The World at Your Fingertips: Birmingham Public Library’s Digitized Map Collection

By Mary Beth Newbill | Southern History Department, Central Library

The Birmingham Public Library is home to an incredible collection of historic maps and atlases. Over 4,000 of them! Over the years, we have benefited from the generous donations of Rucker Agee, Joseph H. Woodward II, John C. Henley III, and Dr. Charles Ochs. The earliest map dates from 1528 and shows the known world at the time. It was created by an Italian engraver and cartographer, Benedetto Bordone.

Most of the early maps depict the western hemisphere during the Age of Discovery. Gradually, the focus of the collection shifts to maps of North America and eventually the southeastern United States and the State of Alabama.

Thanks to the support of the Sterne Agee Charitable Foundation, Inc., over 2,500 of our most significant maps have been cataloged and digitized and can be viewed online from the library’s digital collections.

Browsing the maps is easy and this accompanying video will walk you through that process. Each record includes an image that can be made full screen. You can then zoom in on all the fascinating details that make old maps special. The records also contain all of the bibliographic information about the map. This will tell you the date it was printed, the name of the creator, where it was printed, and may even give you the names of books that can further your research. You can choose to browse the maps by subject or date, depending on what you’re interested in. Of course, if you’re looking for a specific map you can always enter the title in the search box or even use our online catalog. All of the maps are included in the catalog and the digital images are linked from the records.

After browsing the online images, you may want to see the original maps. The map collection is located in the Southern History Department at the Central Library. Once the library opens up again, pay us a visit and we’ll be happy to help. It’s a good idea (but not necessary) to call or email us (choose the Genealogy and Local History option) prior to your visit so we can have the correct map waiting for you.

Maps are truly wonderful works of art and pieces of history. I hope you’ll enjoy exploring this fabulous resource.

Follow the links below for more information about how to use maps in your genealogy or local history research.

5 Ways to Use Online Historical Maps for Genealogy

FamilySearch Wiki

Using Maps as Historical Sources

Historic Maps as Historian's Evidence