Maps are an important source to locate the places where your ancestors lived. They help you see the neighboring towns and geographic features of the area from which your ancestor came.
Maps locate places, parishes, churches, geographical features, transportation routes, and proximity to other towns. Historical maps are especially useful for understanding boundary changes.
Maps are published individually, or as atlases. An atlas is a bound collection of maps. Maps may also be included in gazetteers, guidebooks, local histories, and history books.
Different types of maps can 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. Street maps are extremely helpful when researching in large cities such as Napoli, which is divided into specific sections, or quartieri.
Maps must be used carefully for several reasons:
- There are often several frazioni with the same name. For example, there are 10 towns called Rochetta in present-day Italy.
- Comuni with the same name were given an additional name to distinguish them from the others. For example: San Giovanni in Fiore in Cosenza and San Giovanni La Punta in Catania.
- The spelling and even names of some towns may have changed since your ancestors lived there. Some localities have different names in different languages. For example, the town presently known as Vipeteno was named Sterzing when it was part of Austria.
- Place-names are often misspelled in Anglicized sources. Difficult names may have been shortened and important diacritic marks omitted. For example, Livorno may be found as Leghorn on some maps.
- Political boundaries are not clearly indicated on all maps.
Finding the Specific Town on the Map
To do successful research in Italy, 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 find the correct town on a map. You will be more successful if you already have some information about the town. Before using a map, search gazetteers, histories, family records, and other sources to learn all you can about:
- The tribunale your ancestor’s town was in. This information will distinguish the town from other towns of the same name.
- The province your ancestor came from.
- The name of the parish where your ancestor was baptized or married.
- The towns where related ancestors lived.
- The size of the town.
- The occupation of your ancestor or his or her relatives. (This may indicate the size of the town and the industries supported there.)
- Nearby localities, such as large cities.
- Nearby features, such as rivers and mountains.
- Industries of the area.
- Dates when the town was renamed.
- Dates the town existed.
- Other names the town was known by.
For additional information see the "Gazetteers" section of this outline.
Finding Maps and Atlases
Collections of maps and atlases are available at many historical societies and at public and university libraries.
The Family History Library has an excellent collection of Italian maps and atlases. They are listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
A helpful atlas for Italy is:
Touring Club Italiano. Atlante stradale d’Italia (Road atlas of Italy). Scale 1:200,000. Milano, Italy: TCI, 1988. (FHL book EUROPE REF 945 E7t 1988.)
A helpful collection of maps at the Family History Library is:
Carta d’Italia (Map of Italy). Scale 1:100,000. [Italy]: Istituto geografico militare, 1954–1969. 277 maps. (FHL EUROPE 945 E7m; film 1053709.)