What is a Cadastral Map?
The largest section of the Gesher Galicia Map Room presents more than 150 digitized historical cadastral maps of Galician cities, towns, and villages in an interactive format, for use in historical and genealogical research. Cadastral maps are beautiful to look at, but what exactly are they? This page provides an answer to that question plus a quick summary of some of the characteristics and features of historical cadastral maps which make them valuable to researchers. More detailed information on these topics is available in the References section of the Map Room.
Cadastral Maps Defined
English-language Wikipedia simply defines a cadastral map as "a map that shows the boundaries and ownership of land parcels". (In the United States, a cadastral map is also known as a plat.) A cadastral map is one component of a cadastre (or cadaster), which Wikipedia defines as "a comprehensive recording of the real estate or real property's metes-and-bounds of a country". Thus the cadastre and its maps are a means for recording and managing the legal and administrative boundaries of land parcels for land valuation and taxation. Maps were and are used together with legal registers (now databases) which identify the legal owners of individually numbered parcels, the actual or permitted economic use and value of each parcel, and more.
Using the registers to identify owners of parcels already makes cadastral maps interesting to family historians, but the characteristics and features of historical cadastral maps of Galicia make them much more valuable for research, as explained below.
Cadastral Maps Described
Historical cadastral maps combine science, art, and a powerful legal and administrative system into dense graphical displays of the layout and economic potential of large and small settlements. Browsing and studying the maps will reveal that:
- cadastral surveys and maps covered nearly the entire Austrian Empire: In Galicia, essentially every square meter of land and every building (residential, commercial, community, administrative) was depicted, without gaps even in the forests and agricultural lands far from town centers.
- the surveys from which the maps were created were both accurate and precise: By the start of the 19th century, Austrian survey science had caught up with French and other technical leaders, then applied the skills and effort over a huge geographic range.
- the maps are drawn at very high scale: At 1:2880, historical cadastral maps are the most detailed of all maps which depict Galician settlements: a millimeter on the maps corresponds to about 3 meters or 10 feet on the ground, so that the footprint of even a small house and other man-made features of a town could be faithfully depicted.
- numbers on buildings shown on initial survey maps are house numbers: House numbers on field sketches are historical addresses, corresponding to house numbers in vital records from the period, which means genealogists can identify the houses where their ancestors lived.
- numbers on buildings shown on final-state cadastral maps are building parcel numbers: With a corresponding historical property ownership register, genealogists can in many cases convert parcel numbers to house numbers, and identify the houses where their ancestors lived.
- cadastral maps and property registers identify buildings owned by religious communities: Synagogues, churches, ritual baths, monasteries, and hospitals owned and managed by Jewish, Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Protestant, and other faiths can be located on the historical maps.
- cadastral maps visually identify land owned by religious communities: Cemeteries are distinctly marked with unique symbols to identify the community which owns and uses the burial grounds.
- some field sketches include land parcel owners' names marked directly on the map: large land parcels for agriculture or wood away from town centers often have the names of property owners handwritten directly on the parcels.
- the maps record more than houses and religious community sites: Cadastral maps locate and illustrate many kinds of commercial and military features, including: forests, orchards, and a great variety of agricultural fields; dams and water reservoirs; meadows and salt marshes; man-made canals and water mills; stone and sand quarries, clay pits, and brickworks; distilleries and breweries; castles (and ruins); armories, riding schools, barracks, and other military facilities; plus civic administration buildings, public houses, hunting lodges, and post houses.
- a series of cadastral maps over many years shows the evolution of the settlement: Although many cadastral maps have been lost, for some towns there are several maps available in archives, covering a range of 30, 50, or even 70 years.
- many surviving cadastral maps show evidence of later field survey revisions: A majority of maps available in eastern Galician (Ukrainian) archives are marked by surveyors in the field, in red pencil and ink, to show observed and measured additions and changes to parcel boundaries, buildings, roads, and waterways, since the original survey.
- revisions on some maps capture the beginnings of the Austrian railroad system in Galicia: Redlines on maps record the establishment of railroad rights of way, the siting of train stations, and sometimes what was destroyed to make way for the rail system.
- there are comparable cadastral maps for Bukovina and the rest of the Austro-Hungarian Empire: All of the features of Galician cadastral maps were part of an Empire-wide standard system, and the imperial survey effort was applied in every kingdom, duchy, and other political unit.
And of course, the maps are also often very beautiful. For more information about many of these topics, see the References section of the Map Room.