Tips from the Pros: Using the Geographic Names Information System, from George G. Morgan

Sometimes when doing your research, it is difficult to locate specific places. There are villages, place names, crossroads, cemeteries and other features for which you know the names but which you cannot locate on a standard map.

The U.S. Geological Survey has a website for its Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) which can provide precise latitude and longitude information for you.  The site is located at mapping.usgs.gov/www/gnis/gnisform.html and allows you to enter the name of a feature, specify the type of feature it is, the state in which it is located, and even the county. Press enter and the server locates and displays matches for you.

I entered Cooper Cemetery, specified feature type “cemetery,” and county of Caswell in North Carolina, and was presented with the cemetery’s latitude and longitude. I then entered no feature name, but specified a feature type of “cemetery” in the county of Talladega in Alabama, clicked Send Query and was presented with fifty-two cemeteries. If they know the cemetery and it’s in their database, your search will locate the cemetery.

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4 thoughts on “Tips from the Pros: Using the Geographic Names Information System, from George G. Morgan

  1. That’s a very good suggestion and I decided to try it for Polk County, Arkansas. I received back quite a list, but at least two historic cemeteries were not listed – Board Camp and Hilton.

    I entered Board Camp separately, and I was given the information on it, bHilton must not be in the data base.

    Hilton is extremely old and, as I understand, on someone’s private property, and in great disrepair, with some gravestones and some unmarked graves.

    Board Camp is a large old cemetery where many of my ancestors are buried. Hilton also is the burial place for a number of the very early settlers in that area.

  2. GNIS is a great resource, and I use it all the time. But one thing to keep in mind with cemeteries is that (in my experience) GNIS does not regularly include churchyard cemeteries in the feature type “cemetery.” If you are looking for a cemetery associated with a church and it doesn’t come up in the cemetery listings, try churches as the feature type.

    By the way, GNIS not only gives latitude and longitude, it has mapping options that give several types of maps.

    Janet

  3. If you’re not certain of the name, you can plug in the state and county name and search for all features of a certain type (i.e., cemetery) within that area.

    It can also be interesting to search a family surname (specifying state and/or county) in GNIS–you may discover creeks or other features named for an early landowner.

  4. Each time I click on mapping.usgs.gov/www/gnis/gnisform.html I get the message Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage. Why does this happen? I’m really interested in looking at GNIS.

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