Thursday, October 19, 2006

USDA Soil Survey Maps

Originally published in UpFront with NGS, The Online Newsletter of the National Genealogical Society., Volume 5, Number 1 - 1 January 2005
A recent article in the Library of Virginia's newsletter talks about a new preservation project currently being carried on which involves early 20th century soil survey materials. These are part of the Library's Federal Depository Library Program Collection and would, of course, be part of any Federal Depository Library's collection-Federal publications and other information products are made available for free public use in Federal depository libraries throughout the United States. These libraries can be located at

The Library of Virginia article describes the value of these early maps:
The extremely colorful maps provide detailed information on soil content as well as information useful to genealogists and historians, such as place names, locations of buildings, population densities, extant canals and river channels, and other information that can help the researcher.
The early soil survey materials were published beginning in 1899 as part of the U.S. Serial Set and as part of the publications of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. While the reports are useful, the maps are of even more importance. The series ceased in this format in 1922 after publishing 1102 maps. Current soil survey maps and their accompanying data can be located at the USDA Web site:

Typical of most libraries Stony Brook University New York provides access to their collection only at the library-noting on their Web site:
Most soil surveys are arranged by state and county on shelves behind the atlases in the Map Collection. Older (pre-1950) soil maps of the Northeastern states have been removed from their accompanying booklets, and are filed in the locked brown map case near the file cabinets containing the U.S.G.S. folio series.
South Carolina has posted their early maps on the Web. In their
description of this unique resource they note:
The true value of the original soil survey is not in their soil information but in the basic cultural data which was overlaid on the base map. Today archaeologists, historians, and environmental engineers are among the many researchers that rely on the older soil survey collection. The older maps contain information of significance that is not available on updated soil surveys or even the USGS topographic maps.

Examples of this are: old rail lines, schools, churches and other structures as well as entire towns that no longer exist.
Their collection can be accessed at

Those researchers who are interested in states other than South Carolina and who cannot travel to a federal depository library can access this data through the Lexis-Nexis Congressional database which includes the full text of the U.S. Serial Set. Most university libraries have subscriptions to Lexis-Nexis available to the public at their main libraries.

ITC: International Institute for Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation -

Not to know what happened before we were born is to remain perpetually a child. For what is the worth of a human life unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors. - Cicero


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