Skip to Main Content

Historic Preservation - Dr. James Burke - Continuing Ed

  • URL:
  • Print Page
  • North Carolina Maps

    Robert M. Fales Collection

    Cemetery Records

    Primary Source Websites - American History

    Using Maps & Directories

    Researching prior land use patterns and/or specific details about the history of a parcel of land is a practical skill. Not only does it reveal how the attributes of land use evolve over time, it provides insight into the socioeconomic and political forces that shape that process. The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps are one of the essential tools for studying change in the historic urban environment. City directories are useful tools for examining years not included in a particular set of Sanborn maps. This section also includes a broad collection of other map resources for research projects. In addition, the websites for some useful mapping tools are posted under :

    "Mapping Tools"
    Often in the course of researching dwellings or businesses with a large context such as districts of a city, a county, or region, there is nothing better than a map to illustrate the spatial distribution of these elements. Using the tools in this section will allow the student to make maps for articles and presentations without having to take a special course in GIS. After compiling an Excel spreadsheet of specific addresses in the study area, add two columns for latitude and longitude. Use the geocoder to get decimal degree coordinates for the addresses. You can cut and paste from the geocoder into the spreadsheet fields.

    Don't forget the negative for the longitude if you want your point data in North America!

    Save your spreadsheet as a CSV (Comma delimited) file. With the open source program MapWindow GIS, you can convert the CSV file to SHP map layer file. You will need at least one other shape file layer to make a map. While MapWindow includes some state and county shape files, many useful shape file layers can be downloaded from the National Atlas, or a website like MapCrusin (for example, the shape file layer for the North Carolina highway and road network can be downloaded from ).

    Here is an example of points from a shape file layer created using an Excel spreadsheet and MapWindow. The street network shape file was downloaded from MapCrusin (Figure 1).

    Figure 1

    After becoming familiar with the tools in the pull down “Layer” menu of MapWindow, it is rather easy to give points and lines different colors, shapes, sizes, and special labels. It takes a little practice. In addition to link to the MapWindow download, this page also provides links to another open source GIS program uDig, and the free GIS viewer ArcGIS Explorer from ESRI.

    Wilmington, NC City Directories

    A city directory is a listing of the locations of businesses, organizations and residents within a city.  Originally providing addresses, they later provided addresses and telephone numbers.

    Some will be organized alphabetically by name only, Others may have listings arranged geographically as well.  Some additionally have an index grouping types of organizations such as churches or dry goods stores.

    Below are links for historical city directories--all part of the UNC-Chapel Hill sponsored collection available at Archive.Org

    BASIC Mapping Tools - Finding Map Data

    Allow users to type in a street address to retrieve the longitude & latitude of the location.

    ADVANCED Mapping Tools - Creating Maps