Finding places in Lithuania


One of the challenges in finding information about one's Lithuanian ancestors is figuring out their place of birth, death or marriage in Lithuania. Usually this information is available to descendants of Lithuanian emigrants from ships' manifests, naturalization papers, social security applications, draft cards and the like. Unfortunately, in many cases the Lithuanian names of the geographical locations got severely mangled, as they were written down "by ear" by English-speaking officials. On top of that, due to long periods of Russian and/or Polish rule, use of the original Lithuanian names was suppressed, leading to use of Russified or Polonized location names, further adding to the confusion.

If you are searching for records from Russian Empire times, note that references to Kowno/Kovno/Kaunas, Suwalki/Suvalki, and Wilno/Vilno/Vilnius do not necessarily mean that your ancestors came from that specific city, but that the place they came from was in the corresponding governorate (gubernya, губерния) - a unit of administrative division during that time. The three governorates mentioned above covered the territory of modern-day Lithuania, apart from the south-western part, which was part of Prussia.

This page provides links to some resources which may be helpful in matching the historic location names linked to Lithuanian emigrants to corresponding modern Lithuanian geographical names.

Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland

The Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and other Slavic Countries, published between 1880 and 1902 (in Polish), contains a comprehensive list of geographic locations with descriptions, including the Lithuanian ones.

The original site hosting the dictionary has very limited search capabilities, only exact location search is supported. One can also use this site to jump to a specific page in a volume, so it can be used to perform a binary search for a location.

The Polish Wikipedia page for the dictionary used to contain an alphabetic index (partial) for easy navigation. Now you need to use this page to access the index. Click on the starting letter you are interested in on the right-side panel, then in the "Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego" section click on pokaż to navigate.

While using this resource it's useful to remember a few rules which were applied when converting Lithuanian names into Polish ones:

Lists of inhabited places

Lists of inhabited places, issued by the government of the Russian Empire, are available in the electronic format for the governorates of Kaunas (Kovno) and Suwalki. Those are pretty comprehensive, and include even the obscure locations with only few residents, however they are in Russian.

Shubert's maps of the Russian empire

These are detailed maps of the Russian empire from the end of 19th century. Due to their scale (3 versts to 1 inch, a verst being an obsolete Russian unit of length equal to 1.0668 km or 0.6629 miles), they are also known as "three-verst maps" (трехверстовка). The maps are available online, start here, then click on the individual maps sheets. Territory of modern-day Lithuania is covered by sheets 10-1 to 10-4, 11-1 to 11-4, 12-1 to 12-4 (approximately).

This site has a very nice searchable map which contains an overlay of old Russian Empire map from 1872 (might be actually same Shubert's maps described above) on top of the modern maps. Use the opacity slider in the top-right corner to make more of the modern map visible.

The contains an impressive collection of maps of Lithuania and surrounding areas going back to 16th century. Includes some detailed/high-resolution maps.

For finding really small Lithuanian villages and settlements on modern Lithuanian map, is known to work better than other online map providers. It also offers a search which will try to offer alternatives if an exact match cannot be found.

Google Maps

Google maps are occasionally useful due to their auto-completion feature. If you don't know the exact spelling, you can type "Lithuania" followed by a space and the beginning of the place name you are interested in into the search box. If you are lucky, you might get a relevant auto-completed result. One pitfall with Google Maps is that if there are multiple matches for a particular place name, it will only return one of them (by focusing the map on it), while, for example, returns the locations of all matching towns/villages.
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