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Finding Places: Online Resources

Gazetteers and Other Place-Name Resources

World Gazetteers Online

The GEOnet Names Server provides access to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's and the U.S. Board on Geographic Names' database of foreign geographic feature names. The database is the official repository of official standard foreign place-names approved by the United States Board on Geographic Names and maintained by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Geographic Area of Coverage: Worldwide excluding the United States and Antarctica. The database includes cross references from variant names and spellings, geographic coordinates (latitude and longitude), type of feature, and administrative division information.

The GeoNames geographical database contains over 25 million geographical names and consists of over 11 million unique features and 13 million alternate names.  In addition to latitude and longitude, alternate names, and administrative hierarchy, information about places listed may include such data as elevation and population.  Users may manually edit, correct and add new names with a wiki interface.

TGN is intended as an aid to cataloging, research, and discovery of art historical, archaealogical, and other scholarly information. As such, it provides preferred and variant names, including the vernacular and English names of a place, variant names in other languages, and historical names, along with geographic coordinates, hierarchies, time periods of usage, and sources of information.

Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names Online -- Homepage with Search Boxes

Static image of the search page with search boxes for the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names Online

Some Online Gazetteers for Countries

United States - Geographic Names Information System (GNIS)  Free Web resource - available anywhere

See example of a search of this database and the results in tabbed boxes below.  The database covers places in the United States and is maintained by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), a U.S. government agency.  Cross references from variant names, geographic coordinates, feature type, and administrative divisions are given.

Canada - Canadian Geographical Names Database  Free Web resource - available anywhere

A useful added feature is the ability to retrieve a list of place names within a 1 to 20 km radius of the place name searched.

Mexico - Register of Continental and Insular Geographical Names for Statistical and Geographical Purposes  Free Web resource - available anywhere

INEGI, Instituto Nacional de Estadística Geografíca e Informática, the topographical mapping agency of Mexico, maintains this database that gives the hierarchical administrative units, degrees/minutes/seconds of latitude and longitude coordinates, and the map number for the national 1:50,000-scale map on which each place name appears.

Great Britain - Gazetteer of British Place Names  Free Web resource - available anywhere

A site of the Association of British Counties, this gazetteer not only shows map location and provides national grid and lat/long coordinates to locate places, but also gives the nuanced historical hierarchical information of "historic county," "registration county," and "administrative county" for settlements such as villages, hamlets, towns, and localities.

Ireland - Placenames Database of Ireland  Free Web resource - available anywhere

Place names can be searched and are given in the Irish language and in English. Location is shown on a zoomable map. This database also allows one to create lists of sub-units of places of interest, for example, names of baronies within County Cork, names of streets within the city of Limerick.

Italy - Comuni-Italiani.it  Free Web resource - available anywhere

This site presents place names hierarchically, so that one can access lists of province within each regione and lists of comuni within each provincia. A webpage for each comune gives information about that place. 

Examples of Regional and Specially-Themed Gazetteers and Gazetteer-Like Tools Online

Pleiades   Free Web resource - available anywhere

Pleiades is a community-built gazetteer of places in the ancient world.  At present, Pleiades has coverage for the Greek and Roman world, and is expanding into Ancient Near Eastern, Byzantine, Celtic, and Early Medieval geography. In addition to decimal-degree latitude and longitude coordinates, place name entries may include a brief historical description, alternate names, a location map, references, and links to photos. 

JewishGen Communities Database  Free Web resource - available anywhere

This database provides information about 6,000 Jewish communities in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, including historical and jurisdictional information and Yiddish town name synonyms.

Gesher Galicia  Free Web resource - available anywhere

This is the site to search, in particular, for towns in the region of Galicia, Austria-Hungary, in 1900.

Wabanaki Place Names  Free Web resource - available anywhere 

This searchable web map of about 150 place names of Native American origin in western Maine was compiled by a college class of history students to give the meanings of these names and ultimately to help provide clues to how the indigenous people inhabited these places.  Along with zoomable map locations and meanings of names are citations to source information. 

Gesher Galicia Town Locator -- Alphabetical Menu Search

Static image of webpage of the Galician Town Locator of the Gesher Galicia website shows a chart with alphabetical list of town names, along with towns' administrative and judicial districts and nearest religious centers.

Sample Database Search: GNIS, the Geographic Names Information System for the U.S.

The adjoining tabs show an example of the different stages of a database search.  (These are static images without live links.)

Example of a query in the GNIS database, with a search for a place called Putnam in Maine.

Screen shot showing the initial results to the query, with the feature name Washington, designated a "populated place," with its latitude and longitude provided.

[Annotated with red underlining]

Partial screen shot of a "feature detail report" for the query results, showing, among other things, that Putnam, Maine, changed its name to Washington in 1823.