10 best free historic map sites

Editor Sarah Williams gives her rundown of the 10 best free historic map websites

Know Your Place
I’ve got a soft spot for historic maps. My house is full of them and I think they add an interesting dimension to family and local history. You might think that your ancestors lived in the middle of suburbia, only to find, looking at a map, that they were on the very edge of town, just a stone’s throw from fields.
Maps are also useful for finding relevant parish records or possible places of work. When historic school records go online, maps will be vital for checking that entries are relevant to your family, especially with a common local name.
However, I don’t just look at maps for research. Sometimes, I just like looking at maps. I like looking at where I live and how that has changed over the years, I like to show my children what used to be where their school now stands and how old the local park is. When Bristol released its map project, Know Your Place, we discovered that our offices used to be a chocolate factory!
And so, with the release of the Library of Scotland’s digitised collection of OS maps for England and Wales, I thought I’d share 10 of my favourite, FREE websites.
1) Know Your Place – Bristol historic maps. I’ve lived in Bristol for over 30 years so this comes in at number one for me! The original project has now expanded to cover all of the West of England.
2) National Library of Scotland – The NLS doesn’t just have a fantastic collection of Scottish maps ranging from town plans to estate maps it has also got digitised OS maps for England and Wales (as well as Scotland of course).
3) WhatWasHere – If you have family who lived in the East Riding of Yorkshire, then this is a website you don’t want to miss. Not only can you choose maps from 1610 to 1855 to browse, but a range of historic pictures and photographs have been pinned to locations.
4) Vision of Britain – Although map coverage is variable, there is an interesting variety here.
5) Old Maps Online – This is a gateway to historic maps from libraries around the world, so you may find yourself looking at maps from the British Library or even back at the National Library of Scotland.
6) Charles Booth Online Archive – Anyone with London ancestors should visit this site. It’s good for dinner party conversations, too. I find there’s nothing people like more than being told that their street used to be inhabited by a vicious, semi-criminal underclass.
7) West Yorkshire tithe maps – Although tithe maps, created around the 1840s, are gradually being added to the subscription website TheGenealogist, you can view some for free if you know where to look. This website developed by the West Yorkshire Archive Service is a gem.
8) Welsh tithe maps – Discover who owned land in Wales and who lived there in the mid-19th century. This is yet another superb free offering from the National Library of Wales.
9) Cheshire tithe maps – More tithe maps, freely available.
10) Griffith’s Valuation – Place your Irish ancestors on the map with this Irish census substitute.
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