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Indexes and Types of Maps

Introduction | Search the Collection | Indexes and Descriptions of Types | Subject Authority List | Guide to Map Details | Preservation, Access, and Reproductions | Maps in other TSLAC Collections


SUBJECT AUTHORITY FILE - This is an annotated list of terms used in the subject index. The terms are briefly explained, with alternate and related headings given.

CARTOGRAPHER INDEX - Provides the name of the cartographer, the map title, map date and map number. The cartographer is the 'author' of the map. He may be the one who compiled the information--such as directing land surveys or assembling historical data, or the one who drew the map.

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATION/SUBJECT INDEX - In the printed index, this is a two-tiered system. In the electronic indexes, the primary term and secondary term can be searched together or separately. The primary or main term is a geographic locator, the secondary is a subject descriptor. The geographic locators selected to index a map vary with the focus and scale of the item. Terms may be as broad as World, North America, United States, Texas; or more specific as Texas, central; Travis County; or Austin, city of. Search terms for medium to large cities or cities with counties of the same name should be qualified by the phrase, "city of" to distinguish them from entries with similar names (Austin, city of; Austin County; Austin, Stephen Fuller).

Primary terms are generally geographical. However, proper names may also be primary terms. Proper names would include entries such as Indian tribes (Comanche Indians), well-known routes (San Antonio Road) and explorers (LaSalle, Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de). Proper names of individuals should be searched last name, first name. Proper names may also be used when the subject is difficult to express or locate under a single geographic entry, as with the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. In the latter case, the subject entry will also appear under a geographic heading.

The secondary terms refer to major subjects found on maps, such as, routes and trails, oil wells, railroads, or to a type of map, for example, survey map, highway map, nautical chart, general map.

Electronic access to the map collection is through place or keyword, subject, type, cartographer, year, map number, and/or publisher. Clicking on either the Image and the Photo Media boxes will return all the maps that have been scanned or have photographic reproductions. Similarly, if either of these boxes is clicked and you have entered search terms, the results are limited to scanned or photo duplicated maps.

Types of Maps

Given below are descriptions of the most common types of maps. Brief descriptions of other, less used types can be found in the subject authority file.

BIRDSEYE VIEWS are illustrated maps of towns or cities showing an angled, almost overhead view of the city. Buildings are drawn and other features are illustrated. These maps date predominately from the last quarter of the 19th century.

GENERAL MAPS show features typically found on maps of that time period.

LATE 17TH THRU LATE 19TH CENTURY GENERAL MAPS typically include water features and political boundaries, such as rivers, territories, states, counties, cities, and towns. The most common subjects found on these maps are routes and trails, Indian tribes and villages, forts, camps, railroads, battlegrounds, and mines. Earlier maps also show missions, presidios, and colonies.

LATE 19TH CENTURY THRU PRESENT DAY GENERAL MAPS show the usual water features and political boundaries. The most common subjects found are roads, railroads, and later, replacing railroads, highways. Later maps may also show parks and other recreational facilities.

GEOLOGIC MAPS generally show rivers, creeks, geologic rock formations and other substructural features, and sometimes diagrams of specific formations.

HISTORIC MAPS generally show the same features as general maps but were done at a later date than the period covered on the map. For example, a replica map of the Galveston - Houston area covers the period from 1800 to present day, focusing on features present in the area during the early to mid 1880s. It also shows some current features, such as highways.


COUNTY HIGHWAY MAPS by the Highway Department generally show roads, highways, water features, cities, towns, small communities; outlying buildings-- such as schools, post offices, churches, and ranch houses; cemeteris, oil and gas fields, parks and other recreational features, railroads, airports, utility lines, military bases, and other features. Many of the cities and towns are further detailed on supplemental sheets. These sheets provide a street map of the area, along with the details listed above.

STATE HIGHWAY MAPS show roads, highways, water features, counties, cities, towns, and often show state and national parks and forests, wildlife refuges and other preserves. Maps done by the State Highway Department generally show more detail than those done by commercial publishers.

NAUTICAL CHARTS are detailed maps of bays and other coastal bodies of water, generally done by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. In addition to water features, other items shown include islands, points, jetties, shoals, reefs, buoys, shipwrecks, submerged pipes and other items, bridges, dikes, pilings, soundings, canals, political boundaries, highways, and railroads. Navigational information is usually provided.

OIL AND GAS MAPS focus on oil and gas features, such as wells, fields, or pipelines. Often these maps are layouts or plans of a particular field. Water features and political boundaries are usually included.

OWNERSHIP MAPS show boundaries of land owners, generally overlaid on a survey map. Political boundaries and water features are often included.

PLANS show the layout (location of buildings, streets, artillery, troops, etc.) of an area, usually a mission, fort, military base, or battlefield. There are a few plans for some smaller cities or parts of larger cities.

PLATS show the layout of cities or towns, generally showing streets, lots, blocks, alleys, perhaps a few public and private buildings, and date through the early 20th century, predominately pre 1900. Later maps which show streets and public areas, but not lots and blocks are know as street maps.

RAILROAD MAPS focus predominately on railroads and/or railroad systems, also showing water features and political boundaries. These were usually done by the Texas Railroad Commission or a particular railroad line. After 1850, most general maps show railroads. In additional to maps providing large scale coverage of railroads, maps focusing on routes of particular railroad lines are also present.

SOIL MAPS show water features, political boundaries, ranches, roads, highways, railroads, and types of soils. Some maps will also show outlying buildings, mines, etc.

STREET MAPS generally show streets, roads and highways, railroads, water features, parks and other recreational facilities, cemeteries, and subdivisions. Other features often shown are public buildings, schools and universities, bus or trolley lines, military bases, and airports. The Highway Department's city supplements to the county highway maps generally show more detail within and without the city than do maps by commercial publishers.

SURVEY MAPS focus on the original land grants awarded by the Mexican and Texas governments, generally done by the General Land Office. Water features, political boundaries, and railroads are usually also shown.

TOPOGRAPHIC MAPS focus on the surface features of a region, and are usually done by the U.S. Geologic Survey. Features shown include swamps, marshes, canyons, mountains, contour lines, elevations, water features, political boundaries, roads, railroads, and outlying buildings.

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Page last modified: December 15, 2017