Dartmouth College Library Bulletin

Journey's End


SEARCHING FOR A geographic name and finding where it is located can be challenging. Some maps and most atlases provide an index of places along with an alphanumeric reference key for locating the place. These lists, however, are limited by the amount of information the maps can contain and still be usable. Populated places smaller than a city or town and natural features like mountains, hills, valleys, rivers, streams, lakes, and forests, unless well known, may be difficult to locate. Churches, hospitals, schools, airports, bridges, dams, battlefields, cemeteries, historic sites, and parks pose other problems. A gazetteer is a good reference source when one is trying to locate geographic names associated with either man-made or natural features. The eleven-volume Omni Gazetteer of the United States of America is one such source for geographic names in the United States. This gazetteer contains almost 1,500,000 entries for populated places, natural features, structures, facilities, locales, and historic sites located in the United States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Pacific territories. In the Editor's Preface, it is described as providing "the most exhaustive coverage of U.S. place names in any reference work, print or electronic." 1

Several authoritative sources have been used to compile the names in the gazetteer. Among these are the Geographic Names Information System (U.S. Geological Survey), The National Register of Historic Places, and the Bureau of the Census. Omnigraphics has taken into account disagreement between the sources regarding form of the name and spelling by listing more than one entry for some places. The Omni Gazetteer consists of eleven volumes. The first nine volumes are organized into state sections including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Pacific territories. Within each state section entries are alphabetically listed. Name, type of feature, county or equivalent, and source of name are provided for each entry. If relevant, ZIP codes, population, USGS 7.5 minute map name, latitude and longitude, and elevations are given.

Volume 10 is a National Index listing all entries in alphabetical order with information on the type of feature, the state, and the regional volume the entry can be found in. This volume is useful if you know the place name, but not the state it is located in. For genealogical researchers who are looking for an occurrence of a name, this volume is also helpful.

The Appendices make up Volume II. Within this volume are seven appendices: USGS Topographic Map Names Index, Index of Feature Types and Generic Names, National Register of Historic Places, State and County Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) Codes, Indian Reservations, U.S. Airports List, and Elevated Landmarks and Structures. Volume II also includes some interesting lists such as: Geographic centers of the states, extreme and mean elevations in the United States, large U.S. volcanoes, highest U.S. waterfalls, and longest U.S. rivers and river systems. The Omni Gazetteer is ready access to all kinds of place names in the United States.

Another way of accessing names of U.S. cities, counties, states, national parks, and some natural features is through the GEOGRAPHIC NAME SERVER 2 via DarTerminal on the Dartmouth College Information System. You access it by going into DarTerminal, typing lib, then connect geog. Instructions are given as to how to search the database by typing help. It is also available on Internet.

Source data is from the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Postal Service, and the Census Bureau. Like the Omni Gazetteer, some entries may have more than one record for the same place because of the merging of several sources. A few international cities have been added. Depending on the entry, information provided may include the county, state, nation, telephone area code, elevation, feature name, latitude and longitude, 1980 census population, and ZIP code. Future updates to the database will include time zones, 1990 populations, foreign cities, world airports, and weather data.

The Omni Gazetteer of the United States of America and the GEOGRAPHIC NAME SERVER have some inaccuracies. However, both are very useful tools when one is trying to locate a geographic name in the United States.

1. Ed. by Frank R. Abate (Detroit: Omnigraphics, Inc., 1991), 1:ix.

2. (Regents of the University of Michigan, 1992).