Maps and Geography Research Tools for Private Investigators


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 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 – 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
  • Yahoo Maps – Yahoo’s facility. Street mappings and driving directions for US cities.
  • – 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.

Resarch Websites

  • 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
  • Route Planning – MapQuest – Includes Mobil Travel Guide. (Covers U.S. only)
  • TopoZone – View topographical and city data of any place in the United States at different zoom levels and sizes.
  • U.S. State Tourism Offices – This website provides links to official state tourism offices
  • 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
  • USGS Water Resources Information – 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 Areas

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

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.



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