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Maps are an important source to locate the places where your ancestor lived. They help you see the neighboring towns and geographic features of the area he or she came from.
You can use maps to locate places, geographical features, transportation routes, and proximities to other towns. Historical maps are especially useful for understanding boundary changes.
Maps are published individually or as an atlas, which is a bound collection of maps. Maps may also be included in gazetteers, guidebooks, local histories, and history texts.
There are different types of maps that will help you in different ways. Historical atlases describe the growth and development of countries. They show boundaries, migration routes, settlement patterns, military campaigns, and other historical information. Road atlases are useful because of the detail they provide.
Maps must be used carefully for several reasons:
- There are often several places with the same name. For example, there are at least five towns called São José in present-day Brazil.
- The spelling and names of some towns may have changed since your ancestor lived there. For example, the city presently known as Ribeirão Preto was previously called Entre Rios e São Sebastião do Ribeirão Preto. Some localities also have different names in different languages.
- Place names are often misspelled in documents or foreign sources. Difficult names may have been shortened and important diacritic marks omitted. For example, Tietê may be found as Tiete on some maps.
- Political boundaries are not always clearly indicated on maps.
Finding the Specific Town on the Map
To do successful research in Brazil you must identify the town where your ancestor lived. Because many towns have the same name, you may need some additional information before you can locate the correct town on a map. You will be more successful if you have some information about the town. You can search gazetteers, histories, family records, and other sources to learn all you can about the following:
- The município (municipality) your ancestor’s town belonged to
- The state the ancestor came from
- The name of the parish where your ancestor was baptized or married
- Towns where related ancestors lived
- The size of the town
- The occupation of your ancestor or his or her relatives (sometimes an indication of the size of the town or industries of the town)
- Nearby features such as rivers and mountains
- Industries of the area
- Date when the town was founded
- Other names the town was known by
Use gazetteers to identify the municipality and state your ancestor’s town was in. This will distinguish it from other towns of the same name and help you correctly locate it on a map. See Brazil Gazetteers for more information.
Finding Maps and Atlases
Collections of maps and atlases are available at numerous historical societies and at public and university libraries. Major collections for Brazil are at the National Library, in Rio de Janeiro.
The Family History Library has a good collection of Brazilian maps and atlases. These are listed in the Family History Library Catalog under:
BRAZIL - MAPS
Below is an excellent set of maps that comes with an index of towns. It lists the longitude and latitude of each town and two coordinates where it can be found on the map. It can be used as a gazetteer:
Carta do Brasil ao milionésimo (Map of Brazil on the millionth scale). Rio de Janeiro: Serviço Gráfico da Fundação IBGE, 1972. (FHL book/map 981 E3in)
Some other helpful maps at the Family History Library are found in:
Carta do Brasil (Map of Brazil). Scale 1:500,000. 68 maps. Rio de Janeiro: Conselho Nacional de Geografia, 1945–1967. (FHL map 981E7b) The library lacks numbers 10, 11, 19, 47, and 50.
Helpful atlases for Brazil are:
Ira, Rudolf. Atlas do Brasil Globo: com os mapas políticos e físicos do Brasil e os mapas dos seus Estados e Território (The Global Atlas of Brazil: with political and fiscal maps of Brazil and maps of their states and territories). 30 maps. Porto Alegre: Editora Globo, 1960. (FHL book 981 E7i)
Mello, Francisco Ignácio Marcondes Homem de. Atlas do Brazil (Atlas of Brazil). 29 maps. Rio de Janeiro: F. Briguiet, 1909. (FHL book 981 E7m; film 0924466 item 3)
For other helps on finding place names, see Brazil Gazetteers.