Finding Maps by Location

With changing borders and place names, and the presence of hundreds and sometimes even thousands of places on a single map, searching historic maps can be tough, and may require a bit of patience and ingenuity. This page contains tips and suggestions for navigating the collections in search of specific locations on maps in the North Carolina Maps collection.

Not Every Place Name Has Been Indexed
While the records describing the maps in the collection contain a great deal of helpful information, they do not include the name of every single place listed on each map. This means that if you search for a place name and come up with no results, that does not necessarily mean that it does not appear on maps in the collection. Even if a search comes up empty, trying some of the suggestions below may help in locating the place you're looking for on a map or maps in the collection.

Find the County
A good first step for any search for a specific location would be to identify the county or counties in which the place you are looking for is located. If you do not already know the county name, there are several good reference tools that will help. William S. Powell's North Carolina Gazetteer (UNC Press, 1968) is an essential source for anyone studying North Carolina geography. Containing tens of thousands of entries, the Gazetteer always lists the county in which each geographic feature is located. Online reference sources such as Wikipedia can be helpful, but the most authoritative place to look is the Geographic Names Information System, produced and maintained by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

Once you have located specific counties, you can find maps for specific counties on the Browse by County page on this site. County maps are often the most detailed historic maps available, and the coverage is comprehensive, with at least one map for each of North Carolina's 100 counties.

Try Statewide Maps
It is true that county and town maps often have the most information, but that does not mean that state maps will not be useful if you're searching for specific locations. While many state maps do contain relatively little information, a patient search of these will reveal some that have a great amount of detail. For example, post route maps published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries sometimes show cities and towns that do not appear anywhere else. State maps are also invaluable resources for those studying changing state and county boundaries, and the development of roads and railroads in the state.