The structure feature types that volunteers are currently collecting include schools, colleges and universities, fire and EMS stations, law enforcement, prisons and correctional facilities, hospitals, ambulance services, cemeteries, and post offices. Volunteers can collect and update the 10 different structure feature types in all 50 states, as well as in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
See our structure list for a quick summary of what these points entail. Click on the links below for additional information on each structure type.
What is a school?
Schools are typically divided into three separate categories based on grade levels offered: Elementary, Middle, and High school. We also include a fourth category (i.e., General School) for those schools whose grade levels do not fall into one of these categories. This is most often the case for schools that combine two or more categories into one organization, such as K-12 schools.
It is important to note that there is no ultimate black-and-white definition for what category a school falls in. Each school district structures their schools in a unique way, and this structure is the ultimate deciding factor of what category a school falls into.
Here are some general guidelines for what each school category entails:
Elementary School: A school for the beginning years of a child's education, often including kindergarten. Does not include combined elementary and middle schools (e.g., K-8 schools), K-12 schools, or any schools where kindergarten is the highest (or only) level offered. Schools covering grades K-8 or grades K-12 should be categorized as a General School. Schools offering PreK-K or K-only are considered preschools and should be deleted.
Middle School: A school between elementary school and high school; levels generally include grades 6th through 8th. However, grades 5th through 8th or 6th through 9th may occur in some states. Does not include schools extending beyond the 8th grade or schools serving 5th grade and below (e.g., PreK-5, K-5, K-12, or 6-12). Schools covering K-12 or 6-12 should be categorized as a General School.
High School: A secondary school attended after middle school that usually goes through grade 12. A high school diploma is offered upon graduation from this type of school. Does not include schools that include 8th grade or lower (e.g., K-7), or schools that include grades in addition to the traditional high school grades (e.g., K-12 or 6-12). Schools covering K-12 or 6-12 should be categorized as a General School.
General School: A building or building complex that offers education for children in grades kindergarten through high school. Includes schools that do not fall into a specific category, such as K-8, K-12, or 6-12 schools.
EXAMPLE: If a school does not self-identify, the table below provides a few scenarios that you might encounter:
School District A
School District B
School District C
Many schools, especially rural schools, have multiple institutions all in one building. Should these be depicted as one school, or multiple schools (elementary school, middle school, high school)? This generally is decided based on information from the school website or the state department of education website. If these websites list separate schools at the same address, then add one point for each school, with each point placed within the footprint of the building. Our March 2019 Newsletter contains an article titled “Rare Find: 4 High Schools in One!” that walks users through this very scenario.
The best place to find information about a school is on a dedicated school and/or district website. These websites are the first to reflect any changes in pertinent information (e.g., name, address, etc.) and therefore are typically the most accurate. If a dedicated school and/or district website cannot be found (as may be the case for smaller, rural, and/or private schools), there are many secondary sources that compile information from authoritative sources into an aggregate list. Examples of secondary sources include:
State department of education websites: These typically include all of the licensed public schools in the state. They may also include private schools, but in general they should not be considered a comprehensive list of private schools because they may only include schools whose school administrators have requested to be on the list.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) maintains a database of public and private schools. This database is a result of a voluntary survey results for the Department of Education. Public schools are surveyed every year. Private schools are surveyed every 2 years. The NCES website allows a search for private or public schools by city, county, or state.
The National Association of Independent Schools has an online searchable database.
The National Parochial Schools Association lists parochial schools by state.
Insiders Tip: Many schools have websites or official Facebook pages that include a news section or event calendar. Before assuming all the information is valid, check to see if recent posts have been made to the page’s news or events section. There are scenarios where a school may have recently closed but its website is still online. Checking the news or events sections for recent updates helps to verify if the school is still in operation.
Check out our Authoritative Sources List for more on the types of sources that are acceptable.
What is a College / University?
The key indicator of a college or university is that the institution grants degrees. There are 4 types of degrees: Associate, Bachelor, Master, and Doctoral.
Degree-granting is generally regulated by the States, with each having a higher education agency to oversee degree-granting institutions. The U.S. Department of Education has a list of these higher education agencies that maintain lists of the degree-granting institutions in their state.
An institution’s individual website is the best place to find authoritative information on a College / University. Therefore, it is highly recommended that users confirm the information on these lists by locating the website for each College / University listed.
In general, each college and/or university campus should be represented by a single structure point placed on the administrative building for that institution. If one does not have firsthand knowledge of the location of the administration building, it can usually be found on the school's campus map. If the location of the administration building cannot be determined, then place the structure point on a building at the center of the campus.A university campus may contain several colleges or schools (i.e., College of Arts, College of Sciences, School of Business, School of Medicine), but so long as these are units of the same university and located on the same campus, then they should be not be added as separate points. One point would represent the university or college. However in some cases, separate institutions may share the same campus (for example, the Auraria campus in Denver, Colorado is home to Metropolitan State University of Denver, the University of Colorado Denver, and the Community College of Denver) – in this case each institution should be represented by a separate point. Some colleges, especially in an urban environment, may have multiple campuses or widely dispersed buildings. In general a separate campus should be represented by its own structure point. However, if a dispersed college location consists of a single building, or a few rooms in a single building, then use your best judgment as to whether it is important enough to be considered a campus and therefore justify a separate structure point. Medical schools that are co-located with hospitals should be represented by a separate College / University structure point. The associated hospital would be represented as a separate Hospital structure point.
What is a Fire Station/EMS Station?The basic requirement for a Fire Station/EMS Station is that the structure contains a fire engine. It may or may not also house an ambulance. Fire personnel visit the station on a regular basis to keep the equipment clean and shiny and ready to go, and before being dispatched into the community for an emergency. It may only have volunteer responders and not full time personnel on site.
Fire department web pages are the best source of data, but may not specify the locations of stations. Fire Departments in smaller and/or rural communities may have their own Facebook page in place of a website. Page 6 of our July 2017 Newsletter has an infographic on Facebook as an authoritative source.
Where can I find authoritative lists of Fire Stations?
County and city websites also often have information about fire departments through their emergency management offices.The US Fire Administration has the most complete nationwide list of fire departments, however this data may be dated and not complete. Their list is the result of a voluntary National Fire Department Census wherein during the years 2001 to 2004 fire departments filled out and handed in survey forms. The USFA is "continuously working to encourage more fire departments to participate in the census," however, since the original census now is almost 20 years old, some of the information is out of date. The list can be downloaded for the entire nation or by state. The list is by fire department, so it will tell you how many stations a Fire Department has, but not where they are. There may be some contact information, such as address, phone number, and website.Check out our Authoritative Sources List for more on the types of sources that are acceptable.
Try to find out the official name of the station; it often has the format: <fire-department-name> <station-name>. For example "Denver Fire Department Station 1". Official station names sometimes have either a "-" or a "/" in the station name, and while the Attribute Guidelines say that special characters should be avoided, they can be used if necessary to document an official fire station name.
How do I name a Fire Station?
Check out our Name and Address Formatting guide for more on how to properly name fire stations.
What is a Law Enforcement structure?
Law Enforcement structures consist of the offices of state troopers, county sheriffs, and city police officers. However, if a county sheriff's deputy works out of his house in a rural area, we do not include that location as a structure point (i.e., we never capture private residences as structure points).
When editing Law Enforcement structures, you may occasionally come across a county jail with the symbol of a Law Enforcement structure. If you encounter any of these points, you can either skip or delete them. This is because these are not structures we are actively collecting. Check out this Q&A for more on how to handle county jails.
Sometimes the sheriff’s primary office is housed in the same building as the county jail. If the sheriff’s office is in the same building as the jail and dispatches into the community, then this is a point that we would collect as a Law Enforcement structure. However, if the sheriff’s only purpose in the building is jail security (i.e., it does not dispatch officers into the community), then this is considered part of the county jail and therefore is not a point we are collecting.
Our Q&A community includes several entries for Law Enforcement structures, including entries about School Police, County Jails, Community Oriented Police Houses, Constables and Peace Officers, and Park Police.
Where can I find authoritative lists of Law Enforcement structures?
There are no authoritative lists of Law Enforcement structures.
County and city websites are the best sources for this information and typically have a separate page for law enforcement offices within their boundaries. Law enforcement offices in smaller and/or rural communities may have their own Facebook page in place of a website. Page 6 of our July 2017 Newsletter contains an infographic on properly using Facebook as an authoritative source.
County sheriff's offices should be named like this: Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. Police departments for smaller cities generally have only one office which should be named like this: Lakewood Police Department; but larger cities may have Precinct or Division offices which would be named like this: Denver Police Department District 1 Station.
What is a Prison / Correctional Facility?
A Prison / Correctional Facility consists of federal and state prisons and juvenile detention facilities. It is important to note that city and county jails are not included. Check out this Q&A for how to handle county jails.
Where can I find authoritative lists of Prison / Correctional Facilities?
What is a Hospital / Medical Center?
A Hospital / Medical Center is a facility which provides inpatient (overnight) care. In general, these are regulated by state health departments as licensed hospitals. Common hospital types include critical access, general, long-term care, psychiatric and rehabilitation hospitals.
Where can I find authoritative lists of Hospital / Medical Centers?
Refer to state health departments for authoritative lists of hospitals in a given state. There are many types of medical facilities, but only those that are listed as hospitals should be included.
Where should I place a Hospital / Medical Center facility structure point?
Some hospitals have only one building, in which case the point should be placed at the center of this building. Larger hospitals may either have a larger complex building, or consist of several individual buildings on a medical campus. If a hospital has multiple buildings as part of the same campus, place the point at the center of the campus.
If an ambulance is located in a fire station and is operated by fire department personnel, it is considered part of the fire department and not a separate ambulance service for our purposes. However, it is not uncommon for contract, private or non-profit ambulance services to operate out of fire department stations through a government contract or mutual aid agreement. (The fire department’s website usually specifies the relationship between the two entities.) These facilities, which are not operated by the fire department personnel, meet the criteria for ambulance collection.
Do we include air ambulance (helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft) locations as Ambulance Service locations?
Air ambulances are included as ambulance service locations; however it may be difficult to determine where helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft are stationed. Most hospitals have helipads, but these are not home stations for air ambulances. The home stations for air ambulances generally are at airports. State health departments or state emergency management divisions may maintain lists of air ambulance services licensed to operate within their state.
Ambulance services generally are licensed by counties or by state, so you may find information listed on government websites. State health departments or state emergency management divisions may also may maintain lists of ambulance services.
What are authoritative sources of information about cemetery locations?There is no single complete authoritative source of information about cemeteries, but there are many internet resources that together can provide a fairly complete list of cemeteries:
- The Find A Grave website has quite a comprehensive list; you can search for cemeteries by name or county. The website provides latitude and longitude for most cemeteries.
The BillionGraves website has coordinates for cemeteries in its database, and shows the location of the cemetery on aerial imagery. You can search their database by county.
The topoView application contains an archive of older USGS topographic maps which can be downloaded and viewed on a computer. These older maps show the locations of many (not all) cemeteries. It is particularly useful for locating older cemeteries in rural areas. Note that if a cemetery is not shown on an older map, this does not mean that the cemetery does not exist; it just may not have been validated by field crews at the time. It is also important to note that not all cemeteries on the older topographic maps were named. Therefore, if a cemetery is shown on a map from the topoView archive but is not named, try using one of the other sources listed here to identify the cemetery’s proper name.
The Churches and Cemeteries website lists cemeteries by state and county.
Local historical or genealogical societies may have lists of cemeteries as well.
Where do I place a cemetery structure point?
The general rule is to place the cemetery structure point at the center of the burial grounds. A single point should be placed even if a cemetery has a combination of facilities (e.g., graves, mausoleums, columbariums).
- If there is a road intersection nearby, add the road names, for example, "County Road 10 and US Highway 20".
- If there is only a single road nearby, use only the name of the nearest road, for example, "County Road 10".
- If no road is nearby, leave the Address blank, and fill in only the nearest city (and zipcode, if you know it). The State is the only required field when address information is not available.
Why do we collect information about cemeteries?
"...as a lifelong genealogist, I have been frustrated with the gap between local information about cemeteries and what is easily available in a consistent, reliable, national format. I have benefited from hundreds of thousands of hours of work by others and this is the way I am giving back."
The United States Postal Service (USPS) is a branch of the federal government that sells postage and delivers mail to the general public. Only official USPS facilities that are staffed with postal service employees and have window service hours for the public should be collected.
USPS.com’s Find Locations tool is the primary authoritative source for post offices. To limit this list to approved USPS facilities, go to USPS.com’s Find Locations tool, select “Post Offices and Approved Postal Providers” from the Location Types list, click on the Refine search link, and then make sure that only “Post Offices” and “Village Post Offices” are checked.
If you're interested in reviewing all of the post offices for a city or county, go to the USPS Find Locations web page, restrict the search to “Post Offices” and “Village Post Offices,” type in the city of interest, and select a reasonable search radius. Then go through all of the locations and make sure they are represented in The National Map Corps’ editor. If you are working on a county, then successively type in the names of various cities in that county with a reasonable search radius for each so that when each of your search results are combined you get complete results for the whole county. NOTE: there is a USPS web page for searching for post offices within a county, but this search uses an out-of-date database, so it is recommended not to rely on this county search.
Naming Post Offices:
The preferred way to name a post office is: <Name> + “Post Office” where <Name> is the title listed on the USPS website (e.g., “Pueblo Post Office”). Occasionally, you will see a post office on the USPS website that has a name like “Westminster (Harris Park)”; in this case, name the post office as: "Westminster Post Office Harris Park Station”.
A City / Town Hall is the primary administrative building of a township or municipal government. City and town halls are usually associated with incorporated places in the U.S. Incorporated places are a legally defined entity and may be called city, borough, town, or village (depending on the state). There are over 19,000 incorporated places in the U.S. as per the Census Bureau's Boundary and Annexation Survey (BAS). There are no incorporated places in Hawaii or Puerto Rico.
What is a City Hall / Town Hall?
City and town halls mainly house the mayor and the city/town council, as well as assorted local government departments often including, but not limited to: the municipal court, the city clerk, the city manager, or the local police department (in smaller towns). Please note that this feature class does not include county, state, or federal level administration buildings.
Where can I find authoritative lists of City / Town Hall structures? There are no authoritative lists of City / Town Hall structures. The best way to confirm a City / Town Hall structure is to research the official website of the city, village, or township.
The closest thing to a national list may be a list of cities and townships on Wikipedia.com, however these only include a small portion of the country’s cities and townships. When using lists like these, it is important to verify each City / Town Hall with an authoritative source.
Sometimes a state government website or a search for a list of city halls for a specific state will yield a list of municipalities to review for city and town hall locations. Some states have municipal league organizations which may be informative. Many states now have on-line maps which may offer municipal locations.
Check out our Authoritative Sources List for more on the types of sources that are acceptable.
Most municipalities or townships have one central city or town hall building. If this is the case, place the point at the center of the building.
Where do I place a City / Town Hall structure point?
Some municipalities may have a municipal “campus” of buildings with administrative offices; others may have individual buildings that are geographically distributed throughout the city. It is important to note that we are not collecting the location of individual city departments. We are only collecting the primary city/town hall (i.e., typically the building that houses the city council and/or mayor’s office). Place the point at the center of this building.
Multiple incorporated places may share a building for their government functions. If so, add a point for each city/town hall. An example of this is the Rye Town Office which occupies space on the Third Floor of the Port Chester Village Hall in Port Chester, NY.
For more information on how to identify a City / Town Hall, check out the “Aerial Photo Interpretation Part 8: City/Town Halls” article in our November 2018 Newsletter.
Similar to courthouses, try to determine the name of the building when editing City / Town Hall structures. Common terminology for building names may include City Hall, Town Hall, Village Hall, Municipal Building, Municipal Center, and City Building among others. Contact information on government websites usually includes the building name with the address. Examples include Denver’s City and County Building which houses Denver’s city council, or Cedar Rapids’ City Hall which houses the city manager:
How do I name a City / Town Hall?
Our Name and Address Formatting Guide has a few additional examples of how to properly format a name for this structure type.
What is a County Courthouse?Our User Guide describes a County Courthouse as the primary building out of which the highest court in the county operates. County courthouses must contain an active courtroom.
Additional characteristics of a County Courthouse may include the building being open to the public, a county judge operating out of that building, as well as the county clerk having an office in the building.
Please note that this feature class does not include county administration buildings. Nor does it include city/municipal, appellate, or federal level courthouses.
Where can I find authoritative lists of County Courthouses?
Most states maintain a state judiciary website (e.g., Colorado’s Judicial Branch website) that describes the state’s court system. Such websites usually include a web-page that lists all of the courts throughout the state. County websites also frequently have information about the county court system along with directions to the courthouse for jurors.
Another helpful resource is the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). NCSC provides links to state judiciary websites while also providing a “Court Structure Chart” that visually depicts the state’s court hierarchy. These structure charts are especially helpful for identifying which type of court is the highest county-level court. Each structure chart includes links to the state’s judiciary website.
Courtreference.com is another helpful website that lists all the courts by county in each state.
Check out our Authoritative Sources List for more on the types of sources that are acceptable.
Where do I place a County Courthouse structure point?
Larger counties may have a judicial “campus” that consists of buildings and houses other structures such as the county sheriff’s office or the county jail. Among these, you may be able to tell which building contains the courtroom from Google Street View™, from an online facility map, or by examining the photo of the building entrance on its webpage and comparing this to the building footprint in the satellite image. If this is the case, place the point on the building which contains the courtroom for the highest level county court.
There are also instances where the county court system is dispersed into multiple buildings across the region, resulting in multiple courtrooms. In these instances, if there are multiple locations that contain a courtroom for the highest level county court, then each location should be captured by a county courthouse point. An example would be 15th Judicial Circuit Court in Palm Beach County, Florida. The circuit court is the highest level county court in Florida, and 15th Judicial Circuit Court lists multiple courthouses (e.g., Judge Daniel T K Hurley Courthouse, Palm Beach Criminal Justice Complex, Palm Beach North County Courthouse, Palm Beach South County Courthouse, and Palm Beach West County Courthouse), all of which are located in Palm Beach County, Florida.
It is important to note that we are not collecting the location of individual court systems. We are only collecting the building that houses the courtroom(s) for the highest level county court.
When naming a courthouse, try to determine the name of the building. Contact information on government websites usually includes the building name with the address. An example would be Michigan’s Lenawee County Circuit Court located in the “Rex B Martin Judicial Building.”
How do I name a County Courthouse?
Our Name and Address Formatting Guidelines document has a few examples of how to properly format a name for this structure type. Our User Guide also provides a thorough walkthrough of the courthouse naming process.