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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 2/15/2000

Topozone: Online Topographic Maps

This site has every USGS (United States Geological Survey) 1:200,000, 1:100,000, 1:50,000, and 1:25,000 scale map for the contiguous United States. A 1:25,000 scale map means detail (the maps were approximately 1 mile to 4 inches on my screen). The maps appear to be approximately twenty years or so old, but are useful for genealogy purposes. I wouldn't rely on the roads and markings for planning your driving though. The site is excellent for locating rural places, although for urban areas, a modern map site such as MapQuest ( may be more appropriate.

The vast majority of "locations" at this site are populated ones. Cemeteries are not always included. The USGS Geographic Names Information Search Site contains a much broader listing of place names and should be referenced for places not located in Topozone.

As an example, the Bethany Cemetery near Tioga, Illinois, can be seen at: Viewing the map at a different scale (by clicking the 1:100,000 or 1:200,000 buttons) will pull up section lines, township lines and county lines--very helpful and very explicit.

Viewing the Tioga map at 1:50,000 scale ( provides the township numbers in red. Tioga is in section 32. The township name (Walker) is partially visible. Backing up to a 1:200,000 scale makes some features (especially the town of Tioga) difficult to see, however, the map is still centered on that locale and neighboring geographic features are easier to visualize.

Topozone can be used to locate non-populated places, but it takes a little finesse. The places are on the maps, just not in Topozone's searchable database.

An Example
A search for Buckeye Cemetery in Illinois at the USGS site resulted in the following information on their Geographic Names Information System Query Results page:

    Buckeye Cemetery
    Feature Type: cemetery
    State: Illinois
    County: Hancock
    USGS 7.5' x 7.5' Map: Tioga
    Latitude: 401457N
    Longitude: 0911741W

This USGS site results page provides a link to "Show Feature Details and Location" for each feature record that matched the parameters of your search. "Show feature details and location" was hit for the cemetery in Hancock County, Illinois. NOTE: On the USGS GNIS "Show Feature Details and Location Page," one can link to several things, including:

1) The TerraServer page ( However, when one "zooms" in on the map, the result is the same image zoomed in, no more features are shown. This does not contain as much detail as the Topozone maps do.

2) A map drawn by the Tiger Map server. This map can zoom in, but does not contain the amount of detail the Topozone maps do.

You can enter in a direct URL at the Topozone site, specifying the location. The problem is that the coordinates must be in decimal format. The coordinates on the USGS site are in degree, minute, second form. To convert the coordinates to decimal form, the following must be noted:

1) A degree contains 60 minutes.
2) A minute contains 60 seconds.
3) A degree therefore contains 3600 seconds.

The coordinates for Buckeye Cemetery will be used:

Latitude 401457N.

Starting at the end:
The last two digits (57) represent the seconds.
The next two digits (14) represent the minutes.
The remaining digits (40) represent the degrees

To convert to decimal format, take the minutes times 60 and add that number to the number of seconds. In this case, 14 times 60 is 840. When added to 57, the result is 897. To convert to the decimal format (actually the portion of a degree), divide this number by 3600. In this case that result is .2491666. Topozone only needs four decimal places, so we use .2492. This is added to the number of degrees (40), resulting in 40.2492.

The same procedure is applied to the longitude.

Latitude 0911741W. Starting at the end:
The last two digits (41) represent the seconds.
The next two digits (17) represent the minutes.
The remaining digits (091 or 91) represent the degrees

Taking the 17 minutes times 60, results in 1020. Adding the number of seconds (41) to this gives us a total of 1020 plus 41, or 1061 seconds. Dividing this number by 3600 (always divide by 3600) results in a decimal of .2947 (when rounded to four decimal places). This means the latitude is 91.2947E. Topozone requires this number to be negative or have a minus sign in front of it, so we actually enter -91.2947 instead.

Our URL is:

Notice that the latitude number is after the "lat=" and the longitude number is after the "lon=". You can simply enter in different numbers to maneuver around.

Buckeye Cemetery will not be visible. We can zoom in to a more focused map using the buttons

The URL can specify the magnification by adding to the URL

Wow! There it is. Experienced map-readers will know the cemetery is not located on the Illinois prairie.

Remember, for populated places, use Topozone directly. For other places, such as churches, creeks, etc. use the USGS GNIS search site and convert the degrees to decimal format.

One last hint: Use this site first with an area with which you are familiar. It'll make things much easier. I started by viewing the area where I grew up, trying to locate my parents' and grandparents' farms. This helped me in "getting my bearings," especially with the 1:25,000 maps. Also note, the small black squares on the 1:25,000 maps are homes, the white squares appear to be outbuildings, barns, etc.

Maybe one day we'll be able to zoom in even more and view the tombstones!

Copyright 2000, Michael John Neill. Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at  or visit his website at:

Used by the author on his website with permission

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---type in your surname or county and state in the search box that comes up on the left hand side of your screen. I've found and purchased several books this way!