National Geographic’s Free Website for Printing Detailed Topographical Maps

ng_seal_blackTopographic maps are a great resource for genealogists looking for cemeteries, especially old or even abandoned cemeteries. I have found cemeteries listed on topographic maps that would have been difficult or perhaps impossible to find otherwise.

In theory, you can print your own maps from the U.S. Geological Survey’s web site at http://www.natgeomaps.com/trail-maps/pdf-quads. However, I have had little luck at that web site. It seems to be almost constantly busy. The rare times I have been able to use the site, the PDF images downloaded from the site aren’t formatted for standard printer paper. That makes printing the maps very difficult.

The National Geographic web site has come to the rescue.

Going to http://www.natgeomaps.com/trail-maps/pdf-quads puts every US Geological Survey (USGS) topographical map from across the United States on one easy-to-navigate site and made them easy to print out at home. You have to copy the maps to a flashdrive and take them to a commercial print shop.

The printable PDF you get from National Geographic is broken down into 5 pages.

  • Page 1 is an overview map showing the Quad in context
  • Pages 2 through 5 are the standard USGS Quads cut in quarters to fit on standard printers
  • Hillshading has been added to each page of the PDF to help visualize the topography

Obviously, these maps have a lot of other uses besides genealogy.

You can try it at http://www.natgeomaps.com/trail-maps/pdf-quads.

4 Comments

This link shows a beautiful rendition of maps created by Centre Cty, PA in about 1873. They followed a law of Congress mandating such maps.
Is there a listing of maps for all counties in the US?
The URL appears to be loc.gov/item/93232571
Atlas of Centre County Pennsylvania. Take a look. This set of maps was very well done, at least pleasing, graphically.

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The area outlined in red is the only part of the quad that is printable! Is there a way to print the entire quad?

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The link to the USGS website is actually to the National Geographic maps.

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Maybe I’m missing something, but finding and downloading a map doesn’t seem to be at all straightforward.

If you search for a geographical location (e.g., town and state) by choosing to search “All” in the search box, it finds the location on a topo map, but gives no indication of what quadrant it is, and there’s no way to download the map of the quadrant that I could find. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any real purpose to this kind of search in the context of this page (i.e., finding and downloading a quadrant map).

If you choose the “pdf_topo” selection on the search box, it asks you for a quadrant name. That may or may not be the name of the main town in the quadrant, and it seems to accept some locations (but not all) that aren’t the quadrant name. For example, entering Peacham found the “Barnet W, VT” quadrant, which is the one I wanted; but entering Poland did NOT produce an entry for the “Mechanic Falls, ME” quadrant which includes Poland, ME. It did produce two Poland entries that turned out to be in other states — the choices that pop up don’t include the state so all you can do is check each one by selecting it, then zooming back out to see if you’re in the right place (the thumbnail label does not identify the state either). And finally, the only indication that clicking on the thumbnail is the way to download the map, is that hovering over it shows the pdf file name in the status bar (if you have that turned on in your browser).

The downloaded map file, broken into pages, is definitely a very nice presentation, once you manage to find the one you want. But I think they need to take a serious look at making this page a bit more user-friendly, with at least some minimal instructions on how to find your quadrant and how to download the map. Ideally you should be able to search for a location by town and state, and be automatically presented with the appropriate quadrant map for download.

By the way, I could not find any link or navigation on the site itself that could lead you to this feature. I’m curious as to how you found it in the first place, Dick.

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