USGS/GNIS, USAPhotoMaps, Jdmcox, MAPS

We all love maps!

Maps of all kinds are used in genealogical research and I want to bring to your attention some on-line services that are now available that will help you locate various locations in the US. Some of these are international in scope but this discussion will be on the domestic versions.

I have written before about the (USGS/GNIS) and still use it often because it is just about the easiest way to locate a specific locality or item by name. The acronym is handy because the official governmental title of this agency is The United States Board on Geographic Names / United States Geological Survey / Geographic Names Information System. Their website homepage is: If you forget to bookmark this link you can always go to our website at and look for it under our “Favorite Links.”

Now to do a search you want to go to:

You can enter a single word and state and a list of available candidates will pop up to choose from. You then may select items like; a “populated place, civil, locale, county, city, town, summit, island, stream, lake, river, cemetery, school, dam,” and probably dozens of other categories. This will be a way for you to find the cemeteries that were closest to your ancestors, just as a for instance.

Now that you have the name and location of a specific place name, and have an idea where and which county it is located in, you will need to go to a modern mapping website or piece of software to look at it.

I use some of the CD-ROM based mapping programs like Microsoft Streets and Trips, and DeLorme’s mapping programs. I also have written before on my website and blog about terraserver, (do a search of my blogs,) and I still use that quite a bit, but I want to call your attention to a really good on-line system called USAPhotoMaps. You will have to go to: to get instructions on how to use it and to download the program on to your computer to be able to use these maps and aerial/satellite photos. I suggest you read and understand as much information as you can without overloading on jdmcox’s website, because there are tons of other features and utilities described.

USAPhotoMaps uses the maps and information from terraserver and tiger/streets to download a specific map location right onto your own computer to be able to take with you on disk or in your laptop, or handheld computer, while doing research in a library or on location. You will not need an Internet connection once you have the maps and photos on your own machine. Incidentally, this is all free of course. Jdmcox does ask for a donation if you feel that it is truly worthwhile. It is, believe me.

Now, that being said, it is a little hard to get used to and figure out how to use it to it’s full advantage. First you have to download the program and install it, just once. Then you have to select a location. What you will see is a screen full of squares with a little dot in the center. Huhh? What do I do now?

It will ask you for a title of this search/map/photo. I usually use the title that I just searched on. The reason for this is that after you have performed the following procedures you will have created a nice set of maps to keep on your machine by title.

Well now you have to learn some very simple keyboard routines. Use the letter “F” and the squares will ‘fill’ with an image. Zoom out and you will see the image shrink and another set of squares will surround it. Use “F” again and all of the squares will fill with more images. Eventually you will have an image that makes sense to you in the size of area that will be convenient to work with. Once you have filled the image areas they will remain and you can zoom in or out without having to fill them again.

As I recall the first set of images that are created will be the aerial view of the locality. Once you have identified that it is what you want then you can use the letter “T” and it will toggle to a ‘topographical’ map screen. Lo and behold it is again just a set of squares with a dot in it. Well you do the exact same thing that you did before. Use the letter “F’ and the map squares will all fill in. Once you have created both sets and saved them you can always toggle back and forth between the photo and the map. Use the letter “P” to toggle to ‘photo.’

On some of the counties that I do a lot of research in, I fill the images in for the whole county at all of the zoom levels, so that any time in the future that I want to recall that set of maps I can use them at any zoom level while I toggle back and forth to look at specific details.

This description just covers the rudimentary usage of this excellent program. You’re on your own to try some of the enhancements and other utilities. The whole process is quite time consuming but well worth the effort. My hat is off to jdmcox for dreaming this program up!

Dick Hillenbrand

Leave a Reply

Subscribe via RSS
Follow Me On Twitter
Donations Greatly Appreciated:
Pay on WePay
MyHeritage Top 100 Websites
Top genealogy site awards