Skip to Main Content

Cartographic Resources for Genealogical Research: Eastern Europe and Russia

Using Topographic Set Maps

Russia. Armii︠a︡. Glavnyĭ shtab. Kartograficheskoe zavedenīe. Sheet 8. L'vov. Spet︠s︡ialʹnai︠a︡ Karta Evropeiskoǐ Chasti SSSR s Prilegai︠u︡shchimi Gosudarstvami / Kartograficheskoe zavedenīe 1933. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Sets of large-scale topographic maps of countries in East Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and European Russia consistently have been among the most heavily consulted materials in the collections because of their value to genealogists who attempt to identify locations of communities from which their ancestors emigrated. Because many of the communities tend to be villages or settlements consisting of no more than a few households, they generally do not appear on maps produced at a national scale. Hence, researchers must use large-scale topographic maps that identify obscure place names, as well as other cultural features that add context, such as adjacent communities, roads and trails, railroads and railroad stations, post offices, cemeteries, churches, and cultivated lands, in addition to natural features, such as vegetation, rivers and streams, and relief.

By and large those kinds of geographic features are most pronounced on maps produced at a scale of 1:100,000 or greater. Below we examine five sets of maps from the collections of the Geography and Map Division useful in locating communities in East Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and European Russia. These were issued at scales of 1:126,000 (Russia), 1:100,000 (Germany, Poland, and western Russia), and 1:75,000 (Austria-Hungary). Each set bears distinctive characteristics in one or more areas, such as its depiction of topography, practice of naming features, style of lettering of place names, symbols by which it identifies cultural features, and coloring or absence thereof. Yet they all overlap somewhat in their chronology of coverage, and, given the shifting nature of European borders in the first half of the twentieth century, several extend over the same geographic areas. Nevertheless, each set is appropriate for locating a specific locale within a limited time frame.

The three sets of maps most frequently consulted by patrons searching for the locations of ancestral home towns have been those covering the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Germany, and Poland, all major sources of emigration to the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Each provides comprehensive coverage of its respective territory, with the Spezialkarte der Osterreichisch-Ungarischen Monarchie issued 1:75,000 scale from 1877 to 1914, and both the Wojskowy Instytut Geograficzny's maps of Poland issued from 1919 to 1939 and the Reichsamt für Landesaufnahme's maps of Germany issued from ca. 1880 to ca. 1930 at 1:100,000 scale. Both the Austro-Hungarian and Polish sets of maps cover those parts of Galicia under their respective control, with the Polish set covering western (Polish) Galicia and the Austro-Hungarian set covering eastern (Ukrainian) Galicia.

Researchers possessing the correct geographic coordinates of a place or feature name located within any one of those territories can easily identify the correct sheet on the printed index from among several thousand possibilities. Coverage on the sheets in each of the three series is more or less uniform, in that individual sheets cover exactly fifteen minutes of territory from north to south, and thirty minutes of territory from east to west. We will see how to do that in the following sections. A link to the index for converting coordinates to sheet numbers for maps of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Poland in PDF format is provided below and on the relevant pages. Unfortunately, no index currently exists for matching geographic coordinates to sets of maps of Russia and Western Russia, with researchers having to rely on graphic indexes to find communities. Reference staff may always be contacted for assistance.