An Easy Guide to Place Name Research

The town where you live has a name. So do its roads and buildings and its streams and hills. These names tell us about the land and water around us. They point us to the places we travel. They remind us of the people who came before us. If we pay attention, each name on the land has a story to tell.

Follow these steps to learn the story of a place name.*

 Find it on a map

Look on a map to find the location of the place you’re researching. More . . .

Local History

Start looking for Tompkins County place names in Place Names of Tompkins CountyMore . . .

Maps and Photos


You can find surprising details about a place in the most ordinary of sources, including old maps, photos, phone books, diaries, and obituaries. More . . . 


Talk to family members, friends, and neighbors. People who have lived in a place—especially those whose families have been here for a long time—are very good sources of stories about how places came to be named. More . . .

Search County

Town and county officials are required to keep records about roads and other named places, luckily for us. There are many documents that you can search to find information about place names. More . . .


Type or write down the place name story. Take photographs or draw pictures of the place to illustrate your story.

Share your place name history with the Names on the Land–Tompkins County project. Email your place name history to or submit through the form below.


*Note: Unfortunately not all place names can be traced through written documents or oral history. The sources listed in this research guide are the most accessible, but they do not provide information for all place names.

(Click here for a printable pdf of this place name research guide.)