A gazetteer is a dictionary of place-names. Gazetteers describe towns, villages, parishes, counties, rivers, mountains, population, and other geographical features. The place-names are usually in alphabetical order, similar to a dictionary.
Gazetteers may also provide:
- Distances from nearby places.
- Different religious denominations.
- Major manufacturing works.
- Canals, docks, and railroad stations.
Gazetteers are also helpful for determining the county jurisdictions used in the Family History Library Catalog.
You can use a gazetteer to locate the places where your family lived and to determine the civil and church jurisdictions over those places. A sample gazetteer entry might be "Polesworth, a village and a parish in Atherstone district, Warwick. [It has] an Independent chapel, two Baptist chapels, and Church of England endowed schools."
Many places in England have the same or similar names. A gazetteer can help you identify the place you are interested in and describe its location.
Finding Place-Names in the Family History Library Catalog
The place-names used in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog are the names and spellings used in:
Wilson, John M. The Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales. Six Volumes. Edinburgh, Scotland: A. Fullerton, 1870. (FHL book 942 E5i; films 897325–7; fiche 6020308–36.) This gazetteer lists place-names as they were in the 1860s and gives distances from other nearby places, names of the church denominations in the area, historical background, and civil district.
To find which county a town is filed under, you may type the city or parish in the Place Search of the computerized Family History Library Catalog. The computer will display a list of places with that name. With the microfiche version of the Family History Library Catalog, you may look at the "see" references on the first few microfiche of the country in the Place Search.
In 1974, England realigned its county boundaries and renamed many counties. More county boundary changes were made in 1996. For some research purposes, such as correspondence, you may need to identify modern county names for the area where your ancestors lived. Knowing the modern names is also helpful if you wish to find an ancestor’s town on a modern map. For a good atlas and gazetteer showing modern county names, refer to:
Mason, Oliver. Bartholomew Gazetteer of Places in Britain. Edinburgh, Scotland: John Bartholomew & Son, 1986. (FHL book 942 E5bb 1986.) Places are in alphabetical order. The town descriptions in the gazetteer will tell you where to find each locality on the maps included in the book.
In addition to gazetteers, post office directories list places in a county and usually give the same type of information as gazetteers. For more information see the "Directories" section of this outline.
The English Place Name Society has compiled studies of place-names for several counties in England. The Family History Library has the volumes which have been published. Most are indexed. They are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
ENGLAND, [COUNTY] - NAMES, GEOGRAPHICAL
Other helpful gazetteers are:
Gazetteer of the British Isles. Reprint of 1943 edition. Edinburgh, Scotland: John Bartholomew and Sons, Ltd., 1966. (FHL book 942 E5ba.) This gazetteer lists and describes townships, chapelries, and parishes.
Lewis, Samuel. Topographical Dictionary of England. Four volumes. London, England: S. Lewis, 1831. (FHL book 942 E5l 1831; films 413519–22; fiche 6340019–34.) This gazetteer has historical and statistical descriptions of England’s counties, cities, boroughs, corporate and market towns, parishes, and townships. The library also has later editions of this set.
An abbreviated form of the above volumes is:
Smith, Frank. A Genealogical Gazetteer of England. Baltimore, Maryland, USA: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1968. (FHL book 942 E5g.)
Gazetteers and similar place-name guides are found in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under one of the following:
ENGLAND - GAZETTEERS
ENGLAND, [COUNTY] - GAZETTEERS