Using Maps in Genealogical Research Robert Sherins, M.D. PGSCA, January 24, 2004


Utilizing maps should be an integral part of one’s genealogical research. Even if the exact name of your ancestral village remains unknown, exploration of the geo-political history of the region can become an exhilarating basis of study.

In my own research, map exploration was divided into two categories. The initial investigation required knowledge of the exact map coordinates of my ancestral villages, which mandated careful research in gazetteers and atlases, consultation with the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, D.C, and localization of the towns on both ancient and modern maps.

The second category of map research utilized computer assisted search techniques. Internet access has opened many windows of opportunity through which one may explore a wide variety of available global databases. New resources are becoming available through the use of Internet search engines. Map libraries also contain information or links to other genealogically important information including historical articles, timelines, road maps, satellite imaging, and photographic images of towns. Previously, access to such data was unavailable. There has been an explosion of relevant new resources for the genealogist.

Discovering Map Coordinates

Basic to all genealogical research is the identification of one’s ancestral towns. Geographically, towns are identified by latitude and longitude. Latitude is measured by degrees of arc from the zero reference point north or south of the equator. Longitude is measured by degrees of arc from the zero reference point east or west of Greenwich, England. Map coordinates are written in degrees, and the subdivisions of degrees in minutes and seconds of arc.

Gazetteers and Atlases

Gazetteers and atlases are very useful in discovering the location of towns. In addition to the map coordinates, one may find important political and historical facts, regional ethnic and religious demographics, climatic information, discussion of the local geography, location of bordering towns and rivers, and population statistics. Gazetteers may indicate the nearest town for church and provincial records.

Best Guide to Jewish Communities
in Central and Eastern Europe

A particularly outstanding publication that has the best compilation of town locations that included Jewish communities in Europe is: Mokotoff, Gary and Sallyann Amdur Sack: “Where Once We Walked, A Guide to the Jewish Communities Destroyed in the Holocaust.” Avotaynu, Inc, Bergenfield, New Jersey. Revised Edition, 2002. [JGS 943 E 5mj 2002].

    This gazetteer has unique information of special interest in locating towns that had Jewish communities. Included in this gazetteer are:
    1. Town names and country.
    2. Town map coordinates.
    3. List the nearest major city with the distance and direction from that city.
    4. Transliterations of 23,500 town names including Yiddish (17,500 towns), Russian, Polish, and others, based upon name changes after past wars and annexations by regional political powers.
    5. Alternative town names, Yiddish names, and synonyms, by which the towns were known.
    6. Town names by phonetic sounds.
    7. Town names listed by the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex System.
    8. Population statistics.
    9. Select bibliography of useful atlas and gazetteer resources.

Historical Atlases

Historical Atlases are special publications, which contain chronologically sequential maps that span past centuries and millennia. Such books can be an invaluable resource of information regarding the history of the changing political borders of countries. Several favorite historical atlases are listed in this handout.

Cadastral Maps

The word, cadastral, is taken from the root word, Cadastre, which is an official register of the quantity, value, and ownership of real estate used in apportioning taxes. Cadastral: showing or recording property boundaries, subdivision lines, buildings, and related details. A. Merriam-Webster, “Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. Merriam-Webster, Inc., Publishers, Springfield, Massachusetts, U.S.A., 1988.

U.S. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division

The address is: U.S. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, Washington D.C., 20540-4761. Telephone: (202) 707-6277 or (202) 707-8555. They offer free map research assistance. In the letter requesting assistance from the library, one must include the town name and country, if known, and the map coordinates. A research coordinator will be assigned to search for the requested maps and sent photocopies of them to you free of charge. The library maintains a huge worldwide inventory of both ancient and modern maps. Special maps and oversized maps (i.e. one meter size) can be obtained at a nominal charge. Be as specific as possible in your request. You may ask for photocopies of the following types of maps:

    1. The oldest maps available in their collection
    2. A modern map of the same town and region
    3. A town map
    4. A regional map
    5. A national map
    6. A town-plan, which will show the streets and major venues

Local and Regional Libraries

Public and private libraries, as well as university libraries may have excellent map research services. Investigate those resources. Consider contacting similar facilities in the foreign countries of your ancestral towns as you explore your family history.

Internet resources

Access to global databases and other resources is now possible through the use of computers that have Internet connections. This requires understanding how to use search engines to explore lists of websites that may contain relevant information to your research. Recommended websites are listed in this handout. Several databases that use foreign language key words are also listed in this handout. When available, utilize the “translation to English” link. Learning some useful foreign language vocabulary and having available the Cyrillic, Hebrew, and Yiddish alphabets can be very useful.

Special Map Collections

Military Maps of the Austro-Hungarian Empire: Militär Landescufnahme und Spezialkarte der Österreiche-Ungarichen Monarchie, published by Österreich Militärgeographisches Institut, 1:75,000 scale, includes Austria, Hungary, Czechoslavia, Yugoslavia, Romania, Poland, Ukraine, and Northern Italy. 1778-1929.

    Available at:
    1. LDS Family History Center, West Los Angeles: Microfilm, #1045395. CD ROM Index and Microfilm Index available.
    2. LDS Family History Center: Microfiche, Poland – Fiche Maps and Index files # 6000198-6000247.
    3. UCLA, Graduate Research Library
    4. U. S. Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division, Washington, D.C.
    5. New York Central Public Library.

LDS Family History Center

    A collection of large, detailed, and original Russian, and Central and Eastern European maps is stored in the Gazetteer room at the West LA FHC. Most of the collection was donated years ago by Randy Daitch. He is a JGSLA member and the Daitch individual named in the Daitch-Mokotoff soundex classification system. FHC map-drawer contents include:
    1. Central Europe (943)
    2. Czechoslovakia (943.7)
    3. Eastern Europe (947.5)
    4. Luxemburg (949.35)
    5. Greece (949.5)
    6. Yugoslavia (949.7)
    7. Iran (955)
    8. Middle East (956)
    9. Israel and Holy Land (956.9)

UCLA Graduate Research Library (Telephone (310) 825-3135)

    Contains a huge collection of ancient and modern maps, town plans, topographical maps, microfische and microfilm records, and other special collections. Included are:
    1. CIA Maps
    2. Army Special Service Series Maps

Atlases and Gazetteers

“Atlas Historyczny Polski.” Panstwowe Przedsiebiorstwo Wydawnictw Kartograficznych, Warsawa. PG 5 943.8 E7ab.

Barnavi, Eli: “A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People,” Schocken Books, New York, 1992.

Euro-Travel Atlases, 1:300,000: American Map Corporation (Langenscheidt Publishing Group, Ravenstein Publisher, Germany), Maspeth, New York. Available: Africa, Austria, Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), Belgium/Netherlands, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Russia, and Turkey.

Gilbert, Martin, “Atlas of Jewish Civilization, 4000 Years of Jewish History.” Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, 1990. JGS 911 G374i.

Gilbert, Martin: “Atlas of Jewish History.” Dorset Press, U.S.A., 3rd Edition. JGS 911g374. 1984.

Gilbert, Martin: “Atlas of Russian History from 800 B.C. to the Present Day.” 2nd Edition, Oxford University Press, New York, 1993.

Gilbert, Martin: “The Illustrated Atlas of Jewish Civilization, 4,000 Year of Jewish History,” Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1990.

Gilbert, Martin: “The Jews of Russia: their History in Maps.” Hippocrene Books, Inc. New York, 1987.

Gilbert, Martin: “Atlas of Russian History,” Oxford University Press, 1993. [PGS 947 E7g 1993]

Hupchic, Dennis P. and Cox, Harold E.: “A Concise Historical Atlas of Eastern Europe,” St. Martins Press, New York, 1996 [947H 3hd]

Lenius, Brian J.: “Genealogical Gazetteer of Galicia.” PGS 943.8 E5L.

Mokotoff, Gary and Sallyann Amdur Sack: “Where Once We Walked, A Guide to the Jewish Communities Destroyed in the Holocaust.” Avotaynu, Inc. Bergenfield, New Jersey. Revised Edition, 2002. JGS 943 E 5mj 2002.

Poganowski, Iwo Ciprian: “Poland A Historical Atlas,” Hippocrene Books, Inc. New York, 1987. [PG 943.8 E7p.]

“Polska, Atlas Drogowy,” 1:200,000. Geo Center, Warszawa, 1998. [PGS 943.8 E7ad]

“The Columbia Lippincott Gazetteer of the World,” Columbia University Press, New York, 4th Ed 1962. 943.8 910.3 C723g 1962.

National Archives and Records Administration – NARA II

  1. German Flown Aerial Reconnaissance Maps, 1940-1944, US Captured Photography.
      1. NARA II – National Archives and Records Administration at College Park (Archives II), Cartographic and Architectural Research Branch (NWDNC), Third Floor.
      2. Address: Third Floor, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740
      3. Tel: (301) 713-7040
      4. E-mail:
  2. Captured Still Photography, German Reconnaissance films:
      1. National Archives in College Park
      2. Address: National Archives and Records Administration at College Park (Archives II), Special Media Archives Services Division (NWCS), Still Picture Reference Team, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, CA 20740-6001
      3. Tel: (301) 837-3530
      4. Fill out the form: “contact us at”
      5. Provide: Names of shtetl (town) with the country name


Library of Congress

Library of Congress Map Division

    Google Search Engine:
    2. Enter desired map address, city, and zip code number
    3. Select “Mapquest” search for the desired address
    4. Select “Street Map” link to the road map
      1. Select the desired map resolution by clicking the zoom out (-) or zoom in (+) button
      2. Click “View Printer Page” This will provide a larger image file for downloading and printing.
      3. Click “E-mail Page” to send the image to yourself or a relative.
      4. Select the “Find” tool and click “Save As” to download image to your computer.
    5. Select “Aerial Photo” link to the Satellite image
      1. Select the desired map resolution by clicking the zoom out (-) or zoom in (+) button
      2. Click “Print Aerial Photo” This will provide a larger image file for downloading and printing.
      3. Click “E-mail Aerial Photo” to send the image to your computer or a relative.
      4. Select the “Find” tool and and click “Save As” to download image to your computer.

University of Texas-Perry Costañeda Library, Map Collection

Eastern European Maps of 19th Century

Maps of Hungarian Cities

Ukrainian Map Server (Inter-active)

Eötvös Loránd University (Budapest, Hungary – Cadastral Maps)

Infomine.maps, UC Riverside – Scholarly Internet Research Sources

Ravenstein Publishers, “Atlas of Maps of the German Empire” Searchable and downloadable maps

Cadastral Map Site/Links

“GLOBAL DATA” – Global Land Onekm Base Elevation Project

Terraserver, Digital Topography

Terraserver, Download by City – anywhere in the world

Historical Town Atlas of Austria

Austria Town Map Web Service (purchase fees)

On-line Maps to Everywhere (Excellent resource. Access requires password)

On-line Clickable Map Search Engine Global references; Interactive Map references; Geodata Information Services; and Weather Maps and Imagery. Includes several hundred links. This is a remarkable cyber resource, which includes everything from oceanic mapping to images from Mars and Venus.

Foreign Language Map Search Engines

Panoramic Maps: U.S. Library of Congress

Perspective Artistic Interactive Maps