Online Maps and Gazetteers

No doubt there are many other – and probably better – maps and gazetteers – but these are ours!  I hope you each have your own – I hope sharing this with you will help you add to your list.  Likewise we welcome suggestions to add to our list.

While many examples refer to the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, and USA the processes and similar tools are available for other countries (see the last section of this handout for more information)

Why use maps and gazetteers?   They can help us add to our knowledge of the lives of our ancestors, and help us analyze data. How far away from the rest of the family is that potential ancestor?  Can we access these tools online or do we need to go to a library or archive?

“Many people researching their family roots want to know more about the locations where their ancestors lived. Where did they grow up? What is it like there? What does the physical landscape look like? Did they live in a city, on an island, or in the mountains? Did they live near other ancestors?” (from About on )


All maps may be helpful but distinguish between current maps and historic maps.  Always be cautious about what is free and what is for a fee!

  1. Government Maps.
    1. National Atlas of Canada 
    2. UK Ordnance Survey Maps – – main maps used on the British floor at the FHL – great maps – if you can navigate the site and avoid paying! / -click on launch OS maps now.  Look for search box, but remember these are modern counties.   Sometimes historic versions of government maps are available.  Try  – some levels of zoom are not available for free.
    3. Library of Congress (USA)
  2.   Google maps – but also may be available for the country you are working in e.g.– http:/  – UK search and navigation easier if using – 3D and street views – very nice – and Google Earth – great for Family History!
  3.   Bing – from Microsoft  – also good maps and images 
  4. For England  – a  personal favourite –  although I liked it better before the last revision – don’t like all the advertising  use the zoom feature – tells you the scale of each map in the zoom.
  5.   Locating maps of parishes.  Phillimore’s Atlas has long been a standard for maps of parishes in each county in England, Scotland and Wales. For years Phillimore has been the “holy grail” for parishes.  Why is it so good?  Now Phillimore maps are available at but not the printed lists that are in the book. This is great news for anyone doing research in Great Britain – that is England, Scotland or Wales!  Never available before in digital format that I am aware – this along with the Imperial Gazetteer of 1872 are foundation British research tools.
    1. Here is the description of the Phillimore Atlas:  “Parish registers are a vital resource for the period prior to civil registration, which began in England and Wales in 1837. When looking for registers, it’s important to know what the parish boundaries were at a specific point in time because many parish boundaries have changed over the centuries. For example, beginning in the 1830s many of the larger old, or “ancient,” parishes began being split up into smaller parishes.  The Phillimore Atlas outlines old parishes prior to 1832 and provides the date of the earliest surviving registers for the parish. The atlas includes England, Wales, and Scotland. Some counties included hundreds of parishes, so knowing a parish’s location is a huge help when you’re trying to locate your ancestor’s parish records. In addition, your ancestor may have left records in several nearby parishes, all while living in the same area. The Phillimore Atlas provides an easy way to see what parishes were in the area prior to 1832 so you can do a thorough search. The maps we have available do not have the grid printed along the sides. All maps have a grid range from A1 to M10, with the letters falling along the longest side.”  This is one of my treasured books!  – but the digital online version looks even easier to read! 
    2. How do you find this on the Ancestry web site?  Go to the menu Search and select Card Catalog – and then on the next screen select Maps, Atlas, and Gazetteers on the left.  Then use filters. The title on Ancestry is Great Britain, Atlas and Index of Parish Registers.  Actually easier to get to on  Go under Search to Card Catalogue – note the check box to restrict to Only Records from the UK and Ireland – and go down the Filter By Collection list to Maps, Atlases and Gazetteers. Don’t have an Ancestry membership?  Head to your local Family History Centre
    3.   England Jurisdictions 1851 – Go to . A great tool if you are researching in England.  You can map many types of jurisdictions – parishes, registration districts, poor law unions, and others.  You can ask to see a list of adjoining parishes, and parishes within a specified radius.  It also includes a brief gazetteer entry!  Now includes UK Ordnance Survey maps (older ones!). 
    4. Parish Locator in GENUKI –  To get to the Genuki Church Database aka Parish Locator (parishes c1837) – go to click on link to Church Database link (note this is a volunteer project so some areas are more fully documented than others – Barrow in Furness is the model parish).  Maps on google.
    5. Nice interactive maps for Sussex at – don’t need to pay to use –  sfhg = Sussex Family History Group – and in GENUKI  – click on map win centre of screen until you get map of England and then look for link to maps on right and click on a county on the map like Norfolk and follow the links to maps for that county.  Try other counties.   Results will vary.
    6. Some Gazetteers also include maps.
  6.   FamilySearch Place Research – a relatively new free product – try it!
    1. What does it do?  From their  purpose statement “ As time progresses places are built, destroyed, renamed or conquered. As researchers track family histories across centuries, it becomes important to track the historical context of places as well.  Place Research is a FamilySearch application which provides access to standardized information about locations.” 
    2. New as it is there are already great features.  You can select with the map or the satellite view – and these are provided by Google – so think of this as Google maps with a Family History overlay.  I searched first for my troublesome Dannhausen where I think my great grandmother was born in Germany.  I got 4 results which on closer examination were 2 places because of changes of jurisdiction names.  At the bottom of the Results box there is an Export button that downloads the results to your computer as a .csv file that you can open in a spreadsheet. You can search by Name, Jurisdiction, Location, and ID number – if you’ve been there before and have the number. Clicking in the i in a blue circle next to each result gives links to the history of the place name, and research links that look for information on the place at FamilySearch. 
    3. Don’t miss the About link in the lower right and make sure you scroll down and look at the Guidelines. This is a great product that will only get better as more information is added and if we give feedback and suggestions.


What is a gazetteer?   There are two types of gazetteers:

  1. Those providing useful details and information about the place such as whether or not the place is a parish, what other churches are there, business and industry, and what the nearest places are (6 miles north-west from . . . )
  2. Alphabetical list of places giving county, and map coordinates.

Main gazetteer used at the FHL in SLC:  Imperial Gazetteer – published in 1860s – 6 volumes – used most often – first sentence always states whether the place is a parish or what parish the place is in.

  1.   Imperial Gazetteer  – John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England & Wales (1872)  – main gazetteer used in the FHL – search by place – includes a collection of historic maps

There is also a collection of gazetteers at including the Imperial Gazetteer.  Search for Gazetteer.

The Imperial and other excellent gazetteers are available at if you have access (or just go to any FH Centre).  It is much harder to find places in the online scanned books at Ancestry then just picking up the book at the Family History Library!  Let me give you some hints to make it easier. 

Which search field do you use? First name?  Last Name?  or Location?  You would assume Location – and it does work there but Ancestry will offer you the standardized name for the place including county and country.  As the search engine is very thorough this produces more results!  It looks not just for East Bridgford but also Nottinghamshire, etc.  You can put the place name in Last Name and get fewer results.  Now the problem . . .  the results come back in alphabetical order by place.  I searched for East Bridgford in Nottinghamshire.  The first places in the results start with A but have some reference to Nottingham in them.  I got 2421 results if I put East Bridgford in the location field and 974 if I put it in the Last Name field.  Either way that is too many results to read them all.  Solution?  Change the number of results displayed from 30 to 50.  Look for Per Page at the bottom of a results screen.  Then look at the column Chapter than shows As, Au, Ax, Ba and so on.  These letters refer to the place names.  I am looking for Br.  Keep going forward a page at a time – using the link at the bottom of the screen – go forward several pages at a time if it will let you.  I wanted Ea – and knowing that the third letter was s I didn’t need the first Ea page.

If you don’t have an Ancestry subscription then go to Vision of Britain and search by place.  The results are usually from the Imperial Gazetteer.  Notice all the other resources available –  statistical data, historical maps, travel writings, reports on the census (trends in population between census). Vision of Britain also gives access to Frances Groome’s The Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1885)  and John Bartholomew’s Gazetteer of the British Isles (1887).

  1. GENUKI Gazetteer –England, Wales and Scotland –  also on the same page  a database of places in the 1891 census  .  Can search by partial names. Information rich source – follow the links.
  2.   Gazetteer of British Place Names – Place Name Index to Great Britain, containing over 50,000 entries – 
  3. For Canada – then either go through Map of Canada and subsequent links or go through Provinces to get to maps
  4. The Electoral Atlas of the Dominion of Canada 1895 – “the first set of detailed maps prepared by the Canadian government to show federal electoral boundaries” –
  5.   Prairie Locator – do you have a legal land description you got from a homestead record or somewhere else and wonder where is that place?  Go to put in the legal land description and let it convert it for you.
  6.   For USA – then select state
  7. For USA – find information by place
  8.   British History Online    great digital archive e.g. for:  1. Gazetteer of Markets and Fairs i(hint:  use search for title – covers England and Wales to 1516),  2.Victorian County  Histories (click on full catalog, then Local under Subjects and scroll down to History of (name of county)) ,  3. Old OS maps (1:2500 so very detailed or 1:10560) (click on Maps on main page),  4.  Lots of old maps and valuable resources! – e.g. Thoroton History of Nottinghamshire. (use keyword search Thoroton).  Search and see what you find!

Other Maps and Gazetteers

  1.   Maps of distribution of surnames in 1881 in England – very neat – project originally done by Univ of London –  – note link to a search for other countries.
  2.   Gazetteer for Scotland – maps, timelines, places –
  3. Ire Atlas townlands database   ???? 
  4.   Place names database of Ireland  – you might want to click on English version!
  5.   Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland  – shows not only townlands, parishes and non- parochial churches but industries, schools, etc
  6.   Modern Townland Maps – Environmental Protection Agency of Ireland – 
  7.   Griffiths Valuation online  For those interested in Irish research an important resource has become available online. “The Primary Valuation was the first full-scale valuation of property in Ireland. It was overseen by Richard Griffith and published between 1847 and 1864. It is one of the most important surviving 19th century genealogical sources.” It is available at 
  8. Norway Parishes – a great new free to use web site for those with Norwegian ancestry.  Learn to use the very nice Search box on the left.  Results include some historical name information.  Don’t miss the About and More Resources menus in the upper right.  And don’t forget to give them feedback and suggestions using Contact.  Now I  wish I had Norwegian ancestors!

Finding maps and gazetteers for other countries

  1. Go to and go to the page for a country and then look for the link to maps and gazetteers.  e.g. Sweden Maps and gazetteers are important for research in all countries!    
  2. Use gateway sites  such as Mary’s  GenealogyTreasures and Cyndi’s list  for more listings of maps and gazetteers – click on categories.
  3. See what coverage your country has at WorldGenWeb   
  4. Use Google search or Bing search

And then there are city directories –  for tips on using them go to

This entry was posted in,, FindMyPast, Library and Archives Canada, Maps and Gazetteers, Research and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s