Historical maps of Europe are an often underutilized resource in European genealogy research. We share a free tool that allows you to add European maps to your genealogy toolbox!
Since most records were held on the town/parish level in Europe, locating the correct town is an essential first step before researching your ancestors in their country of birth. Over the centuries, borders in Europe sometimes changed drastically, so it is important to know to which country or empire your ancestral hometown belonged in the time period of interest as well as today. Border changes can impact where records are held, the language(s) in which they were recorded, and even the name of the town. Sometimes smaller villages or hamlets named in records no longer exist today, but their former locations and names are preserved on historical maps. Finding a contemporary map of the area in the time period your ancestors lived there can also add fascinating detail to your understanding of their lives. Did they live on the edge of a forest or a lake? Did they cross a field to get to church or were they just down the street? Was their house made of stone or wood? Is it still standing?
Mapire – A Valuable Resource for Family Historians
Mapire.eu holds a wonderful collection of historical maps of Europe, including the military surveys of the Habsburg Empire, country maps, cadastral maps and thematic maps. Each map is overlaid on a modern map, enabling one to compare historical structures with the same area today. It is also indexed, with the ability to search by city or town on each map. A historical map can be viewed side-by-side with the modern map of the same area, using the synchronized view, or the opacity can be adjusted to show the modern map below the historical map, and there is even a 3D option. Mapire is free to use (high-resolution copies can be purchased) and it was created in partnership between several archives in Hungary, Austria, and Croatia. More archives have also contributed to the collection since it was created in 2014, including archives and libraries in Finland, Scotland, Belgium, and even Texas, so while the bulk of the collection focuses on the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, other countries are also included.
There are five main collections available to search on Mapire:
Maps of Europe
The military surveys included in this collection were created for the Habsburg dynasty that ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire and cover the lands in their empire but also many other countries in Europe.
These military surveys are particularly useful for determining archaic names of towns and viewing the geographical features of the land at the time. This can be useful in determining the likelihood of a family attending church in a specific neighboring parish if there are multiple options—if crossing a field or through the forest was a quicker path to a town with a church, they may have attended church there regardless of where the road led.
Europe in the eighteenth century (includes First Military Survey 1763–1787)
- includes maps for Bukowina, Galicia, France, Bohemia, Wallachia, Moravia, Croatia, Slovenia, parts of Germany, Netherlands, Hungary
Europe in the nineteenth century (includes Second Military Survey 1806–1869)
- includes maps for Norway, Bohemia, Croatia, Galicia, Habsburg Empire, Hungary, Greece, Austria, Italy, Russia, Belgium, France, Switzerland among others.
Europe in the nineteenth century (Third Military Survey 1869–1887)
- includes maps for England, Wales, Scotland, Prussia, Russia, Finland, Italian states, France, Netherlands, German states, Greece, etc.
This collection includes maps of various countries including the United States, Sardinia, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Finland, Germany, Prussia, Italian States, Scotland, Norway, Moldavia, Hungary, France, and the German states, among others. The collection is somewhat eclectic (one of the Norway maps is from 1950, while the map of Lower and Upper Alsace dates to 1731) but it is worth checking to see if a map you need is included.
This collection includes cadastral maps for many of the lands in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, with some gaps. Cadastral maps are detailed land maps showing the use of land on a village level. The various strips of land being farmed are usually numbered, as well as the houses in each village and sometimes even the names of the owners and tenant farmers were recorded. Different colored buildings sometimes even can indicate the material of which the house was built (the level of detail varies widely depending on who drew the map). The example below from 1864 Slovenia is highly detailed, showing stone buildings in yellow, wooden buildings in pink, house numbers and the names of tenant farmers recorded on the strips of land they farmed at the time it was drawn.
This level of detail makes these maps extremely useful for genealogical research—if the house number of a family’s residence was recorded in the parish registers, it can often be pinpointed on a cadastral map. Because these maps are also georeferenced, it is often possible to pinpoint the location of the ancestral house today.
The last collection on Mapire includes administrative maps of Hungary and a few topic-specific maps as the name implies. This includes a map of religions in Hungary (1910), ethnicities in Hungary (1910), and maps detailing changes in land-use for Transcarpathia over time.
As professional genealogists, we are skilled at thinking “outside-the-box” and utilizing every resource possible to discover your family’s story. We’d love to help you learn more about your ancestors, and will leave no stone unturned in our quest to do so! Get started today by requesting your free quote.