The best map websites for family history
Trace your ancestors through time and place with our guide to the best websites for tracing your family tree online.
Whether you’re new to family history or have been tracing your tree for many years, at some point a historical map website is sure to be of use. Not only can a maps website help you to follow the movements of your ancestors over the decades, you could also discover:
- How areas have changed over the years
- How built-up the area where you ancestor lived was at a certain time
- The social and economic make-up of the area
- How war affected our ancestors
- Where particular landmarks/streets were located within a settlement
1 A Vision of Britain Through Time
A website covering Britain from 1801 through to the present day with maps, statistical trends and historical descriptions.
The site is also the home of the GB1900 gazetter, with 2.5 million place names and other information from early six-inch maps of Britain.
Within the historical maps section there are three sections: topographic (physical landscape), boundary (showing boundaries of parishes, councils etc) and land use maps (what each parcel of land has been used for).
2 Britain From Above
Britain From Above features images from the Aerofilms Collection of aerial images covering the years 1916 to 2006 and comprising more than 1.26 million negatives. The images feature coastal, urban, rural, and industrial areas and show how Britain changed during the course of the 20th century.
You can search by area, town or city name or narrow down to the level of a particular district/suburb/landmark. There are also options to download, buy or ‘pin’ maps, with the latter allowing you to add your own notes and observations about a particular map.
3 British History Online
A digital collection of resources including historical maps, focusing on the period 1300 to 1800. British History Online is a work in progress, with new additions on a regular basis. The maps section can be found via the home page and here you can explore maps including England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Most of the OS maps are arranged by sheet and you can access these either by selecting a particular region or typing a place name into the search box on the top right. One of the most fascinating and rare resources is a 1667 survey of the city of London after the fire of 1666 and this can be found here.
4 Charles Booth’s London
The poverty map on Charles Booth’s London are part of an archive of 450 volumes from the UNESCO-recognised Inquiry into the Life and Labour of the People in London (1886-1903) by Charles Booth, an industrialist and social reformer. The project documents the social and economic life of London between these dates, particularly highlighting those areas where contrast existed.
You can either search for a present-day location and then compare this to Booth’s Map of London or simply search the historical map either by zooming in on places of interest or adding a name to the search box on the top left. You can also compare places on the historical map to the present day situation. The colour legend shows how the various areas were classified, ranging from ‘lowest class, vicious semi-criminal, to ‘upper middle and upper classes, wealthy’. Seeing how these extremes are often within streets of each other is very interesting.
5 Griffith’s Valuation
Griffith’s Valuation was the first full-scale valuation of property in Ireland and was published between 1847 and 1864. It is considered one of them most valuable surviving genealogical sources of the 19th century. The maps present the six-inch series created at the time of Griffith's Valuation during the nineteenth century, including the dividing lines between valuations.
The maps include historical town plans, name books (showing place name details and variants) and the six-inch series maps. You can find guides to search by place name and family name here.
6 History Pin
Established as a place for people to share historic photos and stories, History Pin has maps at its heart and uses these as a basis for exploring the resources and tales. Start by searching for a town, street or landmark and then look at the pins for that area. These can include photos, family history information and local knowledge. You can also add your own pins to help grow the project and as a record of your own ancestors and the places they lived and worked.
7 NLS maps
NLS Maps is run by National Library of Scotland but despite the name, covers England, Scotland and Wales. The map images page is a good place to start and provides you with entry-level descriptions of the various collections, including coastal charts, OS maps, town plans and county views. You can search by place name or click your way through to a particular category and place.
8 Old Maps Online
Billed as Britain’s most comprehensive historical map archive, Old Maps Online is particular valuable for Welsh places, which are sometimes excluded from other UK-wide websites. The home page offers the facility to enter a modern-day place name and you can view up to 350 map layers a month for free; subsequent searches are subject to a subscription payment.
Once you’re typed your place of interest into the search box you’ll be given a list of available maps and can then either explore online or buy the map in question. Many of the maps are extremely detailed, going down to the level of the location of a drinking fountain, for example.
9 Proni Historical Maps
Public Record Office of Northern Ireland hosts this collection of historical maps which shows maps with county, parish and townland boundaries, as well as information on sites, buildings and landmarks.
The historical maps are from the six-inch counties series mapping and cover the six counties of present-day Northern Ireland: counties Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone.
QUICK LINK: Top three free map websites for genealogists