Virginia Maps

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This entry was originally written by Johni Cerny and Gareth L. Mark for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
the Virginia Family History Research series.
History of Virginia
Virginia Vital Records
Census Records for Virginia
Background Sources for Virginia
Virginia Maps
Virginia Land Records
Virginia Probate Records
Virginia Court Records
Virginia Tax Records
Virginia Cemetery Records
Virginia Church Records
Virginia Military Records
Virginia Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Virginia Archives, Libraries, and Societies
Virginia Immigration
African Americans of Virginia
Virginia County Resources
Virginia City Resources
Map of Virginia


The cartographic history of Virginia begins in the early sixteenth century, and maps, atlases, and gazetteers of the area have been produced ever since. Richard W. Stephenson and Marianne M. McKee, Virginia in Maps: Four Centuries of Settlement, Growth and Development (Richmond, Va.: the Library of Virginia, 2000) traces the discovery, settlement, expansion, and growths of the commonwealth from the arrival of European explorers to the modern state and contains 187 maps, many in multiple plates, making it an essential tool for all genealogists. Eugene Michael Sanchez-Saavedra, A Description of the Country: Virginia’s Cartographers and Their Maps, 1607–1881 (Richmond, Va.: Virginia State Library, 1975) offers a brief history of Virginia’s cartographic trends and early maps. James W. Sames III, comp., Index of Kentucky and Virginia Maps, 1562 to 1900 (Frankfort, Ky.: Kentucky Historical Society, 1976), indexes the maps on file at the Library of Virginia and the Virginia Historical Society.

The Library of Virginia collection contains more than 40,000 maps and is treated online at www.lva.lib.va.us/whatwehave/map/index.htm. The site also links to the Map Collection Index, an electronic card index arranged geographically; Index to Martin’s Gazetteer of Virginia (1835); and Virginia entries in Chapin’s Gazetteer of the United States (1844). See also Using the Map Collection in the Archives of The Library of Virginia (Research Notes Number 4), which appears at http://lvaimage.lib.va.us/vtlstif.html.

The map collection of the Library of Virginia is described in Earl Gregg Swem, comp., Maps Relating to Virginia in the Virginia State Library and Other Departments of the Commonwealth… (reprint; Richmond, Va.: Virginia State Library, 1989). This volume also cites maps in other repositories.

The changing boundaries of Virginia’s counties are illustrated in Michael F. Doran, Atlas of County Boundary Changes in Virginia, 1634–1895 (Athens, Ga.: Iberian Publishing Co., 1987). This atlas is a must for Virginia research. See also John S. Hale, A Historical Atlas of Colonial Virginia (Staunton, Va.: Old Dominion Publication, 1978).

Maps showing watercourses are necessary for locating land grants and property described in deeds. Maps found in the County Road Map Atlas: Commonwealth of Virginia (Richmond, Va.: Department of Transportation, 1987), updated in 1995, can be ordered from the Office of Public Affairs, Cartography Section, 1201 E. Broad St., Richmond, VA 23219. An online order form is available at http://virginiadot.org/infoservice/resources/Virginia-maps-order-form.pdf. Detailed topographical maps of Virginia can be found in Virginia Atlas & Gazetteer, 4th ed. (Freeport, Maine: DeLorme Mapping Co., 2000).

The list of readily available maps of Virginia is quite long. Some important maps are:

  • A Map of Virginia and Maryland, 1676. Reprint. Ithaca, N.Y.: Historic Urban Plans, n.d.
  • Fry, Josue, and Pierre Jefferson. Carte de la Virginie et Maryland, 1755. Reprint. Ithaca, N.Y.: Historic Urban Plans, n.d.
  • McCrary, Ben C. John Smith’s Map of Virginia with a Brief Account of Its History. Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1981.
  • Wright, Louis B. The John Henry County Map of Virginia, 1770. Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1977.

Identifying no longer used place-names also challenges researchers. Earl Gregg Swem, Virginia Historical Index (see Virginia Background Sources) includes place-names, and a number of excellent gazetteers and place-name guides are available, including:

  • Gannett, Henry. A Gazetteer of Virginia. U.S. Geological Survey. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1904. Reprinted as A Gazetteer of Virginia and West Virginia. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1975.
  • Hall, Virginius Cornick, Jr., ed. “Virginia Post Offices, 1798–1859,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 81 (1973): 49–97.
  • Hanson, Raus McDill. Virginia Place Names: Derivations, Historical Uses. Verona, Va.: McClure Press, 1969.
  • Hummel, Ray O., Jr., ed. A List of Places Included in 19th Century Virginia Directories. 1960. Reprint. Richmond, Va.: Virginia State Library, 1981.
  • Martin, Joseph. A New and Comprehensive Gazetteer of Virginia and the District of Columbia. Charlottesville, Va.: the author, 1835.
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