What are some Different Types of Maps and their Uses

There are many types of maps, which are usually named based on what they’re trying to show. Learn about the various different types of maps. Political Maps, Physical Maps, Topographic Map, Climatic Map, Economic or Resource Map, Road Map and more.

What are some Different Types of Maps and their Uses

There are many types of maps, which are usually labeled based on what they’re trying to show. There are lots of ways to read the types of maps.

Each show different data. Most maps will include a compass rose, indicating which way is north, south, east and west. Additionally, they add a scale to help you estimate distances.

It must be noted that there’s often overlapping features between maps. One example is, a topographic map could be utilized to show the distribution of a local orchid (making it both a topographic and thematic map) or could be used to show popular features of specific interest to travelers (topographic, general reference and thematic).

Every one of these map types can be a one of a kind, stand-alone, map without any association with other maps or they might be piece of numerous related maps, these are typically called Series Maps.

All of the below maps have one important thing in common – they’ve got a set of rules that decide how they’re made and what they show.

For a single, stand-alone map such as a map of a tourist resort, this might be rather simple. On the opposite extreme, for series maps the specification will probably be very complex because it’s essential that all maps inside the series have similar content, in addition to a uniform ‘look and feel’.

Cadastral Maps

Example of a Cadastral Map

Example of a Cadastral Map

What is a Cadastral Map?

Cadastral maps are much more detailed. The plans map out individual properties, providing details such as boundary information when houses or land are surveyed, and could be combined to build bigger cadastral maps.

Cadastral mapping among the earliest types of mapping, with ancient Egyptians known to have created cadastral records to establish ownership of land just after flooding from the Nile River.

“Cadastral” comes from the word cadastre, meaning a public record, survey, or map of the value, degree, and ownership of land for purposes of taxation.

Topographic Maps

Example of a Topographic Map

Example of a Topographic Map

What is a Topographic Map?

A topographic map is a lot like a physical map because it indicates different physical landscape features. They’re different on the other hand because they use contour lines rather than colors showing changes in the land.

Contour lines on topographic maps are usually spaced at regular intervals showing elevation changes and the closer the lines are together, the steeper the terrain.

These maps can be used for a variety of reasons, from camping, hunting, fishing, and hiking to urban planning, resource managing, and surveying.

The nice thing about relief or topographical maps is that they show the true lay of the land, so to speak. That includes streams, valleys, rivers, mountains, hills, and more. They also display important landmarks and roads. Topographical maps can often indicate how people migrated and settled the land. They can also provide information about ancestral properties, buildings, local cemeteries, and other important buildings and features.

Even though topographical maps are usually a lot less utilized by quite a few genealogists, their particular significance shouldn’t be diminished. Topographical maps, also referred to as relief maps, generally display important physical features in addition to contexting other locations being specific with all the places of major towns and frequently county boundary lines.

These types of maps usually not simply feature a mountainous area but could also, generally through using colors and shading, present the researcher along with some idea of how high the mountains are. Furthermore there is likely to end up being an precise and complete outlining of bodies of water, sometimes even incorporating the course of flow on rivers and streams.

An excellent topographical map for any area of ancestral research could potentially cause someone to look at possible locations of records in a entirely different light. Rarely a researcher will have a whole new picture of an ancestor’s homestead when placing the property in the context of its physical surroundings.

Plus the county seat of the nearby county could turn out to be a most logical place to check for a few vital, church and other records as it was definitely less difficult to cross an unseen county boundary line than even just a modest range of mountains in the course of some periods of time in one’s family’s history.

Political Map

Example of a Political Map

Example of a Political Map

What is a Political Map?

Political maps are made to show governmental boundaries of nations, states, counties, cities and towns, and might have some physical features such as rivers, streams, and lakes. The characteristic of a political map is an simple to use, detailed index.

Political maps isn’t going to indicate any topographic features. It instead focuses just on the national and state borders of a region. They will also add the location of key cities, plus they usually include significant bodies of water, according to detail in the map.

Although some physical features show up on political maps, including major mountain ranges, the use of this is to provide geographical reference instead of to indicate any physical features.

These boundaries and locations are usually based on people instead of the natural world.

The type of map most genealogists are initially familiar with is a typical political map that’s present in most commercial atlases. Political maps may be crucial to a researcher’s mission to find the counties which include the records of an significant ancestral town.

Physical Maps

Example of a Physical Map of the USA

Example of a Physical Map of the USA

What is a physical map?

The definition of a physical map is a description of the geographical features of a location.

Physical maps can include a lot of an identical information available on a political map, however their main function is to indicate land forms like deserts, mountains, lakes and plains.

Their topography style provides a complete picture of the local terrain. A physical map displays the natural landscape characteristics of an area.

Thematic Map

Example of a Thematic Map of US 2012 election map by county

Example of a Thematic Map of US 2012 election map by county

What is a Thematic Map

Thematic maps are data maps of a unique topic or for a specific purpose.

A thematic map is not the same as a general reference map since they don’t just show natural features like rivers, cities, political subdivisions, elevation and highways.

If these things are on a thematic map, they’re background details and they are used as reference points to improve the map’s design.

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Climate Map

Example of a Climate Map of US

Example of a Climate Map of US

What is a Climate Map?

A climate map shows knowledge about the climate of an region.

They are able to display stuff like the precise climatic zones of an area using the temperature, how much snow an area gets or average amount of cloudy days.

These maps normally use colors to point out different climatic areas.

Road Map

Example of a Road Map

Example of a Road Map

What is a Road Map?

A road map or route map is a form of navigational map that primarily displays roads and transport links instead of natural geographical information.

A road map is just about the more popular map types. These maps show minor and major highways and roads (based on detail) along with stuff like airports, city locations and interesting attractions like parks, campgrounds and monuments.

Major highways with a road map are usually red and bigger than other roads, while minor roads can be a lighter color and a smaller line.

For the genealogist, Atlases and road maps tend to be very basic, but they can still yield some useful information. For example, they can show what present-day were like in a given time period.

They can also show proximity between two towns that the researcher may be interested in. So, the researcher should begin by looking in a road atlas for the name of the town where the ancestor lived.

If the town name can’t be found, the researcher can consult a historical map for more information. Online websites may also yield useful information about the location of a given ancestor at a certain point in history.

General Reference Map

Example of a General Reference Map

Example of a General Reference Map

What is a General Reference Map?

Imagine a regular map, where towns and cities are named, major transportation routes are included together with natural features like lakes and rivers, and you’ll be thinking of a general reference map.

These are the basic maps which are perfect for letting you get to your destination. They are easily read, and include street and tourist maps.

The maps display the boundaries, names and different identifiers of ordinary regional areas, along with major cultural and physical features, for example roads, railroads, coastlines, rivers and lakes.

Navigational Chart Map

Example of a Navigational Chart Map

Example of a Navigational Chart Map

What is a Navigational Chart Map?

It’s a map that shows the layout of the shoreline and seafloor. Navigational charts are a priceless tool in regards to actually making your way around, no matter whether you’re on the ocean or in the air.

Maps for the ocean are usually known as charts, and the same is true for air navigation mapping.

The charts often include information that’s essential to avoiding accidents, for example features in and around the water, like submerged rocks, as well as any sort of navigational aids.

Surveys, Plat Maps, and Land Maps

1940 Williamson County Marion Township Plat Map

1940 Williamson County Marion Township Plat Map

What are Surveys, Plat Maps, and Land Maps?

Family history researchers can often find exciting information in old ownership maps and plat maps. Those maps indicate landowners in a certain place at a certain time in history.

The government generally maintains property and land records carefully, since those records indicate changes in ownership of a given piece of land. So, those records can provide vital historical and ancestral information.

Plat books and land maps generally list a property’s owner, as well as surrounding neighbors and other useful items. They can be obtained from town halls, county courthouses, historical societies, and other repositories.

In general, most land ownership maps were done on a county level, but that wasn’t true in every case. Most of those maps will at least give the names of land owners.

They may also state the number of acres owned, the crops harvested on the land (if it was farmland) and whether the land was farmland or forest. The amount of dwellings and buildings and their types may also be listed, along with other important structures in the area, such as churches, courthouses, and major roads.

The researcher can use plat map information, such as townships, ranges, and sections, to locate tax and deed records about their ancestors. It’s also worth noting that ethnic groups tended to settle in the same area.

So, looking on maps may yield other relatives, or neighbors who shared the same town of origin in their home countries. Researchers may find those cross-connections useful tools for filling in the branches of the family tree.


Ward Maps

1900 Harrisburg Pennsylvania Ward Map

1900 Harrisburg Pennsylvania Ward Map

What is a Ward Map?

Ward maps can be helpful to researchers who are trying to locate census records for years that were not indexed that relate to large cities.

A ward map generally shows boundaries of each ward in a given city in a given year. For example, let’s say that the researcher is trying to find an ancestor who lived in 1870 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The researcher should start by looking at the city’s 1870 directory and recording the ancestor’s street address. Then the researcher can locate that address on the 1870 Indianapolis ward map.

It is much faster to scan the page headers of an unindexed census for information and then apply that information when researching a ward map, as opposed to searching the entire city for the ancestor in question. This research method also helps when an ancestor is not listed in a census index, but it is believed that they lived in that particular city at that particular time.

Often, city directories include ward maps in the back or front, as supplemental pages. Public libraries often have their own town or city’s directories on file. They may also have directories for surrounding cities and towns.

Larger collections of directories can also be found in state libraries, often on microfilm. Cartographic collections in certain institutions may also include ward maps.

Province, County, and Parish Maps

Old County Map of Abbeville South Carolina

Old County Map of Abbeville South Carolina

What are Province, County, and Parish Maps?

Researchers may not find all of the information that they need in simple road maps and atlases. So, the next good step is to explore local maps from a given time period.

They often show such details as cemeteries, major landmarks, county roads, and other important features. Those sorts of maps can be found in government and county offices, generally.

Each of those organizations may have records, and those records could include information about the ancestor in question. Fire insurance maps can also indicate how an area grew and changed, in general.

Fire Insurance Map

1888 Tombstone Arizona Fire Insurance Map

1888 Tombstone Arizona Fire Insurance Map

What are Fire Insurance Maps?

Fire insurance maps can provide unusual and interesting information for researchers.

For example, in cases where dwellings are re-numbered, a fire insurance map may be able to help the researcher pinpoint the old dwelling in question’s new number.

Such maps can also be used to determine which institutions in the area an ancestor may have visited and spent time in. Some possible institutions to consider are: Schools, Churches, Grocery Stores, Department Stores, Lumber Yards, Laundry Facilities.

Each of those organizations may have records, and those records could include information about the ancestor in question. Fire insurance maps can also indicate how an area grew and changed, in general.

City Directory Maps

1884 Baltimore City Directory

1884 Baltimore City Directory

What is a City Directory Map?

Genealogists tend to use city directories to fill in information that would ordinarily be found in census records that are missing.

However, many of those directories also include maps, which can show the topography of the region, including rivers, roads, and railroads.

Also, roads and streets that are no longer in existence today or have changed names can often be identified by comparing city directory maps.

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