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Cartographic Resources for Genealogical Research: Eastern Europe and Russia


F. B. Engelhardt, cartographer. General Karte vom Preussischen Staate mit den Gränzen der Regierungs-Bezirke und landräthlichen Kreise. 1854. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Like Poles, emigrants from Germany first arrived in what is now the United States at the British colony of Jamestown in 1608, and over the centuries have become one of the country's more dominant, if no longer conspicuous, ethnic groups. Although place names within Germany have remained relatively stable, identifying the location of an ancestor's hometown can occasionally prove difficult, especially when an ancestor comes from a region no longer ruled by Germany.

Locating a place name in Germany, especially Prussia, is enabled by a comprehensive set of large-scale topographic maps titled Karte des Deutschen Reiches. The set comprises 674 separate map sheets. Most of these sheets were revised one or more times resulting in a total count of 4,074 map sheets covering the period from 1879 to 1944. Prepared at the scale of 1:100,000 by the German mapping organization known as the Reichsamt für Landesaufnahme, this series provides geographic coverage for pre-World War II Germany, which included parts of present-day Poland and Russia. The set is filed in the Geography and Map Division under LC call number G6080 s100 .G41.


We are equally fortunate in possessing two excellent gazetteers for locating place names in Germany. The first is Rudolph's Vollständigstes geographisch-topographisch-statistisches Orts-Lexikon von Deutschland sowie der unter Oesterreichs und Preussens Botmässigkeit stehenden nichtdeutschen länder, published in two volumes (four parts) in 1870. Per its title, it also includes place names in Prussia and Austria. Its drawback, however, is the absence of geographic coordinates.

Equally helpful is Oskar Brunckow's Die Wohnplätze des Deutschen Reiches, published in two volumes in 1909-10. Volume one covers Prussia, whereas volume two covers the German Empire outside of Prussia. The gazetteer can be used in conjunction with Brunckow's Neuer grosser Hand-Atlas, which is available in its entirety on the Library of Congress website. Again, the drawback to the gazetteer is its absence of geographic coordinates.

In spite of that disadvantage, we are able to employ possibly the most convenient gazetteer in our arsenal when searching for place names in Germany, and that is is the JewishGen Gazetteer External, which covers modern Germany and parts of countries once ruled by Germany, i.e., Poland, Lithuania, and Russia (Kaliningrad). Almost as convenient to use is the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's GEOnet Names Server External, which is the official repository of standard spellings of all foreign geographic names. Keep in mind that in order to achieve a successful search on the GEOnet Names Server, one must know the country in which the community is now located.

Practice Example

Step 1: Find Coordinates for the Selected Site

In searching for the name of a place formerly in Germany, we will use as our example the Polish Pomeranian city of Stargard Szczeciński. Settled in the eighth century, Stargard soon came under the authority of the Piast dynasty, Poland's first rulers. With its port at the mouth of the Ina River where it flows into the Oder, Stargard became a major trading center in the Duchy of Pomerania, joining the Hanseatic League in 1363. It was eventually incorporated into the Kingdom of Prussia and served as the capital of Farther Pomerania (Hinterpommern). With the unification of Germany in 1871, it remained in Prussian hands as part of the German Empire. Following the Second World War it was incorporated into Poland, and was named Stargard Szczeciński.

A search of the user-friendly JewishGen Gazetteer External reports that Stargard Szczeciński lies at geographic coordinates 53° 20′ N, 15° 3′ E.

Step 2: Consult the Graphic Index

To locate a map of Stargard as it appeared in 1894, let us consult the 1:100,000 scale set of German maps prepared by the Reichsamt für Landesaufnahme from about 1879 to 1944. This series of maps covers pre-World War II Germany, which included parts of modern-day Poland, especially Prussia and Silesia. The graphic index to the set is illustrated below. Each rectangle on the graphic index covers a sheet within the series.

Germany. Reichsamt für Landesaufnahme, cartographer. Karte des deutschen Reiches 1:100 000 : Übersichtsblatt Nr. 2. [1938]. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

We already know that Stargard Szczeciński lies at geographic coordinates 53° 20′ N, 15° 3′ E. Moving east along the top of the index, we approximate the location of longitude15° 3′ E. Then we move down the column to the row that approximates latitude 53° 20′ N.

Enlargement of Karte des deutschen Reiches 1:100 000 : Übersichtsblatt Nr. 2.

Our destination on the graphic index is sheet 188 Stargard, which appears in the enlargement above.

If patrons encounter difficulty in using the graphic index, then they may wish to consult the coordinate to sheet number index for sets of topographic maps of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Poland (PDF, 812 KB). Keep in mind that the sheet number index employs longitude according to the Greenwich Prime Meridian. Thus, to locate the sheet depicting Stargard Szczeciński, which lies at geographic coordinates 53° 20′ north and 15° 3′ east of Greenwich, we search for the sheet covering the territory encompassed within latitude range of 53.15 - 53.30 and longitude range of 14.50 - 15.20, which gives us sheet 188 within the German series of maps.

Step 4: Examine the Map

From the set of 1:100,000 scale maps of Germany we request the earliest edition of sheet 188, which is dated 1894. We see that Stargard, as illustrated in the sheet below, lies just southwest of center. Keeping in mind that Prussian cartographers used Ferro as their prime meridian in lieu of Greenwich, we must now add 17° 40′ to our original longitude of 15° 03′, which give us longitude 32° 43′ east of Ferro. Or, we can consult the table for converting geographic coordinates from Greenwich Prime Meridian to various other meridians (PDF, 8.1 MB).

Germany. Reichsamt für Landesaufnahme, cartographer. Sheet 188. 1894. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

The enlargement of Stargard and its immediate environs below confirms our research. In the image we see the densely populated old city and various local features, such as the railway lines and train stations, the cemetery, and churches, as well as windmills, roads, lakes and streams, cultivated fields, vegetation, and relief. Although three-quarters of Stargard was destroyed by bombing during World War II, the city, including its brick gothic churches, was rebuilt, and in 1950 it was renamed Stargard Szczeciński. In 2016 the city's name reverted to the original Stargard.

Germany. Reichsamt für Landesaufnahme, cartographer. Enlargement of sheet 188. 1894. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.