I have a son who is presently working at the University of Florida and because of this I noticed that they have one of the premier academic map collections in the entire United States. From their Map and Imagery Collections page I found the following statistics:
The Map & Imagery Digital Collections includes materials from the University of Florida's Map & Imagery Library andDepartment of Special and Area Studies Collections, particularly the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History and theUniversity Archives. The physical Map & Imagery Library Collection contains more than 497,800 maps, 266,500 aerial photographs, 2,250 remote sensing images, and 7,215 atlases and reference books. It is the largest academic map collection in the Southeast, and among the top five academic map collections in the entire United States. The Map & Imagery Library has general map coverage world-wide. Specialties of the collection include Florida, Latin America, the United States, Africa, and the Holy Land.Well, so now I was interested in finding out the other four huge university collections. Oh, I might note that the University of Florida also has the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Florida.
Before I go on in my search for the other four, I think it is important to note that maps should be the genealogists constant companion. Too many times when I quiz people about their genealogy, they have no idea where are of the places they find are actually located. For this reason, many of the places are incorrectly identified or confused. I suggest that identifying on a map each and every location you cite in your research is important. Many of the current genealogy programs will do this automatically except not so well for places that no longer exist.
The next major university collection I came across was the Library of the University of California at Santa Barbara. Their collection is described as follows:
MIL's collections of maps, aerial photography, satellite imagery and other spatial data exceed 5 million information objects. As of 1992, MIL was ranked as the number one spatial data collection in the top 100 members of the Association of Research Libraries. According to the 2006 Guide to US Map Sources, MIL is the third largest academic map collection in the country.
Aerial Photography and other remote sensing data
The imagery collection is composed of 2.8 million aerial photographs and an unknown amount of satellite images stored as part of the legacy Alexandria Digital Library collections. New to aerial imagery? Check out our aerial photography tools to learn how to find flights covering your area of interest and read indexes. We also have a page that describes major portions of the collection.OK, so UC Santa Barbara is the third largest academic collection. Where are the others? It turns out that most universities have a map collection. That means there are thousands of map collections around the world. Another large collection shows up at Yale University. Here is the description from the website:
The Yale Map Collection has the largest collection of maps in Connecticut and one of the largest university collections in the United States. Its collections are geographically comprehensive and consist of over 200,000 map sheets, 3,000 atlases, and 900 reference books.There seems to be some overlap between claims to the largest collections and the largest digitized collections. Some of the libraries have extensive collections of paper maps with only a small percentage yet digitized. I would think that there would be a huge amount of duplication in these collections. For example, the USGS has all of the U.S. topographical maps with many of them digitized. I assume that most of the other map collections contain these topographical maps. This is the case with the claim by the University of Kansas T.R. Smith Map Collection as follows:
The Thomas R. Smith Map Collection, located on the first floor of Anschutz Library at the University of Kansas, is among the largest academic map collections in the United States. The map collection includes over 440,000 paper maps and air photographs, covering all areas of the world, with particular strengths in maps of Kansas and of the U.S.A.It would probably be a really good idea to search for maps from universities in the areas where your ancestors lived. This would be a good place to start. As for identifying the largest map collections in libraries, it turns out finding out which are the largest is very difficult due to differences in the way the collections are described.
Here is one compilation of websites that you might want to see: Images of early maps on the web. Have fun looking at maps.