Using Maps in Your New York Research

Historical maps can provide valuable information to the genealogist or family historian that isn’t available anywhere else. Maps can reveal where people lived, the boundaries of their property, and who their neighbors were. They may even provide clues as to what people did for a living, where their ancestors came from, and how a family came to bear its name. 

Below you will find guides for researching family history through maps and a list of websites and repositories where you can find historical maps, atlases, and similar records. Many of the repositories listed maintain digitized collections that may be accessed through their websites.


General Resources


New York Maps

Present-Day New York

Historic New York City

Historic New York State


Other Mapping Resources

Valparaiso University provides this gallery of maps that show the distribution of ethnic groups in the United States based on census data. 

Cyndi’s List provides an extensive list of links to all kinds of genealogical and historical records. This map index is divided by category, including ethnic group, fire insurance, military, surname maps, and more.

The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection Database and Blog provides online access to over 27,800 maps and images, with a focus on rare 18th- and 19th-century maps of North and South America.

Google Earth includes satellite imagery from multiple decades, allowing users to observe the changes that occurred in a landscape over time. You can also view Timelapse, which offers views by decade across the world.

Visitors to the site may browse its collection, which features over one million images of maps, or use its search function to isolate specific locations and time periods.

National Geographic offers an interactive global map that can be used to explore population density, major religions, language diversity, and global time zones in addition to geographical features and climate. 

The Newberry Library launched its online Atlas of Historical County Boundaries as a resource for genealogy and family history research. The site offers several different applications, including interactive maps and chronologies of all fifty states, and combines its data with Google Earth images to create a comprehensive view of geographical and population changes from the 15th century to the year 2000.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names was organized by the federal government “to maintain uniform geographic name usage” in the United States. Its website provides a searchable index to the names of foreign and domestic places, Antarctic places, and undersea features. 

This article from “Free Technology for Teachers” describes three online services – Historypin, What Was There, and Historvius – you can use to compare historical images with the images in Google Maps. Historical images are uploaded by users and linked to the corresponding present-day images captured by Google so that anyone can view individual places, landmarks, and landscapes throughout different periods of time.


Repositories

When the Lehman Library Map Collection was established in 1912, its focus was on geology and mineralogy. It has since expanded to include maps of all types and time periods and today houses approximately 115,000 sheets. Its special collections include United States and Canadian Depository Maps; Geological Sciences Collection Series; General State, National, and International Map Series; U.S. Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors Port Series; and Nautical and Aeronautical Series. The University’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Library holds additional historical maps.

Lehman Library Map Collection

213A Lehman Social Sciences Library

300 International Affairs

420 West 118th Street

New York, NY 10027

(212) 854-8878

Located at the Olin Library at Cornell University, the Maps and Geospatial Information Collection holds over 240,000 maps, 3,200 books and atlases, and 500 compact discs and serves as a depository library for federal government maps and digital spatial data. It has a special focus on international topographic maps, historic and modern city plans, nautical charts, geological maps, reproductions of rare or historic maps, aerial photographs, and globes. Access to its digital collection is restricted to members of the Cornell University community.

Maps and Geospatial Information Collection

B-17 Olin Library

Cornell University

Ithaca, New York 14853

(607) 255-7557

Harvard University maintains a collection of over 500,000 maps, ranging from the 16th century to the present. A portion of its holdings are digitized and may be accessed through the HOLLIS catalog. Highlights of the digital collections include maps of Boston, Cambridge, and other New England locations; maps of London and China; pictorial maps by Ernest Dudley Chase; fire insurance and real property atlases; and Revolutionary War maps. Additional material can be found by visiting the Collection in person at the Houghton Library.

Harvard Map Collection

Houghton Library

Harvard University

Cambridge, MA 02138

(617) 495-2417

The Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress proclaims itself “the largest and most comprehensive cartographic collection in the world,” housing over 5.2 million maps. Although its holdings range from local to global, encompassing the entire world and most of history, the Division’s collection of American material is particularly strong, including maps from the Colonial and Revolutionary Eras and American military maps.    

The Division’s holdings may be accessed through its website or at the Geography and Map Reading Room at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Geography and Map Reading Room

101 Independence Ave. SE

Madison Bldg, Room LM B01

Washington, D.C. 20540-4650

(202) 707-6277

The National Archives’s Archival Research Catalog (ARC) provides a searchable index of approximately half of the material held by the Archives. Instructions for using the ARC to find maps and geographic materials are provided at the link below. You can also visit the National Archives in person. The address for their New York City facility is given below; you may also view a list of addresses of their other locations.

The National Archives at New York City

201 Varick Street

12th Floor

New York, NY 10014

(212) 401-1620

1-866-840-1754 (toll free)

The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division of the New York Public Library contains a collection of over 433,000 maps, 10,000 of which have been digitized. Researchers in the Map Division are currently engaged in a project combining maps and census data in order to illuminate both the conditions of specific time periods and change over time. In addition, the digitization of the Division’s maps is an ongoing process, which may be complete in as little as five years. 

A large portion of the Division’s holdings can be accessed online through the Library’s catalog and Digital Gallery. More complete access is available through the Map Division reading room.

Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division

Steven A. Schwarzman Building

First Floor, Room 101

Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street

New York, NY 10018-2788

The NYSA’s holdings contain more than 80,000 maps, including maps of locations in New York State and neighboring states, military maps, insurance maps, land patents and surveys, and New York county atlases. The maps section of NYSA’s website provides a thorough history of map-making in New York and a bibliography of selected maps. NYSA's digital archive is also rich with several thousand maps.

The Map Collection at The State University of New York at Stony Brook include 1,700 maps and atlases of Long Island and New York State, dating from 1640 to the present, in addition to aerial photographs, gazetteers, and books. A portion of its holdings are digitized and available online. 

Stony Brook University Map Collection

Frank Melville Jr. Memorial Library, E-2320

Stony Brook, NY 11794-3323

(631) 632-7119

The State University of New York at Buffalo maintains the largest collection of maps in Western New York, with holdings of over 320,000 maps, 4,000 aerial photos, and 500 atlases. Although the Collection includes maps of all parts of the world, it has a special focus on Buffalo and Erie County, New York State, the United States, and Canada. Its materials may be accessed online through the BISON catalog or at the Silverman Library.

University at Buffalo Map Collection

Silverman Library

Room 316, Capen Hall, North Campus

Buffalo, NY 14260-1672

(716) 645-2945

The Map Division of the Perry Casteñada Library houses 250,000 maps. 44,000 of these are available online; others may be accessed at the Library, located in the University of Texas at Austin campus. Holdings include printed maps, atlases, and gazetteers; United States Geological Survey maps; aeronautical charts and nautical charts; census, city, flood, highway, park and recreation, and fire insurance maps; soil surveys; and more.

The Perry-Casteñada Library Map Collection

First Floor (PCL 1.306)

University of Texas at Austin

Austin, TX 78713-8916

(512) 496-4275

The Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University houses the largest map collection in Connecticut, including 200,000 map sheets, 3,000 atlases, and 900 reference books. It has a special collection of 11,000 rare map prints and manuscripts, most of which date from before 1850. The Library also offers a Geographical Information System, accessible through its website, and continues an initiative to digitize and catalogue its holdings. 

The Yale University Map Collection

Sterling Memorial Library, 7th Floor

Yale University

New Haven, CT 06520-1942

(203) 432-1810


This information was last updated March 7, 2017. Additions, corrections, and comments may be sent to webmaster@nygbs.org.