in to 2 major categories which are not entirely mutually exclusive.
So without further ado, I hope you enjoy these online resources for Historical Maps and Land Records.
Online Map Resources
A collaboration of several archives and repositories launched in 2012, OldMapsOnline.org contains indexes to over 400,000 historical maps. This is only thanks to the archives and libraries that were open to the idea and provided their online content. All new participants are warmly welcomed. Maps are hosted at partner sites, but can all be searched in this one location. Maps date from 1500 to the present day.
It has a simple search interface which shows a place on a Google Map with list of maps of the area on the panel to the right. The results show a thumbnail of the map, the collection it came from, the name of the map, the date of the map, the date of publication. and the map scale. Users can view the map as an overlay on top of a modern Google Map.
The collection is truly global in nature, but my experience is that there are more detailed maps of Europe and North America.
There is also a Mobile App as well. The mobile app does not appear to allow viewing maps as overlays, and some users complain about the advertisements on the bottom of the screen.
Incredible online map collection that can be searched and viewed in a variety of ways.
David Rumsey is President of Cartography Associates, a digital publishing company based in San Francisco. He began building a collection of North and South American historical maps and related cartographic materials in 1980. His collection, with more than 150,000 maps, is one of the largest private map collections in the United States. Currently the online web site has over 30,000 high resolution images of maps from his collection. The site is free to the public and is updated monthly.
Viewing the collection with the LUNA Browser is the quickest and easiest way to start seeing the online maps - no download is required, just click on the LUNA Browser Quicklink on the home page.
Other ways to view the collection include Google Earth, Google Maps, and custom GIS viewers.
Paper maps available for sale.
TopoView highlights one of the USGS's most important and useful products, the topographic map. In 1879, the USGS began to map the Nation's topography. This mapping was done at different levels of detail, in order to support various land use and other purposes. As the years passed, the USGS produced new map versions of each area. Thus maps are available from 1879 to the present. The most current maps are available from The National Map.
TopoView shows the many and varied older maps of each area, and so is useful for historical purposes—for example, the names of some natural and cultural features have changed over time, and the 'old' names can be found on these historical topographic maps.
Maps can be filtered by scale, date, and location. Maps can be downloaded in up to 4 formats: GeoPDF, GeoTIFF, JPG, and KMZ.
The Library of Congress Map Collection consists of approximately 400,000 maps, with some dating back nearly 900 years. Unfortunately, only about 17,500 of them have been digitized and made available online. That doesn't mean this isn't a useful resource, however. The site allows you to filter by date (century), location, language, collection, subject or category, and much more. The collection includes a very wide array of maps created for different purposes. It is worth an evening to search and see what nuggets you can discover!
The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps Collection at the US Library of Congress is worth mentioning separate from the other map collections held by the Library of Congress. The physical collection contains over 50,000 holdings with only about 2,600 available online.
The Sanborn Maps were originally created for assessing fire insurance liability in urbanized areas in the United States. The maps include detailed information regarding town and building information in approximately 12,000 US towns and cities from 1867 to 2007.
The map volumes contain an enormous amount of information. Information most relevant to genealogical researchers includes: an index of streets and addresses; a ‘specials’ index with the names of churches, schools, businesses etc.; and a master index indicating the entirety of the mapped area and the sheet numbers for each large-scale map. The maps include outlines of each building and outbuilding; street names; property boundaries; house and block number; and even the names of most public buildings, churches and businesses.
Check local research libraries (i.e., at major universities) to see if they have regional collections of Sanborn maps.
Randy Majors has created some very useful tools for genealogists using Google search and mapping engines.
• AncestorSearch: Input your search information and the tool formats a Google Custom search to return more relevant results
• Historical U.S. County Boundary Maps: Type in a present-day place and any date from Colonial times to present day. It will display that place on a Google Map along with the historic county boundaries. It also provides the full place name, and information about the creation or most recent boundary change.
• Historical World Boundary Maps: Similar to the U.S. County Boundary Maps, this tool allows you to type a current place name and it will display the country boundaries. The tool allows you to search over 4000 years of history. In some cases these are only general boundaries. Political boundaries have not always been as clearly defined as they are today.
The PCL Map Collection includes more than 250,000 maps, with less than 30% of the collection is currently online. Most of the collection is in the public domain. The collection includes a vast array of maps from across the world and throughout cartographic history. Map lovers could get lost and never come out.
Personally, I think this site is great for finding specific maps of region and time period where your ancestors lived. There is a site search, but be aware that it searches the entire library site. I have not found a way to limit the search to the PCL Map Collection.
My favorite online resources for family history, however, include:
- Huge list of links to other online map sites, organized alphabetically.
- Historical Maps. Organized by geographic region, each region has its own page of maps and references. The Collection has historical maps of varying scale and include U.S. Cities, states, territories, and some great thematic maps. I advise you spend some time browsing the variety of historical maps.
This site dedicated to historical maps of Great Britain, holds three types of maps.
- Topographic maps: These are general purpose maps showing the physical landscape: hills and valleys, rivers and coast, plus man-made features like settlements, roads and railways. We hold these maps for different periods and at different scales.
- Boundary maps: These usually include some landscape features, so you can see where you are looking at, but their main concern is showing administrative boundaries, for counties, districts, parishes and so on. We aim to provide a comprehensive collection of boundary maps published by the British government, but cannot include maps published within the last fifty years for copyright reasons.
- Land Use maps: Our collection includes a complete set of the one mile to the inch and ten miles to the inch maps published by the Land Utilisation Survey of Great Britain. They record what each plot of land was being used for on the day it was surveyed, in the 1930s.
(Thanks to Hilary Gadsby for this link!)
This interactive map provides a wealth of information about jurisdictions in England and Wales in 1851. It also includes an overlay of the Ordnance Survey.
You can search by place names or simply click on the map. Once you select a location you can view additional information about that location including:
- When records begin
- Civil Registration District
- And much more
It is integrated with Google Maps so you can switch to Street View as well.