Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Finding Places: About

Gazetteers and Other Place-Name Resources

Introduction

Finding places seems straightforward enough: from the index of an atlas to a comprehensive internet map site to the enormous powers of a computer search engine, there are lots of easily accessible resources that make the search seem like no problem. But what if the name has changed or is no longer in use? What if the form of the name varies by language or by system of romanization? What if the source of the name—a document, a publication, or an aural source—doesn't provide an accurate spelling? This guide points to resources, both online and traditional, as well as methods, that have been useful to the staff of the Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division in assisting researchers and casual users find the places they are looking for. A major type of resource for this purpose, before the internet and even now, is a gazetteer.

Definition

What is a gazetteer? In printed form, it's a geographical dictionary or index, usually with an alphabetical arrangement of place names, and an entry for each place name that describes the place's location. In online form, it's a database composed of place names and their locations. Location may be described in terms of other presumably more well-known places (usually in a narrative format), and/or in terms of x- and y-coordinates describing an intersecting point or box location. Coordinates may be the universally recognized degrees, minutes, and seconds—or degrees with decimals—of latitude and longitude, or they could be a local grid system (used, for example, by one state or country), or even the letters and numbers that are the unique indicators along the margins of a particular map.

Examples of Printed Gazetteers

Reference Librarians

Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division Reference Librarians's picture
Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division Reference Librarians
Contact:
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
476 Fifth Avenue (42nd St and Fifth Ave)
First Floor , Room 117
New York, NY 10018
(212) 930-0587
Website

In This Guide ...

This guide, while not exhaustive, provides links to:

  • some basic online place-name databases;
  • catalog descriptions for printed gazetteers available at NYPL.

There is an emphasis in the latter category on historical resources that are helpful for finding place names that might have changed or that might no longer be in use. It also provides:

  • suggestions for discovering additional resources;
  • tips for using gazetteers and coordinates with maps to find places.