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England Maps for Genealogists (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Land and Property Records including Manorial Documents and Maps  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Maps for Genealogists

Your ancestor needed to know which parish he was settled in and the boundaries of the one he lived in for so many facets of his daily life, but he wasn’t too much bothered by county boundaries. On the other hand you will need to know which counties the parishes were in and the old and new jurisdictions in order to be able to find the records. You will also need to consider the movement of families and individuals and a knowledge of the local topography and the contemporary communication routes are essential for successful research.

A modern road atlas is NOT appropriate for family history. You need to find a map that shows the area as your ancestors would have known it: pre-motorways (1960s), perhaps pre-railways (mid-19th century), and including all the geographical features that influenced their lives, such as rivers, canals, mountains, churches and parish boundaries. There are plenty of 19th century maps available.

The following charts provide a rough guide to the many different scales, editions, series and dates available. The researcher should investigate all the maps available for his research area. Two major series of appropriate maps are The Ordnance Survey (OS), and Bartholomew’s (Bart’s), which come in various scales. At least one smaller scale and one more detailed (larger scale) map of each ancestral area should be consulted; on the latter you can pinpoint the actual house with the aid of censuses and directories.

When looking at any particular map it is smart to find out why it was made as that will help ascertain why certain features were included and others were not. In other words, absence of evidence from one map does not indicate evidence of absence. Maps range from mere sketches up to fully triangulated, cadastral surveys, that is those showing the extent, value and ownership of land, for taxation and other purposes.

Wallis has produced a most useful reference book for pre-1900 maps, with essays on the history and purposes of the different kinds, and details of repositories in the UK. Popular articles include those by Norman Hurst (Maps for the Family Historian. Family Tree Magazine Vol 11 #1, page 11-12) and Tom Wood (Maps for Beginners. Family Tree Magazine Vol 13. Part I in #6, page 51-52. Part II in #7, page 51-52).

Chart: Small Scale Maps Available

Inches to the mile
Detail shown
Example (Current edition unless otherwise noted)
1/10" 1: 625,000 General regional OS Routeplanner
– 1/5"
1: 500,00
1: 312,000
General regional Phillimore’s Atlas.
Gardner et al. atlas and book

¼" 1: 250,000 Good for driving OS Routemaster
½" 1: 126,720 Good overall picture of area. Bart’s Half-Inch.
From 1920s New Reduced Survey.
From 1940s Revised Half-Inch

2/3" 1: 100,000 Local govt and parliamentary boundaries Post 1972.
1" 1: 63,360 Shows virtually every road. OS 1st edition 1805-1873 published by Margary
1" 1: 63,360 Shows virtually every road, and has later railways (but not other features) added David and Charles OS 1st edition.

OS Tourist.
1 ¼" 1: 50,000 Shows all lanes and farms. OS Landranger
Late 20th century
2 ½" 1: 25,000 Shows each building. Great for walkers because show rights-of way. OS Pathfinder and Outdoor Leisure Late 20th century

Chart: Large Scale Maps Available
Those particularly recommended for genealogy are in bold.

Inches to the mile
Detail Shown
Example (Current edition unless otherwise noted)
3 to 4½" About 1: 21,000 to 14,000
Town street maps
Bartholomew’s, Geographers’ A-Z, Geographia, Estate Red Books
1: 10,000
Shows major footpaths but not rights-of-way.
Largest scale to show remote areas, and contours.
6"and above
1: 10,000 and better
Landholdings of different owners
Estate maps. Late 16th to late 19th centuries
1: 4340
Shows every footpath and postbox.
Godfrey edition OS (1860-1930) Mainly urban.
10" – 80"
1: 6,366 to 1: 792
Fields, crops, buildings
Tithe Surveys 1838-1854
1: 2,500
Each parcel of land identified, and walls, fences etc.
1855-1918 County Series. Whole country except remoter areas
1: 1,250
Shows house numbers
Urban areas only
5 feet
1: 1056
More detail for towns over 4,000 population
Mostly 1844-1854 and primarily for London and towns in Yorkshire and Lancashire; some reprints (Godfrey).
10 feet
and Over
10 feet
1: 528

1: 500
Most detailed for urban sanitation in towns with over 4,000 population
The old County Series. (1858-93).
11 feet
1: 480
Great detail on buildings in most cities and towns
Goad Fire Insurance Plans


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Land and Property Records including Manorial Documents and Maps offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.