OK, so you found a record that says your ancestor was born in Deals Gap, Tennessee. Now you ask, "Where the heck is that?" You could always purchase a map of Tennessee and then look for the place. However, many small locations are not shown on modern maps. It is also possible that the place may have existed only in past years and has now disappeared; if so, a current map may not show the place you are interested in. You could try searching on Google. That may or may not find the place you seek.
You might search the online mapping services for Deals Gap. That will probably be successful (1.) if it is an incorporated town and (2.) if it still exists. However, if the location you seek has since disappeared or been absorbed into another nearby municipality, even the mapping sites may not find it.
If you want to find a cemetery within Deals Gap, all of the above "solutions" will probably fail. Luckily, there is an easy answer for online genealogists: look at the U.S. Government's Geographic Names Information System, usually referred to as "GNIS.". Best of all, that database is available to all, free of charge.
The GNIS database can quickly tell you that Deals Gap is along the border separating North Carolina and Tennessee at 35 degrees 28 minutes 26 seconds North, 83 degrees 55 minutes 16 seconds West. In fact, you can then click on an icon to display a map of that area on your computer screen. There is still one more feature: you can even look at a spy satellite photograph of the area.
The Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), developed by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN), contains information about almost 2 million physical and cultural geographic features in the United States. The GNIS identifies the Federally recognized name of each feature described in the database and provides references to each feature's state, county, latitude and longitude.
The GNIS serves two purposes for genealogists. First, it gives precise locations of every village, mountain, river, airport, bay, beach, bridge, etc. in the United States. The information includes the exact latitude and longitude of each named feature. Second, it can help find locations mentioned in old documents.
Here is perhaps the best news of all for genealogists: the GNIS lists many cemeteries, although not all of them. For instance, I know that my great-grandparents were buried in Pine Grove Cemetery in Bangor, Maine. The GNIS describes Pine Grove Cemetery as in Penobscot County at 44 degrees 47 minutes 54 seconds North, 68 degrees 49 minutes 38 seconds West. If I know the name of the cemetery but not the town, the GNIS database will find all the listed cemeteries of that name in the state. Before you head off to a cemetery of a given name, keep in mind that some cemeteries are not in the list. For instance, the small cemetery where my immediate family along with many of my aunts, uncles and cousins are interred and where I plan to spend eternity isn't listed in the GNIS database.
Not only will GNIS provide textual information about a place's location, but it will also automatically link to all of the following:
USGS - National Map
GNIS in Google Map
Microsoft Virtual Earth
Find the Watershed
Yahoo! Local Maps
By clicking on the appropriate link, you can immediately view that location as displayed in any of the above mapping sites or even look at that location in a photograph taken by a satellite in outer space. With some of the above sites, you can even "fly" over the terrain with a view that emulates a pilot's view when flying an airplane.
GNIS should be a tool in every genealogist's "electronic toolbox." You probably will not need it often; but, when you do, it will provide information that is difficult to find otherwise. The Geographic Names Information System is available at: http://geonames.usgs.gov.
In a future newsletter I will describe how to enter the cemetery's latitude and longitude into a low-cost GPS (Global Positioning System) receiver so that you can drive directly to the cemetery.