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 your ancestor came from.
Maps locate towns, churches, geographical features, transportation routes, and proximities from town to town. Historical maps are especially useful for understanding boundary changes.
Maps are published individually or as an atlas. An atlas is a bound collection of maps. Maps may also be included in gazetteers, guidebooks, local histories, and history texts.
Different types of maps 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 provide details of highways, rivers, and town sizes. Street maps are extremely helpful when researching in large cities such as Amsterdam.
Maps must be used carefully for several reasons:
- Often several places have the same name. For example, there are currently 25 places called De Hoek in the Netherlands.
- The spelling and even names of some towns may have changed since your ancestor lived there. For example, Nieuwer–Amstel became Amstelveen in 1964.
- Place names are often misspelled in English-language sources. Difficult names may have been shortened and important diacritic marks omitted. For example, ’s-Gravenhage may be found as The Hague on some maps.
- Political boundaries are not clearly indicated on all maps.
Finding the Specific Town on the Map
To do successful research in the Netherlands, 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. Before using a map, search gazetteers, histories, family records, and other sources to learn all you can about the following:
- The province your ancestor’s town was in
- The name of the town 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 (this may indicate the size or industries of the town) and nearby localities such as large cities
- Nearby features such as rivers and mountains
- Dates when the town was renamed
- Dates the town existed
- Other names the town was known by
Use gazetteers to identify the province your ancestor’s town was in. This will distinguish it from other towns of the same name and help you locate it on a map. See the "Gazetteers" section for more information.
Finding Maps and Atlases
Collections of maps and atlases are available at numerous historical societies and at public and university libraries.
The Family History Library has an excellent collection of atlases from the Netherlands. These are listed in the Family History Library Catalog under:
NETHERLANDS – MAPS
Helpful atlases at the Family History Library are:
- Grote Topografische Atlas van Nederland (Large Topographical Atlas of the Netherlands). 4 vol. Groningen: Wolters–Noordhoff Atlasprodukties, c1987. (FHL book Ref 949.2 E7w; computer number 425222.)
- Kuyper, J. Gemeente–atlas van Nederland: naar Officieele Bronnen Bewerkt (Atlas of Municipal Jurisdictions of the Netherlands). 11 vol. Leeuwarden: Hugo Suringar, [186–?]. (FHL book Register Table 949.2 E3k; film 1181567.) This is available on line.
You can purchase maps of the Netherlands from the following web site: