What is a Gazetteer?

Posted May 19, 2011 by Amanda | 5 Comments

Using historic maps as a resource in genealogy can be very valuable, however, sometimes you may discover that the town or village you are searching for is not on the map. Did you know you can also use gazetteers to help you locate places where your ancestors may have lived? If you’re unfamiliar with gazetteers, here’s a brief look at what they are and how they are useful to genealogists.

What is a gazetteer?

New England Gazetteer

A gazetteer is a geographical dictionary or directory of place names. When used in conjunction with maps and atlases, it can be a very powerful tool. Maps are a great resource to locate where your ancestors lived, however, sometimes the name of a small town or village may be omitted. This is why gazetteers are an excellent compliment to these old maps. Because a gazetteer is a dictionary of place names, you will find the names of all cities, towns and villages listed in alphabetical order. There are a variety of different types of gazetteers, which, along with the location and name of places, can provide interesting statistics about towns, villages and cities.

How are gazetteers helpful to genealogists?

  • You can find the name of the providence, state, county, city, town or village that existed at the time the gazetteer was published. In some cases, you may also discover the former names of these places as well.
  • Gazetteers will provide you with the boundaries of civil jurisdiction and the distances between cities.
  • Longitude and latitude coordinates
  • They provide the location and information on local parishes/churches, schools and civic offices.  This gives you insight on where you can further research and locate records. Documentation such as birth/death certificate, baptism records, and marriage/divorce records may be found in these locations.
  • You may even find the location of state offices, which may hold the immigration records of your ancestors.
  • They may also provide topographical information about the area your ancestor lived.

Have you used gazetteers in your own genealogical research? Don’t forget to add the records to your ancestor’s Geni profile and share it with others!

Post written by Amanda

Amanda is the Marketing Communications Manager at Geni. If you need any assistance, she will be happy to help!

See all posts by


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1375590654 Paul Redden

    I have a large two volume gazeteer of the world from 1808 and its a wonderful resource.u00a0 I had writings from the 1800′s listing where in eastern Europe some of my ancestors came from but the names of the towns, and of the countries, had changed over time.u00a0 Using the Gazeteer I was able to get a written description of the locations and compareu00a0them to modern maps.nu00a0

  • Bjorg Dowerdock

    This make it better to find our family membersu00a0

  • Ohioborn5650

     Great source of info, combined with any Historical map’s which include State/County/Twp {USA}  you have a double winner. –I have used both and combined the recorded info and have been very satisfied with the result’s.  Ohioborn5650.

  • http://www.facebook.com/msiad1 Mohamud Mohamed Siad

    Important reference tool to be intertained in library building collection

  • SomebodySmart

    I scanned some public-domain gazetteers and posted the contents on my site at


    for free use.