NOAA Creates Collection of Civil War Nautical Charts

The NOAA announced last week the release of “Charting a More Perfect Union,” a collection of over 400 documents including Civil War-era maps and nautical charts, and annual summaries of the US Coast Survey. It’s available at

You can browse this collection a variety of ways, including keyword, state or region, and year. I did a search for charts in Alabama and got 7 results. The results don’t provide a lot of detail (title, year, links to download in SID or JPG format.) There’s a preview link that brings up the chart in a Flash viewer that’s very nice.

I called up a map of Mobile from 1863 and was able to quickly zoom down so far that I could read the gun count on the noted coastal battery and see where the obstructions and shallow water canal were placed.

In addition to the images, you can also review the Notes on the Coast of the United States. This is a series of eight documents written in 1861, fascinating handwritten items analyzing various state coastlines. (North Carolina, for example, takes up one entire document; 69 pages of analysis and charts.)

There’s also the coastal survey documents for 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, and 1865, available as individual PDF documents.

Nice collection here.

Google Earth’s Got a New Web Site

With Google Instant taking up all the search nerd bandwidth on the Internet last week, you’d think Google didn’t announce anything else. But it did. Google noted last week that it had launched a new Web site for Google Earth. The new site is currently English-only (more languages to come) at

The new site has a link to download Google Earth, of course, but has other content as well. There’s a featured content section that goes beyond Google Earth to show highlights from several properties, including Mars and Earth’s moon as well as the ocean. There are over a dozen video tutorials that range from the very basic (Searching for Places) to the more advanced (Importing KML, KMZ and GPS Data) to Google software that’s related to Google Earth (several SketchUp topics.) There’s also a huge gallery that holds all kinds of content: 360 city panoramas, ancient maps, outdoor trails, castle models… you could be exploring just the galley for hours.

Google Earth is a free download for Mac, PC, and Linux. There’s also a Earth View in Google Maps but alas, my system apparently doesn’t support it. Just as well, I could spend all day browsing the gallery.

550+ New Maps from David Rumsey

Still catching up — the David Rumsey Map Collection announced last month that it has added over 550 new maps to its online collection.

You can get a list of all the new maps here. A nav on the right shows you the kinds of maps available, including national maps, physical maps, and atlases. As you make selections your search options narrow down further. You can also choose by place mapped, date, and cartographer.

Some of my favorites from these new maps include some wonderful renderings of the US from the early 1800s; constellations maps from 1824; and the “Ice Atlas of the Northern Hemisphere” (US Navy, 1946.) Each map page has a sidebar of information as well as basic zoom/pan controls. You can choose to buy prints of images or just export them. I exported the largest available images of one of the polar ice maps and, though it took a few minutes to generate, I was rewarded with a 9MB, very cool JPG.

Even if you’re not particularly into cartography, this site is worth a visit just for the artistic aspects of the maps. If you’re not sure where to start may I suggest Gilles Robert de Vaugondy and his Atlas Universel.

Digital Atlas of Historical County Boundaries

Thanks very much to DK of the Newberry Library, who was kind enough to drop me a note about the recently-completed Digital Atlas of Historical County Boundaries from the Newberry Library. This atlas is organized by state and documents every change in US counties from 1634 to 2000. This makes my little genealogist heart go patter patter patter. The maps are a little clunky, but the work that must have gone into this is unbelievable. I forgive slightly clunky maps. The project is available at

You start with a map of the US. Pick a state and you’re off and running. When you first pick a state you’ll get lots of options, including links to a full list of all counties ever to have existed in the state with historical details, commentary, and a bibliography with sources. There’s also an option to look at an interactive map of a state, and that’s where I spent my time.

The map lets you choose a date, then gives you a state map with two sets of boundaries: black lines for historical boundaries, and white lines for modern boundaries. A series of checkboxes lets you specify map layers — you can include the modern county names, look at modern county seats, proposed counties, and so on. Be sure to use the Refresh Maps button — this ain’t Ajax. Sometimes it’s a little hard to read the modern and the historical county names together on the same map, so I had to switch that layer on and off when looking at some states.

A nav on the left lets you move around the map a bit, as well as get individual county information, data on groups of counties, and details about county formation and existence.

If you are doing genealogy research and you go back far enough, you are at some point going to find yourself confused with county designations or location. Just looking around in this atlas for a few moments explained something I had always wondered about Virginia and why Brunswick County suddenly vanished from my genealogy notations around 1780, to be replaced with Greensville.

The maps are not as slick as the more modern maps, but really, who cares? This resource is free and the information is amazing. The only thing I would recommend (and I’m not sure this is possible) would be some way to link from a historic county outline to a modern Google Map, in order to get information on city and town locations. TERRIFIC STUFF.

Yahoo Announces PlaceFinder

So nice to get some good news out of Yahoo for once. The continued disintegration of its directory is making me mighty depressed. Anyway, Yahoo announced yesterday the public release of Yahoo! PlaceFinder, a REST Web service providing geocoding of named places.

It supports building-level address recognition in 75 countries, and points of interest for the same 75 countries and the rest of the world. PlaceFinder lives at You’ll need an application ID and you’ll be limited to 50,000 requests per day. (You can contact Yahoo if you think you’re gonna beat that.)

Being a REST service, everything goes into the URL fairly simply. You can request something as specific as an exact address or alterately a point of interest (POI) name — like an airport location code. Responses are available in XML, JSON, or serialized PHP. Possible response information includes latitude and longitude, postal code, neighborhood name, country code, time zone, and area code. You can get complete documentation here.

Have you tried PlaceFinder? What did you think? Leave a note in the comments.