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Finding Places: About

Gazetteers and Other Place-Name Resources


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.


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

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Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division Reference Librarians
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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.