Maps and Geography Research Tools

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Map research tools
Learn how private investigators use maps to plan surveillance and travel

A map is a diagrammatic representation of the earth’s surface, or a portion of it. The science and art of map-making is called cartography.  There are many different types of maps, such as:

Geographic maps of the world, countries, the United States, individual states, counties, cities and towns. Road Maps are important for planning vacation trips and surveillance missions, shows interstates, highways, roads and streets. Topographic maps show the topography of an area. Star maps show the constellations of stars in the sky. Online Maps such as MapQuest or Google Maps. Historical maps show the history of a geographical area. Census maps show the population and demographics of an area.

Following are links to websites and mapping resources, geographic information, and more:

Most Popular Map Websites

Google Maps – Provides directions, interactive tools, and satellite/aerial imagery of the United States. Google can also search by keyword such as type of business.

MapQuest – Yep, MapQuest is still around! This timeless classic helps you find directions for and explore towns and cities worldwide. MapQuest displays addresses and allows you to view nearby businesses, get driving directions and more

Maps.com – A leading provider of mapping products and solutions to business, education and consumer markets. Has wallmaps for the wall , world, United States, Travel, Travel Guides, Atlases and more.

Other Map Research Sites

  • Earth View – Click to zoom in on any world region
  • Gazetteer – U.S. (U.S. Census Bureau) – The United States Census Bureau gazetteer is used to identify places to view with the Tiger Map Server and obtain census data from the 1990 Census Lookup server. You can search for places or counties by entering the name and state abbreviation (optional), or 5-digit zip code.
  • How Far Is It? – This site allows you to type in 2 cities, Zip codes, or coordinates in the world and find out how far apart they are
  • Map Books 4 U: Thomas Guide Books – Order laminated Thomas Guides®, road atlases, Rand McNally Street Guides, EasyFinder Folded Laminated nav tools, Digital Edition Cd-Roms, Magnabrite® Magnifiers, and Wall Planners
  • Mapping the National Parks – The Mapping the National Parks collection documents the history, cultural aspects and geological formations of areas that eventually became National Parks. The collection consists of approximately 200 documents dating from the 17th century to the present, reflecting early mapping of the areas that would become four National Parks, as well as the parks themselves
  • Mineral Industry – International mineral locations provided by the United States Geological Survey
  • U.S. Census Bureau – TIGER – Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing system
  • U.S. Geological Survey – As an unbiased, multi-disciplinary science organization that focuses on biology, geography, geology, geospatial information, and water, we are dedicated to the timely, relevant, and impartial study of the landscape, our natural resources, and the natural hazards that threaten us. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) collects information needed to understand the Nation’s water resources, and provides access to water data, publications, as well as to recent water projects and events

International Maps

University Servers

The following are services maintained by various United States universities and colleges:

  • Clark University, Guy H. Burnham Map & Aerial Photography Library – An active spatial data information center of global scope. The collection consists of 230,000 documents, 7,800 aerial photographs, 1500 CD-ROMs, as well as atlases, journals, globes, reference materials, tourist information and monographs (primarily on the subjects of cartography, history of cartography, computerized cartography and imagery interpretation, remote sensing and GIS).
  • Digital Collection – University of California at Berkeley
  • Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division
  • University of California at Santa Barbara. Alexandria Digital Library Project for Geographically-Referenced Information (UCSB) – A distributed digital library with collections of georeferenced materials. ADL includes the operational library, with various nodes and collections, and the research program through which digital library architectures, gazetteer applications, educational applications, and software components are modeled, prototyped, and evaluated.
  • University of Georgia, Rare Collection at the Hargrett Library – The Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Georgia Libraries maintains a collection of more than 1,000 historic materials spanning nearly 500 years, from the sixteenth century through the early twentieth century. Although not limited to a single geographic subject, the collection heavily emphasizes Georgia as colony and state, along with its surrounding region.
  • University of Michigan – The principal collection for cartographic materials at the University of Michigan, with an emphasis on both historic and modern mapping, including digital resources. Has the largest collection of printed documents in the state of Michigan, and one of the largest at an academic institution.
  • USGS Digital Line Graph Data Browser – University of Virginia Library – Geostat (the Geospatial and Statistical Data Center) houses UVa’s data, geospatial data, and social science datasets. One of the library’s Electronic Centers, our lab has specialized software to analyze digital geographic and statistical data, and trained staff to help you find and access the data you need.

Mapping Books

Understanding how to read maps is a basic skill of a private investigator. Whether you’re trying to determine where to meet a client, or studying the movements of the subject you’re following, understanding how to read maps can help you navigate the streets and gather the information you need on the individual. Mapping skills are critical for planning surveillance missions and determining safe routes and driving paths when providing personal security and bodyguard services. The following books provide helpful information on:

  • The basic elements of maps, what they mean and how to read them
  • The best online websites and mapping tools to use for planning your surveillance
  • How to navigate from location to location, chart distances and estimate travel time
  • The best mapping software programs for computers, tablets and mobile devices
  • The different types of maps – U.S.A. maps, state maps, county, city, street maps and more

We recommend checking out these specific titles:

  • National Geographic Road Atlas – Adventure Edition
  • National Geographic Atlas of the World – You never know when a surveillance mission will lead you out of the country and even around the world. Be prepared with a powerful atlas from one of the world’s leading authorities.
  • Merriam-Webster’s Geographical Dictionary – Great for quickly looking up information.
  • Map Use & Analysis –  Become an expert on how to use and analyze.
  • Zip Code Atlas: United States Mail Business Bible (United States Zip Code Atlas) – This book may be helpful when doing research on a particular address, or if the only thing you have to start your investigation is a zip code.

In addition to books, private detectives should familiarize themselves with the latest software tools and apps designed for mobile devices. Having a strong working knowledge of the latest technology and tools will help you map routes and plan surveillance while on the go. Check out our article on how to use Google Maps in your surveillance planning process.

Michael Kissiah is the owner of Brandy Lane Publishing, LLC, which owns and operates a small portfolio of websites, including eInvestigator.com. Michael created eInvestigator.com more than 20 years ago after working as a private investigator in the state of Florida. Since that time, he has become an expert at how to find information online and has written over 1000 articles on topics related to the investigation industry. In addition, he is the author of the "Private Investigator Licensing Handbook", available at Amazon.com.

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