Maps: Visualizing Your Ancestors – Finding Topographical Maps

One of my first places to look for topographical maps is the United States Geological Survey (USGS) website. Beyond just being a cool site to check out, it offers all kinds of digital maps. We will focus on the topographic (topo) maps for today, but I encourage you to check the site out for general interest if nothing else.

USGS Website – Scroll down the page
Find the topographic maps section.

When you click on that Topographic (topo) Maps section, you will be taken to an interactive map. Simply type in a location in the upper right search box, or click anywhere on the map and zoom in to find your location. A list will appear below the search box showing you all of the maps they have published for that area. When I searched for Lyme, NH, I found maps for the area going back to 1933.

Lyme, New Hampshire Topo map from 1933, showing “Demmick Hill”

Above is the section of the map showing Lyme where my Dimick ancestors lived. There is even “Demmick Hill” on the map where they used to cut ice blocks out of “Pout Pond” and slide them down the hill to town for people to use in their ice boxes before refrigeration. Because of this topo map, I can see where this event occurred with a better visualization of the landscape.

Another site to try is They also use the USGS maps, but you might find their search or website tools easier to use. For example, they have layers that you can turn on and off that might help you enhance what you are looking for.

Topozone Map of Lyons, Colorado, showing the layer options.

Another site that uses the USGS as well as other historical maps is called “Historical USGS Maps” and this site puts all of the maps on a large interactive map. You simply zoom in and move around to see what is available. Along the top they have a timeline so you can see the time periods for the maps available.

Historical USGS Maps example, showing timeline at the top and circling maps in the Toledo, Ohio area.
As you zoom in, the maps available appear, overlaid on the main map.

You can find websites for other countries as well (not at all meant to be an all-inclusive list, just some I’ve run across in my research):

Be sure to use Cyndi’s List for links to maps (and other topics). We will look at plat maps next time.

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