The physical location of the church building is actually one of the most important pieces of basic information.
This is because different sources can describe them in different ways. Over time place names can change, as can
street names, also the dedication can change as can the name of the denomination. So the physical location is
an ideal way of describing a particular church at a given date.
OS Grid references
We are using Ordnance Survey grid references (latitude/longitude for Ireland) to record church locations, and
this is used to interface to online maps to show where the church is or was located. Initially we used the
resolution that many of you may be familiar with that has references in the format SD371271. However this is only
precise to 100 metres, and this resulted in some churches being indicated on maps on the wrong side of the road,
which caused some confusion. So now we are using grid references at a higher resolution e.g. SD3711027160. This
could be viewed as being too precise as you could use it to locate your ancestor's pew rather than just the
church building. But it has a useful side effect in that we can make slight variations in the exact grid
reference when a church closes and another subsequently open in the same building and thus use the exact grid
reference to uniquely identify a particular church.
There are actually three types of church location held in the database.
- When we first discover that a church existed, we frequently only know which town it was in, with no further
information. So we add it with location for the town e.g.SD370270 and flag it in the database as being a very
approximate location. As you may have spotted we are using an imprecise grid reference indicating the square on
the map that contains the town centre. For locations in this state the results of searches on the web contain
distances rounded to whole numbers of miles and with a '~' before the distance. The markers which are used for
these churches on Google maps are square but with a jagged edge.
- Once we find out the name of the street that the church is/was on we can move to better approximation of
the position. Again we use the lower resolution grid reference e.g. SD371271 but we are using all the digits.
The usual technique is to choose the middle of the street on which it was located. Search results now show
distances to 1/10 of mile, and the markers used on Google maps have square edges.
- Finally when we know exactly where they were we move to an exact location of the form SD3711027160. Search results now show
distances to 1/10 of mile, and the markers used on Google maps have a tear drop shape.
How do we find a grid reference?
For approximate grid references we can use the traditional techniques of looking it up on a printed
Ordnance Survey map. For online maps we can use anumber of techniques according to the provider to work out the
relevant grid reference. There are some hints about doing this, but
over time they change the map user interface and so the place that you need to look on the screen can also
change. You may also find area specific mapping systems such as Mario for modern Lancashire.
So to make it simpler we've provided that ability to show a current church location marked ona Google map. You
can drag and drop the marker on the screen to a new location when a a bubble will appear on which you can click
either an approximate or precise location to enter a dialogue to report it to us. As you move the marker a
faint cross appears beneath it, and this needs to be positioned on the map at the location you want to
describe. Use the zoom controls to get a better view of the area, and for buildings that still exist the
satellite image option makes it quite easy to see exactly where the building is.
How can we see which churches need an exact location?
If you are wanting to help with a particular area it makes things much easier if we can exclude all the
churches for which we have an exact location and just leave the rest. You can do this using the advanced search
bar above the list of results from a basic search, or from the screen showing churches in an area plotted on a
Google map. Just select the box under the magnifying glass symbol to the left of the search bar and click 'New
A couple of techniques are useful for current churches. If you have a post code for the church then this can be
used in a search on Streetmaps to get an approximate location.
If you know the name of the street, and this only has one church on it, then the Magic site is useful in this
case. This goes to the level of individual buildings, and churches seem to have a bold outline with the
characters PW against them.
In both cases search the database for the church and go to the individual page for it. Links to the various
online maps are available on that page.
If the buildings still exist the most basic technique is to walk down the street and work out where they are.
Old churches usuually have a distinctive appearance which helps, but it is not always clear about the
denomination. Look for a stone in the building which may still contain a name describing what it was built as.
Do be aware that the names of the denominations have frequently changed over time.
Old maps are a very useful way to help discover where churches were located, but frequently they do not contain
as much detail as you would like and you need to look at maps taken at date when your church was in use. Go for
a map with the largest scale available as this is most likely to contain the information that you need.
You may find that somebody has published large scale maps on Cd for your county.
mapping depends on the amount of free space on the paper to add detail. Much more detail can be added in rural
areas than can be fitted on in towns and cities. So out in the countryside it may say 'Wesleyean Methodist
church', but in teh twon it may be just 'Methodist chapel' or even just 'Chapel' and you are not any clearer
about which one it might be. If you do a lot of research to find out all the churches in town, and there was
only one on that street then it is a reasonable assumption that you have found it.
The oldmaps website is one of the sources you can try. The scale is not large enough in towns to leave room for
the name of many of them, but they seem to have used a bold marker to indicate such buildings.
Find help, report problems, or contribute information.
[Last updated: Wednesday, 20-Jul-2011 15:32:23 BST - Phil Stringer]