Using maps in genealogy is Tuesday’s Tip.

If you’re researching in an area of the U.S. where the place names have changed (and who isn’t?), here are three resources that can help.

U.S. Geographic Survey (USGS)

The U.S. Geographic Survey (USGS) provides a wealth of free resources, including a searchable database, a PDF, and other resources. The USGS compiles the National Atlas of the United States. The Atlas increases “geographic knowledge and understanding and to foster national self-awareness.” For other USGS maps, click here.

U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN)

The United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN), established in 1890, establishes and maintains “uniform usage of geographic names throughout the federal government of the United States.” The BGN determines the official name and location of all “places and geological features within the U.S., Antarctica, and for undersea features.” (So far I haven’t found any ancestors who lived on undersea features, but hey, you never know in my family.)

Geographic Names Information System (GNIS)

The Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) compiles information from USGS and BGN. More than two million entries cover “names of places that no longer exist, as well as variant names for existing places. This automated system also contains the names of every type of feature except roads and highways. It is especially useful for genealogical research because it contains entries for communities, as well as for churches and cemeteries, even those that no longer exist.”

The GNIS public database is available for searches. One of my favorite research sites, Histopolis, uses GNIS data. The USGS has a PDF available for download titled “Using Maps in Genealogy,” to help you use their resources. You can also contact them directly with your geographic questions:

E-mail: [email protected]

Telephone 703-648-4544

Write to U.S. Geological Survey, Geographic Names, 523 National Center, Reston, VA 20192

Visit the GNIS Web site at