The Best Way to Find Free Old Maps at DavidRumsey.com

Our ability to find our ancestors is rooted in two important pieces of information: the locations where they lived and the time frames in which they lived there. This means that old maps are essential to our genealogy research.  

The good news is that there is an abundance of free digitized old maps available online. One of the best resources is the David Rumsey Map Collection website. There you will find over 100,000 free digitized historic maps. These maps span the globe and centuries.  They are perfect for bringing geographic perspective to your family tree.

Best way to find old maps for genealogy

Elevenses with Lisa Show Notes

In this episode 36 of my free webinar video series Elevenses with Lisa I’ll show you how to navigate this ever-expanding free website. Watch the video and then follow along with the show notes in this article. Here you’ll find answers to questions such as:

  • What’s the best way to find maps at David Rumsey’s map website?
  • What is the difference between the search tools (Luna Viewer and MapRank Search)?
  • What are the advanced search techniques for finding the old maps?
  • How can I download maps at DavidRumsey.com?
  • Is it OK to use the maps from DavidRumsey.com in my family history projects?

Rumsey Historical Maps in Google Earth

As we discussed in Ways to Use Google Earth for Genealogy (Elevenses with Lisa episode 12) there are approximately 120 Rumsey old maps available for free in Google Earth. You can find them in the Layers Panel under Gallery.  Each map is already georeferenced as an overlay for you.

ways to use google earth for genealogy with Lisa Louise Cooke

Click image to watch the video and read the article on ways to use Google Earth for genealogy

You can also create your own overlays in Google Earth using Rumsey Maps or digitized maps from other sources. I cover this step-by-step in chapter 16 of my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.

Best Strategies for Finding Free Old Maps

Once you’ve exhausted the few hundred old maps in Google Earth, head to the David Rumsey Map Collection website. Rumsey’s collection includes over 150,000 map, over 100,000 of which have been digitized and are available for free on his website. 

Copyright and Use Permission

You will probably be anxious to use these wonderful old maps in a variety of ways. The Rumsey website provides clear direction on copyright and use permission. Go to: DavidRumsey.com > Home Page > About > Copyright and Permissions.

The good news is that generally speaking, you are free to download and use the digitized maps for your own personal use.

The Best Way to View the Maps

There are several ways to view maps:

  • The Luna Viewer: Browse and search 100,000+ maps
  • The GeoReferencer: Help georeferenced maps, compare maps overlays
  • MapRank Search: Browse & search 6000 maps by time & place
  • Google Earth: 120 maps in the Layers panel, 140 can be added
  • Google Maps: 120 maps included
  • Second Life: View some in 3 dimensions and at a huge scale. Location: Rumsey Map Islands. Includes a welcome center with hundreds of maps, and a 600 meter tall map cylinder showing hundreds of maps.
  • The Collections Ticker: Pop-out distraction!
  • Insight Java Client: Downloadable workspace

Of this list, the best two tools to user are:

  1. The Luna Viewer: Browse and search 100,000+ maps
  2. MapRank Search: Browse & search 6000 maps by time & place

I will show you how to use each. Note that in these examples we will be using a computer to search the site rather than a mobile device or tablet.

The Luna Viewer: How to browse & search the maps

In the main menu under View Collection select the Luna Viewer. Under Luna Viewer click the Launch Luna Viewer button.

Luna Viewer at David Rumsey Map Collection

The Luna Viewer at David Rumsey Map Collection

Tips for keyword searching:

  • In most cases it helps to start with a fairly broad search to see the full range of available maps
  • Be cautious with abbreviations. “MN” does not return “Minn” or “Minnestota”.
  • Advance search provides you with the use of full Boolean operators like “and,” “or,” “greater than,” “contains,” and others.
  • After a search, to return to the full collection, click on “show all” under the search button.

Let’s look at an example of using the keyword search in tandem with the Refine column. If you search for New York City, you will be searching all of the data associated with the maps. Since many maps may have been published in New York City, you will likely see many maps for other areas. You can improve this search by going to the Refine column and under Where clicking on New York City.

The Refine column will show you the first five options in each category (What, Where, Who, When). Click More to reveal all of the additional refining options in that category.

Refine map search David Rumsey

Click More to see all refining options in the Luna Viewer

From the returned results, click a map to view it.

You can select multiple items in the Refine column to filter more narrowly. Remove a filter by clicking it under Remove at the top of the Refine column.

Like genealogical records, old maps may include several pages. Look above the blue BUY PRINT button to see the number of Related maps. In my example of a map of the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City, there were two map pages available. Click Related to display all of the available pages.

David Rumsey map related results

Click the Related link to view all related map pages.

DavidRumsey.com Advanced Search

The Advanced Search feature can be found in two locations:

  • Inside the search box – click your mouse in the box and select Advanced Search from the drop-down list
  • At the bottom of the Refine column on the left side of the screen.

Advanced Search gives you more control over how you search. Let’s look at an example by searching for Sanborn fire insurance maps. 

Searching for Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

The David Rumsey Map Collection website includes many Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. These maps were created for insurance purposes and provide an incredible amount of detail about individual buildings and dwellings in a given neighborhood.

I recommend using the Advanced Search feature to search for these maps. This is because over the years the name of the company as publisher changed.

How to Find Sanborn Maps:

  1. Click on Advanced Search at the bottom of the Refine column
  2. In the “find all of these words” section, click Fields and select Publisher
  3. Type in Sanborn
  4. On the results page, go to the Refine column and Who click More
  5. There are at least six variations of the Sanborn publishing name.

Old Map books and atlases often include valuable historical text often called historical sketches. You can find these using the Advanced search. Search for the exact phrase Historical Sketch. Run this search and then in the Refine column under Where select an area of interest.

How to Download Maps from DavidRumsey.com

  1. Click the map from the results list
  2. On the map’s dedicated page click the EXPORT button at the top of the page.
  3. Select the appropriate size from the drop-down list. (Larger maps may take a few moments to download)
  4. Typically the maps will download to the Downloads folder on your computer

Tips for Selecting Download (Export) Map Size:
Save space on your computer and future headaches by selecting the correct size map for your use. If you plan on using the map to create an overlay or create a nice large print, select the largest size possible ( I recommend at least Extra Large for creating map overlays in the Google Earth.) This will ensure that the map doesn’t appear fuzzy when you Zoom in. High-resolution is also recommended when printing. For example, if you plan on including the map in a book about your family’s history (for personal use, not for resale) a high-resolution map will print crisp and clear. Maps for use on the web or something like a PowerPoint presentation would be fine at lower resolutions.

MapRank Search at DavidRumsey.com

The MapRank Search “app” at the David Rumsey Map Collection website allows you to browse & search 6000 maps by two important criteria: Time & Place.

There are two ways to find the MapRank Search:

  1. In the main menu under View Collection click MapRank Search. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click the Launch MapRank Search
  2. Scroll to the bottom of the home page until you see Featured App – MapRank Search, and click the Launch MapRank Search

How to Find Maps Using MapRank Search:

  1. Start with entering the location name in the search box (in the upper right corner) and click the Find a Place
  2. The location will appear on the modern-day map. The old maps that match the location will appear in the column on the right, prioritized starting with the map that most closely matches what you searched.
  3. Below the modern-day map, move the time slider levers to narrow in on the desired time frame.
  4. Note that the old maps in the results column will change based on the specified time frame.
  5. Broaden the location if desired by zooming out a bit on the modern-day map. Note that the results list will change as you zoom.
  6. Hover your mouse over a map in the results list and notice that a reddish-brown box will appear the selected map and will also appear on the modern-day map. This indicates the area of the map that the old map covers. This will aid you in selecting the map that will suit your needs.
  7. Click a map from the results list and it will open in a new browser tab, although some maps will appear as an overlay on the modern-day map. In that case, click the Luna Viewer button to go to the page where the map can be downloaded.

How to Compare Modern-day Maps with Old Maps

Whether you have found the map by searching with the Luna Viewer or the MapRank Search you will eventually find yourself on the page where the single map is displayed. On the left is the source information.

In the upper right corner of the screen click the View in GeoReferencer button. You will be taken to a page where you can view the old map overlayed on the modern-day map. In the upper right corner move the slider to make the old map transparent so that you can compare between the two maps.

Recap: Comparing the Two Best Search Tools at DavidRumsey.com

Luna Viewer:
– 100,000 maps
– Search, then refine
– Sometimes glitchy interface

MapRank Search:
– 6000+ maps
– More control with time slider & map
– Map results list ranked by closest coverage

Live Chat Q&A: Answers to Your Questions About David Rumsey Maps

One of the advantages of tuning into the live broadcast of each Elevenses with Lisa show is participating in the Live Chat and asking your questions.

From Megan: What is the difference between Google Earth and My Maps?
From Lisa: Google Earth is a free software download. This is where I create what I call family history tours. They are a collection of data points and media that come together as a research tool and storytelling tool. My Maps are created in Google Maps. I prefer creating in Google Earth because it offers more tools and options, and it’s where I keep all my mapping work. 

From Gwynn: Heard in the past Java Client might have security holes has this been fixed?
From Lisa: Read more about the latest on Java Client at the website’s FAQ page

From GeneBuds: Must set up account to use Luna Viewer?
From Lisa: No, you don’t have to have an account to use the Luna Viewer. “Registering for an account allows you to save your work and preferences, search external media, create Media Groups and Presentations, customize your settings, create annotations, and upload your own content.” As I mentioned in the video, I prefer to do all my work in Google Earth. 

From Gwynn: Sanborn Fire Maps: Where do I find the Key to the symbols? Are they the same from year to year or do they change?
From Lisa: Here’s the main resource page for Sanborn maps at the Library of Congress. You will find specific information about interpreting the maps including Keys and Colors here.

From Karen: ​If you are specifically looking for plat maps for our US farmers would you put the word plat in the search field?
From Lisa: I would use the Advanced Search and enter the word plat in the “Find all these words” box. Click the plus sign to add an additional “Find all these words” field and type in the name of the location. If that doesn’t deliver the desired result, omit the location and just search on the word plant. Then, on the results page, go to the Refine column and under Where click More. Then you have a nice list to browse. You might spot a map that includes your location. TIP: When you find a result, be sure to check the Related number at the top of the page so that you didn’t miss any additional pages of the map. 

From Mark: Lisa and Bill, is the intro music something that you all wrote?
From Lisa and Bill: No, it’s by a talented musician named Dan Lebowitz. Our goal this year was to learn to play it ourselves 🙂 We’re glad you love it as much as we do!

Resources

Get My Free Genealogy Gems Weekly Email Newsletter 
The newsletter is your guide to upcoming shows, articles, videos, podcasts and new Premium content.

Bonus Download exclusively for Premium Members: Download the show notes handout. 
Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member today. 

Please leave your comment or question below

Let us know if you found this video and article helpful. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. We’re here to help!

 

Genealogy & Family Tree Video Classes

Choose from our vast catalog of free and Premium genealogy video classes and tutorials. Start by selecting a topic below. Tip: On desktop use Ctrl F (Win) or Cmd F (Mac) to search the entire list of videos by keyword. Note: The search box and Categories menu on the right (desktop) or the bottom of the page (mobile) apply to audio podcast episodes and articles.

Beginner

DNA

Elevenses

Ethnicities

Google

Maps & Geography

Methodology 

Organization & Preservation

Photos & Videos 

Records

Story & Sharing 

Technology Tools

Websites

Videos marked “Premium” require a Premium Membership. Premium Members also have access to the downloadable ad-free show notes handout for all videos. 

Beginner

Home Research – Family History at Home
15 Freebies for Genealogy
Free Genealogy
Inherited Genealogy – How to Deal with It
Data Flow for Genealogy
Getting Started with DNA Testing (Premium)
Google.com Getting Better Search Results (Premium)
Evernote for Genealogy  – Beginner
FamilySearch Strategy Essentials
FamilySearch Wiki Navigation
Take Control of Preserving Your Family History Information (Premium)
RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

DNA

5 Tips for Understanding DNA Results with Diahan Southard (Premium)
Autosomal DNA Results: Make the Most of Them with Diahan Southard (Premium)
DNA: Glue that Holds Families Together with Diahan Southard (Premium)
DNA Match with No Tree? No Problem! (Premium)
DNA Problem Solving
DNA Q&A with Ancestry’s Crista Cowan
DNA Painter Quick review with Blaine Bettinger
Forensic Genealogist – How to Become One with Dr. Claire Glen
Forensic Genealogy Future and Phenotyping (Premium)
Gedmatch Shared Matches Tool with Diahan Southard (Premium)
Getting Started with DNA Testing with Diahan Southard (Premium)
Organizing Your DNA Matches with Diahan Southard (Premium)
Mitochondrial DNA Quick Introduction with Diahan Southard (Premium)
Mitochondrial DNA Match Page Quick Overview with Diahan Southard (Premium)
MyHeritage DNA Genetic Groups
MyHeritage DNA Results: Get the Most Out of Them (Premium)
YDNA Quick Introduction with Diahan Southard (Premium)
YDNA Haplogroups Quick Overview with Diahan Southard (Premium)

Become a Premium Member
RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

Elevenses with Lisa (2020: The 1st Year)

Note: Elevenses videos beyond the 1st year are included under the various topics on this page.

  1. Pilot (Premium)
  2. Research Plan (Premium)
  3. BSO Strategies (Premium)
  4. Mobile Organization (Premium)
  5. Online Organization
  6. Organization Paper (Premium)
  7. Organizing Data Q-A (Premium)
  8. Organize Digital (Premium)
  9. Evernote (Premium)
  10. Saving Your Genealogy from Destruction (Premium)
  11. Inspiring Ways to Captivate Non-Genealogists (Premium)
  12. Google Earth (Premium)
  13. Google Search – Get Better Results (Premium)
  14. Creating Family History Videos (Premium)
  15. Learning from History (Premium)
  16. Using Adobe Spark Video (Premium)
  17. Ancestry Top Tips (Premium)
  18. Irish Genealogy Professional Consultation (Premium)
  19. Filling Blanks in Your Research (Premium)
  20. House History
  21. Free Genealogy
  22. Your Ancestor’s Neighborhood (Premium)
  23. Google Photos
  24. Your Online Mindset (Premium)
  25. Elevenses with Lisa Viewers Voices (Premium)
  26. Newspaper Navigator and the Library of Congress
  27. Google Lens for Genealogy
  28. House Photo ID
  29. Family Bible
  30. Google Books
  31. Allen County Genealogy Center
  32. Artificial Intelligence
  33. Early American Genealogy (New England)
  34. Passenger lists
  35. Viewer Voices 2 (Premium)
  36. Rumsey Maps
  37. Provenance of Records
  38. A Cup of Christmas Tea with Tom Hegg (Dec 2020)

RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

Ethnicities

German Genealogy for Beginners
German Villages – How to find them
Irish Genealogy Expert Solutions Beginner Part 1 (Premium)
Irish Genealogy Filling in the Blanks Intermediate Part 2 (Premium)
Italian Genealogy
Italian Dual Citizenship
Jewish Genealogy
Native American Genealogy
Public Records Office of Ireland

Become a Premium Member
RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

Google

The Genealogist’s Google Search Methodology (Premium)
Google: Common Surname Search Strategies (Premium)
Google – Getting Better Search Results (Premium)
Google – 5 Genealogy Search Hacks (Premium)
Google – 5 Search Secrets for Genealogy (Premium)
Google – More Search Strategies (Premium)
Google – How to Reconstruct Your Ancestor’s World (Rootstech 2023)
Google Books – Getting Started (Premium)
Google Books – 10 Surprising Finds
Google Books – New Features
Google Drive (Premium)
Google Images Best Search Strategies
Google Lens for Genealogy
Google Photos Introductory Tour
Google Scholar for Genealogy
(Premium) 

Get Lisa’s book: The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox
RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

Maps & Geography

5 Ways to Use Old Maps in Your Research (Premium)
Best Websites for Finding Old Maps (Premium)
Create a Historic Map Collection for Your Research (Premium)
Davidrumsey.com Free Maps and How to Find Them
Exporting MyMaps to Import into Google Earth 
Google Earth for Genealogy
(Beginner) 
Google Earth – How to Plot Land
Google Earth: Time Travel (Premium)
Google Earth – Ways to Use it for Genealogy (Premium)
House History Research (Premium)
House Photo Identification
Illuminating Locations (Premium)
Neighborhoods in Google Earth (Premium)
Paths – Create Emigration Paths in Google Earth (Premium)
Rural Address – How to Find & Map Them
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps – Beginner (Premium)
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, Applying them to Research – Intermediate (Premium)
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Collection at LOC
Towns of Origin – 16 Ways to Find Them

Become a Premium Member
RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

Methodology

A Month by Month Plan for Genealogy (Premium)
Big Picture in Little Details
(Premium)
Birthdates Conflict and How to Solve It
Cold Case Strategies (Premium)
Finding Hard-to-Find Records
Free Genealogy
Home Research – Family History at Home
How Alice the Genealogist Avoids Rabbit Holes (Premium)
Living Relatives – How to Find Them (Premium)
Maiden Names 12 Strategies for Finding Them
Newspapers – How to Get the Scoop on Your Ancestors (Premium)
Productivity and BSOs (Premium)
Rate Your Readiness for Genealogy Success
Research Plans (Premium)
Restart Your Genealogy
Source Citations
Story Behind Genealogy Records
Timelines – Beginner (Premium)
Towns of Origin – 16 Ways to Find Them
Transcription and Analysis (Premium)
Witness Research

Become a Premium Member
RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

Organization & Preservation

Archival Storage Options
Clean Up Your Genealogy Database
(Premium)
DAR – How to Join
Data Organization (Premium)
Digital Organization (Premium)
Digital Preservation Library of Congress Style
Documenting Family History with Shotbox
Evernote Organization (Premium)
Evernote: Organize Your Research (Premium)
Hard Drive Organization Part (Premium)
Heirlooms – Passing Them and Their Stories On (Premium)
How Alice the Genealogist Avoids the Rabbit Hole Parts 1 & 2
How Alice the Genealogist Avoids the Rabbit Hole Parts 3 & 4
Inherited Genealogy – How to Deal with It
Inspiring Relatives’ Interest to Protect the Family History (Premium)
Mobile Computing Organization (Premium)
Online Productivity (Premium)
Organize All this Stuff! (Premium)
Organize Your Online Life
(Premium)
Paper Organization (Premium)
Save Your Research from Destruction (Premium)
Take Control of Preserving Your Family Tree Information (Premium)
5 Family History Holiday Ideas

RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

Photos & Videos

5 Ways to Improve Old Home Movies
Creating Family History Story Videos (Premium)
Dead Fred – The Secret to Finding Old Family Photos
(Photo) Digital Preservation Library of Congress Style
Edit Your Home Movies
Frith Photo Collection at FindMyPast
Google Images (Photos) Best Search Strategies
Google Photos Introductory Tour
House Photo Identification
How to Make a Video with an Adobe App (Premium)
Solving Unidentified Photo Album Cases (Premium)
Video Magic (Creating Family History Videos) Part 1 (Premium)
Video Magic (Creating Family History Videos) Part 2 (Premium)
Video Magic (Creating Family History Videos) Part 3 (Premium)
Videos – 10 Ways to Add Volume to Family History with Videos (Premium)

Become a Premium Member
RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

Records

1931 Canada Census – 4 Fast Search Strategies
1950 Census Overview
1950 Census Questions
1950 Census Enumeration District Maps
1950 Census Indexing at FamilySearch
1950 Census Search Strategies (Premium)
1890 Census & Substitute Records
15 Freebies for Genealogy
Cemetery Research & Finding the Stories
Church Record (Premium)
Comparing the Newspaper Giants (with Sunny Morton) (New)
Compiled Family Histories at Ancestry 
Compiled Family Histories & Genealogies
– Best Places to Find Them (Premium
Early American Ancestor Records with NEHGS
Ellis Island Records (Passenger, Customs & Detention LIsts)
Family Bibles (Premium)
Freedmen’s Bureau (Premium)
Institutional Records (Premium)
Marriage Records – 5 Steps for Finding Them
Marriage Records Case Study with J. Mark Lowe
Marriage Records and Gretna Green with J. Mark Lowe
Newspapers – Getting the Scoop on Your Ancestors
Newspapers – 5 Top Research Tips
Newspapers at Google Books 
Newspapers – Finding Family Recipes
Newspapers – Reconstructing Your Ancestor’s Life
Newspaper Navigator at the Library of Congress
Newspapers.com – Digging Deeper (Premium)
Obituaries at Newspapers.com
Ohio Records at Ohio Memory (Premium)
Passenger Lists (Ellis Island Records)
Passenger Lists Deciphering
PERSI Like a Pro! with Allison Singleton (Premium)
School Records
Virginia Early Records

RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

Story & Sharing

Airplane! Director David Zucker on Family History
Behind the Scenes with Director David Zucker (Premium)
Christmas Cup of Tea with Author Tom Hegg
Creating Family History Story Videos (Premium)
Crime Stories with Author Nathan Dylan Goodwin
Elevenses with Lisa Pilot Episode (Premium)
Emigration Paths Tours in Google Earth) (Premium)
Genealogy Gems Viewer Voices 1 (Premium)
Genealogy Gems Viewer Voices 2 (Premium)
Inspiring Non-Genealogists in Your Life (Premium)
Instagram & Pinterest for Genealogy (Premium)
Interview Questions (Premium)
Learning from History with Daniel Horowitz (Premium)
Family History Narrative Research 
Reconstructing Your Family’s Amazing Stories (Premium)
Self Publish a Book! 
Share Your Life Story in a More Meaningful Way (Premium)
World War II Fallen Stories
Writing and Publishing a Family History Book

Become a Premium Member
RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

Technology Tools

10 Tech Tools You Can’t Live Without (Premium)
Artificial Intelligence
AI Chatbots and Genealogy – should you use them?
AI Time Machine at MyHeritage
Apps – How to Find Essential Apps for Genealogy (Premium)
Cloud Backup (Premium)
Data Flow for Genealogy
Dropbox (Premium)
Evernote for Genealogy  – Beginner
Evernote: 10 Projects to Enhance Your Genealogy (Premium)
Evernote and Collaborative Genealogy (Premium)
Evernote: Creating a Research Plan in Evernote (Premium)
Evernote Organization (Premium)
Evernote: Organize Your Research (Premium)
Evernote: Making It Effortless to Use for Genealogy (Premium)
Evernote versus Snagit
Future of Technology & Genealogy (Premium)
GEDCOMs
Google Drive (Premium)
iPad – Genealogy on the Go (Premium)
Newspaper Navigator at the Library of Congress
Online Mindset – Take Control of Your Online Activity (Premium)
RootsMagic with Founder Bruce Buzbee
Snagit (Beginner)
Snagit (Intermediate)
Tech Can Wreak Havoc on Genealogy (Premium)
Time Travel Technology (Premium)
VPNs – Why I Use One
YouTube – Find Your Family History

RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE

Websites

Which Genealogy Website Should I Use? (Premium)
Ancestry – Compiled Family Histories 
Ancestry Top Search Tips (Premium)
Ancestry – What’s this Records Hint? Geneanet
ArchiveGrid (Premium) 
Ellis Island Passenger Search
FamilySearch Strategy Essentials
FamilySearch Wiki Navigation(Beginner)
FamilySearch Wiki Deep Dive (Premium)
Genealogy Center at Allen Co Public Library Website
Genealogy Giants – Comparing Ancestry, MyHeritage, FamilySearch, Findmypast (Premium)
Google Scholar for Genealogy (Premium) 
History Hub (NARA) 
Internet Archive – 10 Records You’ll Love to Find
MyHeritage – 10 Don’t Miss Features
Newspaper Navigator at the Library of Congress
Newspapers.com – Digging Deeper (Premium)
One-Step WebPages with Steve Morse
PERSI Like a Pro! with Allison Singleton (Premium)
State Library of Pennsylvania
U.S. National Archives – In Person Access
U.S. National Archives Website
WikiTree (Beginner)
WorldCat – 5 Things You Should Do

Pin It on Pinterest

MENU