Tips for Using the Free David Rumsey Historical Maps Website

By Diane Haddad

Old maps can help you locate an ancestor’s hometown and bring it to life. Comparing maps of a place published over time can help you see changing borders and jurisdictions.

One of the historical map resources you can learn more about in our Historical Maps of Europe Premium Collection is the David Rumsey Map Collection website, which I used recently to find maps of my great-great-grandfather’s birthplace: Steinfeld, Germany.

Here, I’ll share a few tips that might make it easier for you to find maps of your ancestral places:

  • Try to find out as much as you can about your ancestral hometown. The names of the country, state, district, other geographical divisions, and/or nearby towns are clues to help you find the right place on a map. And a county, district, or other towns might share the name of your ancestral town. Other Steinfelds in Germany are in the districts of Main-Spessart, Bavaria; Stendal, Saxony-Anhalt; Schleswig-Flensburg, Schleswig-Holstein; and others. I want Steinfeld, Vechta, Lower Saxony (aka Niedersachsen). It’s near the city of Oldenburg, and today it’s often written as Steinfeld (Oldenburg).
  • Search for maps using the search box at top right. The site search box located below that looks at web pages and blog articles, not the maps collection.

  • Search not only for your ancestral town, but also for nearby towns and other geographical divisions. Not every place named on a map is part of the site’s search: Searching for Steinfeld gets no results. But searching for Vechta found this highly detailed map (with a legend here) that includes large-farm names, churches, windmills, meadows and more:


    Vechta, Reichsamt fur Landesaufnahme, 1904

Lower Saxony found this:


Lower Saxony, D. Lizars, Edinburgh, 1831

Oldenburg found this:


Nordwestiches Deutschland, Justus Perthes, Gotha, 1821

There’s a lot more you can do with these maps, including georeference with a modern map so you can see an overlay, download hi-res versions, order professional prints, and import into Google Earth.

Historical Maps of Europe Premium Collection

Get tips for using this and other online map resources, plus The Family Tree Historical Maps Book: Europe and other map goodies in the Historical Maps of Europe Premium Collection. Find out more about it in Family Tree Shop!