Historical maps are crucial to genealogy research! Learn how to find free online historical maps to use in your genealogy research.
What genealogy researcher does not love a good historical map?!
I’ve always been a fan of maps – even as a young child. Remember those Trip-tiks AAA used to give out when you planned a vacation? I used to get my very own, so I could check off each town and state line as we traveled to someplace fun. When I had children of my own, my husband and I got them their own Trip-tik maps for our family vacations, too.
Let me say my adult children are very good at reading maps! I digress…..
As a genealogy researcher, I love spending time studying all types of maps. Old road maps, topographical maps, insurance maps and even maps drawn in deeds or the back of a napkin(!) allow us as genealogy researchers to quite literally place our ancestors in a specific location and time. Knowing where an ancestor was in time and place can help you the researcher understand migration patterns and the community where an ancestor lived.
When we understand where our ancestors lived, what resources they had close, and what type of home they had, we can begin to understand the daily life decisions they made. Understanding our ancestors on that level and the social history surrounding them, is needed to break down genealogy brick walls.
Fortunately, for us as researchers, many maps of all types can be found online for FREE.[You know me, I’m a frugal genealogist and free is good!]
Where To Find Free Online Historical Maps
Explore these FREE resources for online historical maps.
1. Google Maps and Google Earth – Great resources for visualizing where your ancestors lived. I frequently use the street view on Google Maps to explore towns and neighborhoods where my ancestors lived.
2. David Rumsey’s Historical Maps – Fantastic (and large) historical map collection including maps from around the world.
3. Library of Congress – An excellent collection of maps from around the world.
4. The Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at The University of Texas at Austin – Indexes historical maps from libraries and archives.
5. Alabama Maps (The University of Alabama) – Large collection of maps both for the US and the World. Check out this map collection even if you do not have Alabama ancestors.
6. Sanborn Maps – Fire insurance maps detailing a city. These are found at the Library of Congress, but due to their uniqueness I chose to give them their own separate listing here. Insurance maps provide detail about your ancestor’s home such as the building material (brick or wood) or whether a structure was a single family or multifamily dwelling.
7. Atlas of Historical County Boundaries – Don’t lose track of your ancestors in the records. Keep up with the changing county boundaries through the years as you research.
8. City Directories – Maps of a city or town were often included in a city directory. Check the back and the front sections for local street maps. Remember smaller towns may be in a regional or close larger town directory. Start your search for city directories on Google Books!
9. Osher Map Library (University of Southern Maine) – Large collection of historical maps
10.Old Maps Online– Indexes over 400,000 old maps in libraries and archives.
11.National Library of Australia– For those of you with Australian roots! A large collection of maps.
12.Old-Maps.co.uk– A comprehensive map collection covering England, Scotland and Wales.
13. A Vision of Britain Old Map Collection – Maps centered focused on Britain from 1801 to current.
14. National Library of Scotland – The National Library of Scotland has a large collection of historical maps covering the United Kingdom. Do not overlook this resource simply because you do not have Scottish ancestors!
15. USGS Topo Maps – The historical topographical maps are helpful to the genealogy researcher where the “old” names of local landmarks and features can be found. Additionally, learning about the topography of the land where your ancestors lived can potentially lead to clues to your ancestors migration patterns and even types of occupations.
How to Search For Maps To Use In Genealogy Research
The list above covers predominantly U.S. based sites with free historical maps. If you do not see maps covering the region you research, searching for online maps is relatively easy.
Perform a Google search using search terms such as:
“Online historical maps [region/country]”
For example, in the search for your German ancestors, try structuring your search term as “Online historical maps Germany“.
Or try adding a date for narrow your results:
“Online historical maps [regions/country] [year]”
An example would be “Online historical maps France 1890”.
Note: Typing the quotation marks into the search bar is not necessary.
As part of your genealogy research plan, spend time searching and exploring online historical map collections. Familiarize yourself with the area where your ancestors lived to improve your research results for that brick wall ancestors.
Other Posts of Interest:
- Free Genealogy Websites – A Frugal Genealogist’s Guide
- Where To Find Free Genealogy Courses – It’s Easier Than You Think!
- 11 Free UK Genealogy Websites For Finding Ancestors