New tool shows what county you are in right now

"What county am I in?"

That's one of the most common Google search terms that people use where appears in Google's search results page.

Given that's evidently a popular query, I thought I'd make it easy for people to immediately get the answer to their question.  Just go to this page:

Or even easier, you can just click this to see what county you're currently in:

You'll get a map with the answer at the top, like this:
what county am I in

TIP:  If you're traveling about and already have the map open, you can just click the "⊕ Locate" button in the upper right corner of the map to update your location on the map.

Why might this be useful?

Well, if you're currently at home or your work office, you very likely already know what county you are in.  But if you're traveling, you might want to use your mobile phone to determine what county you are currently in.  Based on user survey results from this past summer, users commonly want to know their current county for these purposes, to name a few:
  • house hunting/real estate
  • determining sales territory
  • field research
  • volunteer/emergency work
  • determining jurisdiction
  • sales tax
  • various hobbies such as geocaching
  • general interest
For this to work, you must have location services enabled on your mobile phone/browser/computer, and if asked "Allow to use your current location?", answer yes.
Hope this makes it one step easier to find out what county you are in!

Big upgrade to the Section Township and Range tool: more detail, more flexibility, new labels

After the infrastructure upgrade I mentioned in the last post, the increased speed of the maps enabled me to add much more detail to the very very large map layers (over 12 Gigabytes!) that comprise the Public Land Survey System (PLSS), also known as Section, Township and Range.

When you open the tool, you will now be presented with a Google Map overlaid with township and range lines, including labels, such as this:

Section Township Range on Google Maps example from Wyoming with labels

Note the Township and Range labels above.  For example, the box where the red dot is has a label "14N 67W" which is shorthand for "Township 14 North, Range 67 West".  (Note:  If you get a message that says "Area not covered" when you open the tool, then you're looking in an area that doesn't use the PLSS)

As you zoom in, progressively more detail and labels will appear, such as the Section numbers shown here:

Section Township Range on Google Maps example from Wyoming with section labels

And if you zoom in REALLY close on one township, you will even see the quarter quarter sections and their labels.  In this example, we can see the red dot in a box labeled "NENW", which is shorthand for "NE quarter of the NW quarter" of section 36:

Section Township Range on Google Maps example from Wyoming with quarter section labels

Head spinning?  Click for a primer on what the PLSS / Section Township Range system is all about, including which states use the system (which is most states outside of the original thirteen colonies).

TIPS and reminders for how to use the Section Township Range on Google Maps tool:

1. Search for any address, city, place or even GPS coordinates by using the "Search places" box above the map:

Section Township Range on Google Maps Search places box

The panel above the map will show it's section, township and range, such as when I typed "Pikes Peak, Colorado" and got this information:
Section Township Range on Google Maps Search places box and results

2. If you know a Section, Township and Range you want to find (for example, from an old deed such as BLM Land Patent records or a current land description), use the "Find Parcel" panel below the map.  TIP:  If you don't know the Section number, just leave it blank.
In this example, I specified Township 4 North, and Range 69 West, 6th Principal Meridian, Colorado, then clicked "GO!" and got this map with the township highlighted in yellow:

Section Township Range on Google Maps Find parcel panel

If I had specified a Section number, the map would have zoomed in all the way and highlighted the section:

Section Township Range on Google Maps Find parcel panel with sections

TIP to speed up entering info into the Find Parcel panel:  Use the TAB key to move between boxes, and type the first letter of each drop-down (e.g. type S for South, type C twice for Colorado).  Click "GO!" when you're done entering info.

3. Geeky fun:  If you want to know what Township, Range and Section you're in right now, use the  button in the upper right corner of the map!

4. As always, share this tool with friends that might find it valuable!

Remember, the Township Range Section map layers are VERY large (did I mention they're over 12 Gigabytes?) and drawing time may sometimes take a while, especially if there are a lot of labels.  So, on occasion the tool will require patience :)

Hope it helps you in your research!

A quick update on the increased speed of the mapping tools

After some infrastructure upgrades, all of the mapping tools are now operating faster!  In my time tests, I was seeing drawing speeds that were 2.5x to 3x faster than before the upgrade.

The very largest of map layers, such as Section Township Range on Google Maps, seem to see the biggest improvement (drawing in 5-6 seconds now vs 25-30 seconds before the upgrade), although other layers such as Historical Counties, County Lines and ZIP Codes also drew about 2x faster that before.

So you should on average see the information panel above the maps update a bit faster and see the maps draw a bit faster, especially when zoomed in to the state level or closer.  Enjoy!

This update applies to all of the following tools:

Off topic: Catch my wife Laura on JEOPARDY! tonight

Tune in to JEOPARDY! tonight to catch my wife Laura displaying her trivia prowess 😎

(I'm so lucky to have such an adorable smart wife 😍 )

Laura Majors on JEOPARDY!

Also, be sure and check out her wonderful collection of childrens' stories on Happy Cloud Stories!

Overlay present-day county lines on the Historical U.S. Counties on Google Maps tool

Based on an idea from a current user (thanks Steve!), there's now an option to overlay present-day county lines on top of historical county lines.

This gives you the ability to see at a glance if you're researching in an area and timeframe where the county lines have shifted between the historical date you're viewing and the present-day.  To use this feature, just check the "Also show present-day county lines" checkbox in the lower left of the map on the Historical U.S. Counties on Google Maps tool. 

When you check that box, you'll see thin red lines (present-day county lines) overlaid on top of the thicker brown lines (historical county lines).  You'll also see the "Present-day County" name listed in small red text above the map (next to the latitude/longitude).

As an example, let's say we're researching the Nashville area as of 15 Jul 1830.  (Type Nashville in the "Search places" box above the map and type 7/15/1830 in the "As of date" box above the map).
Then, check the "Also show present day county lines" checkbox, and you'll get a map that looks like this:

Present day counties overlaid on Historical US Counties on Google Maps tool, showing Nashville in 1830

On the above map, I've highlighted in yellow where the present-day county information is shown, based on the exact location of the red dot on the map. This tells us that this location was Davidson County, TN in 1830 and today, it still is Davidson County.

But, see the faint red lines in the above map?  Those are the present-day county lines.  So we can clearly see that the western side of Davidson County in 1830 is another county today, as is a small section in the southwest corner of 1830 Davidson County.  To find out what present-day county is in those two areas, just click the map.  You'll get this:
Present day Cheatham County on Historical US Counties on Google Maps tool, showing Nashville in 1830

The above map shows us that the western part of 1830 Davidson County where I clicked (the red dot) is now Cheatham County. 

This alerts us that if we are researching an ancestor who lived in Ashland City in 1830 (see the northwest part of 1830 Davidson County), those records may be housed in Davidson County's courthouse (barring the court house didn't burn down!).  Importantly, it tells us that if we're doing an 1830 Census search on Ancestry or FamilySearch (for example) for those ancestors that lived near Ashland City in 1830, we should make sure and filter the place based on Davidson County since that is where Ashland City was located in 1830 (even though it's in Cheatham County today).  I wrote an in depth how-to on this topic here:  How you may be sabotaging your search for ancestors...and how to fix it!

What about that little southwestern part of 1830 Davidson County?  What county is that area part of today?  Well, you'll have to go to the Historical U.S. Counties on Google Maps tool and find out!

Now feel free to add City Limits to your County Maps -- and actually see what's going on!

This enhancement pertains to the County Lines on Google Maps and Elevation on Google Maps tools.

As you may already know, you can choose to show US City Limits on your county lines map by checking the "Also show US city limits" checkbox in the lower left corner of the map.

If you've done that before, and happened to be looking in a busy metro area, you get a somewhat jumbled mess of red lines, making it hard to distinguish counties and cities.  Here's what it used to look like:
City Limits on County Lines on Google Maps, all red lines

Now, when you check the "Also show US city limits" checkbox, you can still see the red county outlines, AND now you get a colorful array of cities gracefully outlined in light grey:
City Limits on County Lines on Google Maps, colorized

Hopefully this way it's easier to distinguish the county lines (red) from the cities (light gray, lightly filled in with pastel colors).  But who am I kidding, it's New York, so it's still going to look kinda busy!

By the way, don't forget you can also show the names of the counties on the map by checking the "Show county labels" checkbox in the lower left corner:
City Limits on County Lines on Google Maps, colorized and labeled with county names

Head on over to the County Lines on Google Maps tool and check it out!

A Colorful Post about City Limits and ZIP Codes

This post is all about color.  In particular, adding color to the city limits and ZIP Codes in these tools:
A few people have wondered if I could add color to the city limits -- you know -- kind of like in those old Rand McNally road atlases, or National Geographic maps.

Now, the city limits are colored in by default.  So when you use the City Limits map tool, the map will look like this:

City Limits in the Los Angeles Area on Google Maps, colorized

This should make it much easier to distinguish the individual cities, especially in large metropolitan areas.  (In the past, the city limit lines were all red, making difficult to distinguish the individual cities from one another.)

Here's a before and after with ZIP Codes, including labels.

Without color:
Arkansas ZIP Codes on Google Maps, all red lines

And Colorized using the button in the upper left of the ZIP Codes map:
Arkansas ZIP Codes on Google Maps, colorized

Hopefully, this enhancement makes the maps a little easier on the eyes ;)

Check out these new enhancements here:
Enjoy, leave comments, and share with those who care!