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Finding Places: Additional Resources

Gazetteers and Other Place-Name Resources

When You Can't Find Your Place on the First Try in the Most Obvious Resources ...

... keep trying in additional resources.  Remember that:

  • spellings may vary, for a variety of reasons: because of origin from a time of lack of spelling standardizations, because of transcriptions from aural sources, because of different systems (or lack of a system!) of romanization from other alphabets;
  • there may be many villages in the same country with the same name.  Think of all the Washingtons and Springfields in the United States;
  • scanning an alphabetical list of place names in a printed gazetteer, or using a browse function in those databases that offer it, may enable you to spot a spelling that is close to what you are looking for;
  • eyeballing a detailed map, when you know the province or county or proximity to a particular feature of known location can be a workable alternative, but don't underestimate the difficulty of that process if you lack a fairly specific geographic frame of reference;
  • in regard to spelling, if you are lucky enough to find a resource with a "soundex" index, take advantage of that, as it may help you get to multiple possible spellings for a place that may match what you know about the location you are searching for.  See, for example, the soundex in the back of Where Once We Walked, which codes names by their consonants, and helps you get, for example, from Zaszkow to Zashkov. 

If you don't find what you are looking for in a gazetteer, try using an alternate type of resource, such as one suggested in the in the box below labeled "Related Types of Resources That Might be Helpful."

Related Types of Resources That Might Be Helpful

Maps and atlases with indexes

Studies in place name origins (toponymy, etymology)

Guidebooks

Travel accounts

Population censuses

Postal directories

Example of a Postal Directory

Image of upper part of the title page of a postal directory from 1754, showing the title.

Image of lower part of the title page of the 1754 postal directory, showing place (Paris) and year of publication.

Image from beginning of alphabetical listing of cities and towns in Dictionnaires des Postes, showing names of places beginning with letter A and indicating applicable province and post office for each.

Courtesy of HathiTrust. Guyot, Edme-Gilles, 1706-1786. Dictionnaire des Postes: Contenant le Nom de Toutes les Villes, Bourgs, Paroisses, Abbayes, & Principaux Châteaux du Royaume de France & du Duché de Lorraine ... les Principales Villes de l'Europe .... Paris: Chez la veuve Delatour, imprimeur de la Cour des aydes, & de la Ferme géneral des postes ..., 1754.

Page from a Guidebook

Subject Headings to Search in the Research Catalog

These are the most precise subject headings for finding reference sources with locations of place names:

Gazetteers

[place name] Gazetteers

 

These headings are more commonly used for works about place name origins, but you still might find helpful location resources under these headings:

Names, Geographical [place name] 

Toponymy [place name] 

 

This heading is more commonly used for dictionaries of geographical terms, but you might also find general gazetteers with this heading: 

Geography Dictionaries

 

NYPL has a wealth of travel resources from various times in history. Use these headings to identify some of those, which might mention places of interest in the course of their guide information or their narrative accounts of travels:

[place name] Guidebooks

[place name] Description and travel

 

These headings are for other particular types of resources that might help you confirm the existence of a place or the use of a place name, though their main purpose is not to give location:

[place name] Census

Postal service [place name] Directories

 

Use of these headings may be a stretch when you are looking for a place, but you might want to try them when doing an exhaustive search, or when all else fails:

[place name] Geography

[place name] Administrative and Political Divisions

Villages [place name] 

Cities and towns [place name] 

Portion of a Map with Index to Towns, showing Coordinates in the Form of Letter and Number Map References

Image of portion of an 1888 Rand McNally map of southern California, showing its index to towns.

New York Public Library Digital Collections, image ID 57537405

The catalog description of a map such as this will often indicate if the map includes an index of place names shown on the map.