It's all about maps!

Old maps often contain information that will help locate towns that no longer exist, or old landmark names that aren’t used anymore. Some good early maps can be valuable to genealogists in finding these long forgotten places. Unfortunately, good early maps are hard to come by —and aren’t inexpensive. Early cartographers relied on surveys which were not always accurate. This resulted in mistakes on early maps (for example, California is often depicted as an island). From our colonial times, up until about 1915, basic surveying was taught as a normal part of the mathematics curriculum up until about the eighth or ninth grade. The best of surveyors were then know as mathematicians but there were certainly many surveyors that barely qualified back then, and definitely would not qualify by today's standards. The surveying tools, originally made in Europe, finally began to be made here in the United States and by the 1850s, our American-made tools of trade were up to European standards. Interestingly, the first survey made in California was made with nautical instruments. It is after the 1850s that our surveying really made giant leaps forward. Better maps came with the better surveys. Up to the Civil War, really good county maps were very scarce. During that war, both sides were plagued with poor quality maps. Today, we have the excellent USGS maps to rely upon, and those maps should be part genealogists reference materials.

About Our MapsOur first consideration in presenting meaningful online maps is to have them readable. The maps should be readable to those folks with smaller, lesser quality monitors, and to those who are visually challenged. Therefore, we present much of our work in very large files.

Downloading Graphic FilesBecause graphic files require much more memory than text or html files, they require longer download times. During business hours and in the evenings, the download times can even be longer. All of our files have been tested (downloaded) before we link to the files. Still, if you do not get a complete file, you might try to use your Reload/Refresh option on your browser.

Clearing Your CacheBrowsers save the files from the Internet sites you visit into a cache file which is part of your browser and on your hard drive. If you do not empty your cache file, in time it will become too full, and you will not be able to download from the Internet. Some applications will save the deleted files in a Recycle Bin. These files will also need to be removed

Saving FilesIf you plan to revisit a map, it is to your advantage to save the file when you download it the first time. That way you don’t need to sit through the download more than once.

When at all possible, we will make our maps files under 1,300k so they may be directly saved to a 1.44m floppy disk if needed.

Our graphic files will be in the JPG and GIF formats. Once you have them saved, you can open the files in your browser (Netscape, etc.) The files can also be opened in a graphics program such as Paint Shop Pro.

Printing the Graphic FilesMany of our maps are too large to print on your printer from your Browser. Here are some ideas:

- If it is a wide map, you can try changing the printer paper orientation from Portrait to Landscape. You might also try using legal size paper.

- You could take the file disk to a service bureau or to a well-equipped photocopy shop.

- If you only need part of the map, open the map file in a graphics program, copy just the section you need and print that section.

- You could resize the map downward in a graphics program (be sure to constrain proportions). You can set the Paint Shop Pro “Page Setup” to automatically print the graphic at paper-size.

- You can insert the graphic into a Microsoft Word document (or any word processor that allows you to insert graphic files). The page size will automatically constrain the map to fit.

- There is a least one piece of software that will allow printing the files in tiles. It works in both Macs and Windows. It is PosterWorks but it is fairly expensive.

- There are many different browsers, paint programs, and drawing programs for us to offer more specific advice.


The United States Digital Map Library is a free, volunteer-based project whose intent is to make public digitized copies of all historical maps.


We are always looking for more maps! If you have access to maps that we don't yet have a copy of on the site, please consider submitting them to the site. Be sure to visit the submissions page for more information on what we can and cannot take as well as submission procedures.


The project is in serious need of volunteers who are willing to take coordinate the map content for a state (or several states!). It doesn't take a lot of time and your efforts are so valuable to the preservation and publication of historical maps.

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