Geographic Names Information System (GNIS)

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Frequently-anticipated questions:


What does this data set describe?

    Title: Geographic Names Information System (GNIS)
    Abstract:
    The Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), developed by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN), contains information about physical and cultural geographic features in the United States and associated areas, both current and historical, but not including roads and highways. The database also contains geographic names in Antarctica. The database holds the Federally recognized name of each feature and defines the location of the feature by state, county, USGS topographic map, and geographic coordinates. Other feature attributes include names or spellings other than the official name, feature designations, feature class, historical and descriptive information, and for some categories of features the geometric boundaries. The database assigns a unique feature identifier, a random number, that is a key for accessing, integrating, or reconciling GNIS data with other data sets. The GNIS is our Nation's official repository of domestic geographic feature names information.
    Supplemental_Information:
    The U.S. Board on Geographic Names Comprised of representatives of Federal agencies, appointed for 2-year terms, the Board is authorized to establish and maintain uniform geographic name usage throughout the Federal Government. Sharing its responsibilities with the Secretary of the Interior, the Board has developed principles, policies, and procedures governing the use of both domestic and foreign geographic names as well as undersea and Antarctic feature names.

  1. How should this data set be cited?

    U.S. Geological Survey, 19810501, Geographic Names Information System (GNIS): U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA.

    Online Links:

  2. What geographic area does the data set cover?

    West_Bounding_Coordinate: -180.00
    East_Bounding_Coordinate: 180.00
    North_Bounding_Coordinate: 72.00
    South_Bounding_Coordinate: -90.00

  3. What does it look like?

  4. Does the data set describe conditions during a particular time period?

    Beginning_Date: 1974
    Ending_Date: Present
    Currentness_Reference: Ground Condition

  5. What is the general form of this data set?

    Geospatial_Data_Presentation_Form: Tabular digital data and vector digital data

  6. How does the data set represent geographic features?

    1. How are geographic features stored in the data set?

      Indirect_Spatial_Reference:
      Features are located by State and county, and related to the USGS topographic map on which the feature is shown.
      This is a Vector data set. It contains the following vector data types (SDTS terminology):
      • Entity point
      • Area point
      • Node, planar graph
      • Complete chain
      • GT-polygon composed of chains

    2. What coordinate system is used to represent geographic features?

      Horizontal positions are specified in geographic coordinates, that is, latitude and longitude. Latitudes are given to the nearest 0.00028. Longitudes are given to the nearest 0.00028. Latitude and longitude values are specified in decimal degrees.

  7. How does the data set describe geographic features?

    Geographic feature
    A geographic feature is any relatively permanent part of the natural or manmade landscape or seascape that has recognizable identity within a particular cultural context. The primary attributes of a geographic feature are name and location. (Source: Principles, Policies, and Procedures: Domestic Geographic Names, By Donald J. Orth, Executive Secretary, Domestic Geographic Names (emeritus) and Roger L. Payne, Executive Secretary, United States Board on Geographic Names and Domestic Geographic Names, Third printing (revised) and Preliminary Online Edition, 1997 (<http://geonames.usgs.gov/pppdgn.html>).)

    Feature Identification
    A random unique identifying number for a geographic feature. This number is assigned by the Geographic Names Information System and used as a relational key for uniquely identifying, indexing, and searching geographic features and for integrating or reconciling GNIS data with other data sets. The number has no information content. (Source: Geographic Names Office, USGS, 523 National Center, Reston, VA 20192-0523.)

    Range of values
    Minimum:1
    Maximum:9,999,999,999

    Feature Name
    A geographic feature name and its written form and application approved or recognized as official by the United States Board on Geographic Names for use throughout the Federal Government. The official name is established either by policy or by decision of the Board on Geographic Names. A geographic feature may have only one official name. (Source: Principles, Policies, and Procedures: Domestic Geographic Names, By Donald J. Orth, Executive Secretary, Domestic Geographic Names (emeritus) and Roger L. Payne, Executive Secretary, United States Board on Geographic Names and Domestic Geographic Names, Third printing (revised) and Preliminary Online Edition, 1997 (<http://geonames.usgs.gov/pppdgn.html>).)

    Formal codeset
    Codeset Name:Principles, Policies, and Procedures: Domestic Geographic Names
    Codeset Source:Principles, Policies, and Procedures: Domestic Geographic Names, By Donald J. Orth, Executive Secretary, Domestic Geographic Names (emeritus) and Roger L. Payne, Executive Secretary, United States Board on Geographic Names and Domestic Geographic Names, Third printing (revised) and Preliminary Online Edition, 1997 (<http://geonames.usgs.gov/pppdgn.html>).

    Feature Variant Name
    A variant name is a geographic feature name or spelling other than the official name once or currently used to refer to a particular geographic entity. A geographic feature may have none, one or more than one variant name. (Source: Principles, Policies, and Procedures: Domestic Geographic Names, By Donald J. Orth, Executive Secretary, Domestic Geographic Names (emeritus) and Roger L. Payne, Executive Secretary, United States Board on Geographic Names and Domestic Geographic Names, Third printing (revised) and Preliminary Online Edition, 1997 (<http://geonames.usgs.gov/pppdgn.html>).)

    Formal codeset
    Codeset Name:Principles, Policies, and Procedures: Domestic Geographic Names
    Codeset Source:Principles, Policies, and Procedures: Domestic Geographic Names, By Donald J. Orth, Executive Secretary, Domestic Geographic Names (emeritus) and Roger L. Payne, Executive Secretary, United States Board on Geographic Names and Domestic Geographic Names, Third printing (revised) and Preliminary Online Edition, 1997 (<http://geonames.usgs.gov/pppdgn.html>).

    Primary Point
    The latitude and longitude of a point locating a geographic feature, also termed the feature "application." Along with the feature name, the application is approved or recognized as official either by policy or by decision of the United States Board on Geographic Names for use throughout the Federal Government. A geographic feature may have only one primary point regardless of size or extent. A point feature is defined by this single set of coordinates on the USGS National Base Map series at a scale of 1:24000 or 1:25000. The primary point of a linear feature depends on the feature class. If feature class equals stream, valley or arroyo, the primary point is the mouth. The primary point of a canal, channel, or trail is the center. The primary point of a ridge is the highest point. The primary point of an areal feature is the approximate geographic center with the following exceptions: The primary point of a populated place is the center of original place such as the city or town hall, main post office, or town square regardless of changes over time. The primary point of a reservoir is the center of the dam. The primary point of a summit, range, ridge, or pillar is the highest point. The primary point has a sequence number of 1. These points do not represent boundaries or geometries and should not be confused with them. An application may be displayed as latitude and longitude data or as a point in a geographic information system, and may be applied as label points. (Source: Geographic Names Office, USGS, 523 National Center, Reston, VA 20192-0523.)

    Range of values
    Minimum:-90.00000 latitude
    Maximum:72.00000 latitude
    Units:Decimal degrees
    Resolution:0.00001

    Range of values
    Minimum:-180.00000 longitude
    Maximum:180.00000 longitude
    Units:Decimal degrees
    Resolution:0.00001

    Secondary Point
    The latitude and longitude of a point locating a linear or areal geographic feature on a map of the USGS National Base Map series (at a scale of 1:24000 or 1:25000) other than the map containing the primary point. With one exception (i.e., the point representing the source of a stream, valley or arroyo may be on the same map as the primary point) a feature is assigned one point per map on which it is located. The points are sequenced. Sequence number one is always the primary point, and the remaining points are secondary points. For a linear feature with feature class equal to valley, stream, or arroyo, the points are sequenced from mouth toward the source and the highest sequence number is the source. For other linear features and for areal features, secondary points are sequenced according to guidelines of the Geographic Names Office. The location of the point on the feature within the map is arbitrary. This method of associating features with maps was conceived prior to geographic information system technology and has been retained as a useful approximation of feature extent and a reference to printed maps. These points do not represent boundaries or geometries and should not be confused with them. Secondary points may be displayed as latitude and longitude data or as points in a geographic information system and may be applied as label points. (Source: Geographic Names Office, USGS, 523 National Center, Reston, VA 20192-0523.)

    Range of values
    Minimum:-90.00000
    Maximum:72.00000
    Units:Decimal degrees
    Resolution:0.00001

    Range of values
    Minimum:-180.00000
    Maximum:180.00000
    Units:Decimal degrees
    Resolution:0.00001

    Country
    The country or countries containing the geographic feature. This dataset contains features in the United States and territories, features in Canada or Mexico that extend into the United States, and features in the following associated areas of the United States: the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau. The dataset also contains features in Antarctica, which for data purposes is treated as a country. This is relational data, not spatial data. The data owner specifies the value(s) associated with each geographic feature. Values are represented by country name and country alpha code. This data applies particularly to features for which there is no known, recognized, standard, or available boundary data. (Source: Geographic Names Office, USGS, 523 National Center, Reston, VA 20192-0523.)

    ValueDefinition
    United States (US).United States
    Canada (CA)Canada
    Mexico (MX)Mexico
    Micronesia (FM)Federated States of Micronesia
    Marshall Islands (RM)Marshall Islands
    Palau (PS)Republic of Palau.
    Antarctica (AY).Antarctica

    State
    The state or states or state equivalents containing the geographic feature. This dataset contains features in States of the United States, the District of Columbia, territories, outlying areas of the United States, and associated areas. This is relational data, not spatial data. The data owner specifies the value(s) associated with each geographic feature. Values are represented by state name, state numeric code, and state alpha code. This data may be particularly helpful for features having no known, recognized, standard, or available boundary data. (Source: Geographic Names Office, USGS, 523 National Center, Reston, VA 20192-0523.)

    Formal codeset
    Codeset Name:Codes For The Identification Of The States, The District Of Columbia And The Outlying Areas Of The United States, And Associated Areas.
    Codeset Source:Federal Information Processing Standards Publication 5-2, Codes For The Identification Of The States, The District Of Columbia And The Outlying Areas Of The United States, And Associated Areas.

    County
    The county or counties or county equivalents containing the geographic feature. This dataset contains features in counties or county equivalents of the states of the United States, the District of Columbia, territories, outlying areas of the United States, and associated areas. This is relational data, not spatial data. The data owner specifies the value(s) associated with each geographic feature. Values are represented by county name and county numeric code. This data applies particularly to features for which there is no known, recognized, standard, or available boundary data. (Source: Geographic Names Office, USGS, 523 National Center, Reston, VA 20192-0523.)

    Formal codeset
    Codeset Name:Counties And Equivalent Entities Of The United States, Its Possessions, And Associated Areas.
    Codeset Source:Federal Information Processing Standards Publication 6-4, Counties And Equivalent Entities Of The United States, Its Possessions, And Associated Areas.

    Feature Class
    A feature class is a designation for a group of features in a broadly defined descriptive category. All features are assigned to one and only one class. They do not individually classify all kinds of cultural and natural features. By design, there are no Federal or industry standards or guidelines for feature classification. These classifications originally were developed for mainframe file structure search purposes. Although the terms are generally consistent with dictionary definitions, they may not conform exactly and are not always intuitive. (Source: Geographic Names Office, USGS, 523 National Center, Reston, VA 20192-0523 (gnis_manager@usgs.gov).)

    Formal codeset
    Codeset Name:Feature class values and definitions for the Geographic Names Information System
    Codeset Source:Geographic Names Office, USGS, 523 National Center, Reston, VA 20192-0523 (gnis_manager@usgs.gov).

    Feature Designation
    A feature designation is assigned to a feature or group of features to further define and classify feature functions, purpose, and attributes. A feature may have more than one designation. Designations and their definitions may be added as needed. (Source: Geographic Names Office, USGS, 523 National Center, Reston, VA 20192-0523.)

    Formal codeset
    Codeset Name:Feature designation values and definitions for the Geographic Names Information System
    Codeset Source:Geographic Names Office, USGS, 523 National Center, Reston, VA 20192-0523 (gnis_manager@usgs.gov).

    Feature Description
    A feature description is amplifying, clarifying, or unusual characteristics of or information about a feature or the feature data in the Geographic Names Information System. This is unstructured textual data entered when available and not present for all entries. Additional information from any source is welcome. (Source: Geographic Names Office, USGS, 523 National Center, Reston, VA 20192-0523.)

    Unstructured text data.

    Feature History
    A feature history is a description of the name origin, and physical and/or cultural history of a feature. This is unstructured textual data entered when available and not present for all entries. Additional information from any source is welcome. (Source: Geographic Names Office, USGS, 523 National Center, Reston, VA 20192-0523.)

    Unstructured text data.

    Elevation
    The elevation above sea level of the feature at the primary point (positive number) or depth of a feature at the lowest point below sea level (negative number). Elevations are entered into the Geographic Names Information System primarily from USGS maps and other textual sources. Elevation is for information only and is not to be considered authoritative. (Source: Geographic Names Office, USGS, 523 National Center, Reston, VA 20192-0523.)

    Range of values
    Minimum:-13,500
    Maximum:20,500
    Units:Feet

    USGS Product Name
    The name of the USGS electronic or printed products containing the representation of the features. Products include standard USGS 7.5x7.5 degree quadrangle maps as well as digital electronic products. (Source: Geographic Names Office, USGS, 523 National Center, Reston, VA 20192-0523.)

    Formal codeset
    Codeset Name:The Geographic Names Information System (GNIS)
    Codeset Source:The official database of names assigned to standard USGS products according to USGS policy and procedures, including standard 7.5x7.5 degree quadrangle maps and digital products. Geographic Names Office, USGS, 523 National Center, Reston, VA 20192-0523 (gnis_manager@usgs.gov).


Who produced the data set?

  1. Who are the originators of the data set? (may include formal authors, digital compilers, and editors)

  2. Who also contributed to the data set?

    The Geographic Names Information System was developed by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

  3. To whom should users address questions about the data?

    Roger L. Payne
    U.S. Geological Survey
    Chief, Geographic Names Project
    523 National Center
    Reston, Virginia 20192

    703 648 4544 (voice)
    gnis_manager@usgs.gov

    Hours_of_Service: Monday through Friday 0730-1700 Eastern Time


Why was the data set created?

The GNIS is the official vehicle for geographic names use by the Federal Government and the source for applying geographic names to Federal maps & other products. The GNIS supports the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN), a Federal body created in 1890 and established in its present form by Public Law in 1947. The Board serves the Federal Government, other government agencies, and the public as the central authority to which name inquiries, name issues, and new name proposals can be directed. The GNIS provides the data to government agencies and to the public. The GNIS also supports the U.S. Geological Survey National Map (<http://nationalmap.usgs.gov/>) as the source for the gazetteer search in The National Map viewer and as an active layer in The National Map for Federal boundaries and geographic features not available from state or local sources.


How was the data set created?

  1. From what previous works were the data drawn?

    USGS (source 1 of 5)
    U.S. Geological Survey, Unknown, 1:24,000-scale topographic maps: U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA.

    Type_of_Source_Media: paper
    Source_Scale_Denominator: 24000
    Source_Contribution: Feature names and attribute data.

    USBGN (source 2 of 5)
    U.S. Geological Survey, Unpublished material, Records of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

    Type_of_Source_Media: card, paper, and electronic files
    Source_Contribution: Feature names and attribute information

    USFS (source 3 of 5)
    U.S. Forest Service, Unknown, U.S. Forest Service 1:24,000-scale topographic maps and visitor maps.

    Type_of_Source_Media: paper
    Source_Scale_Denominator: 24000
    Source_Contribution: Feature names and attribute information

    NOAA/NOS (source 4 of 5)
    Service, National Ocean , Unknown, National Ocean Service charts.

    Type_of_Source_Media: paper
    Source_Contribution: Feature names and attribute information

    Various (source 5 of 5)
    Authorities, State Names , Council of Geographic Names Authorities (COGNA), National Park Service (NPS), Federal, state and local agencies, Public, and sources, Other, Unknown, Unknown.

    Other_Citation_Details:
    GNIS accepts data or data changes for consideration from any source, and upon validation by the Board on Geographic Names or the appropriate Federal or state agency, will enter the data into the database.
    Type_of_Source_Media: Multiple electronic or text media types.
    Source_Contribution: Feature names and attribute information

  2. How were the data generated, processed, and modified?

    Date: May-1981 (process 1 of 4)
    GNIS Phase I data compilation and edit - Feature name and attribute data were collected from the largest-scale USGS topographic maps available. These data are compared to the records of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

    Person who carried out this activity:

    Roger L. Payne
    U.S. Geological Survey
    Chief, Geographic Names Project
    523 National Center
    Reston, Virginia 20192

    703 648 4544 (voice)
    gnis_manager@usgs.gov

    Hours_of_Service: Monday through Friday 0730-1700 Eastern Time
    Data sources used in this process:
    • USGS
    • USBGN

    Date: Not complete (process 2 of 4)
    GNIS Phase II data compilation and edit - Feature name and attribute data are collected from official state and local sources and other approved sources including historical maps and documents.

    Person who carried out this activity:

    Louis A. Yost
    U.S. Geological Survey
    Chief, Geographic Names Information Section
    523 National Center
    Reston, Virginia 20192

    703 648 4552 (voice)
    lyost@usgs.gov

    Hours_of_Service: 0900-1700 Eastern time
    Data sources used in this process:
    • USGS
    • USBGN

    Date: Not complete (process 3 of 4)
    GNIS Maintenance program - Federal and state maintenance cooperators submit new and corrected data in conjunction with their mapping and geographical information system data maintenance programs. Data is submitted using web data entry and edit forms and batch file processes. Agencies interested in participating in this program should contact the individual specified below.

    Person who carried out this activity:

    Robin D. Worcester
    U.S. Geological Survey
    Chief, Geographic Names Information Section
    523 National Center
    Reston, Virginia 20192

    703 648 4551 (voice)
    rworcest@usgs.gov

    Hours_of_Service: 0900-1700 Eastern time
    Data sources used in this process:
    • USGS
    • USBGN
    • USFS
    • Various
    • NOAA/NOS

    Date: Not complete (process 4 of 4)
    National Map partnerships - As part of The USGS National Map program, the Geographic Names Office enters into partnerships with state names authorities and state and local GIS agencies to integrate vertically name, location, and attribute data in the GNIS with state and local datasets. These partnerships utilize GIS and web technology to automate and simplify data maintenance, ensure data consistency, integrity, and accuracy, and meet the goals of the Board on Geographic Names for national names standardization. Agencies interested in participating in this program should contact the individual specified below.

    Person who carried out this activity:

    Roger L. Payne
    U.S. Geological Survey
    Chief, Geographic Names Project
    523 National Center
    Reston, Virginia 20192

    703 648 4544 (voice)
    gnis_manager@usgs.gov

    Hours_of_Service: Monday through Friday 0730-1700 Eastern Time
  3. What similar or related data should the user be aware of?

    U.S. Geological Survey, Unknown, The National Map.

    Online Links:

    Other_Citation_Details:
    The National Map, is a seamless, continuously maintained set of public domain geographic base information that serves as a foundation for integrating, sharing, and using other data easily and consistently. The National Map viewer is a Web-enabled portal to all of the geospatial information contained in The National Map. This portal not only supports on-line access to the geospatial information, but also allows the download of digital data and creation of cartographic products. The GNIS supports The National Map as the source for the gazetteer search in The National Map viewer and as an active layer in The National Map for Federal boundaries and other geographic features not available from state or local sources.
    U.S. Geological Survey, Unknown, The National Atlas.

    Online Links:

    Other_Citation_Details:
    The National Atlas summarizes national-scale geographical information and delivers easy to use, map-like views of America's natural and sociocultural landscapes. This digital version revises a large bound collection of paper maps that was published in 1970. The Atlas serves a diverse populace as an essential reference, a framework for information discovery, an instrument of education, an aid in research, and a reliable source of government information. It includes stimulating products and services for children and adults to understand complex relationships among environments, places, and people. It contributes to our knowledge of the environmental, resource, demographic, economic, social, political, and historical dimensions of American life. Though it cannot display detailed map information, the Atlas directs users to other sources for this information. The GNIS provides geographic feature, location, and attribute data to the National Atlas.
    U.S. Geological Survey, Unknown, The National Hydrography Dataset.

    Online Links:

    Other_Citation_Details:
    The National Hydrography Dataset (NHD) is a comprehensive set of digital spatial data that contains information about surface water features such as lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, springs and wells. Within the NHD, surface water features are combined to form "reaches," which provide the framework for linking water-related data to the NHD surface water drainage network. These linkages enable the analysis and display of these water-related data in upstream and downstream order. The GNIS provides geographic feature name data to the National Hydrography Dataset.
    National Imagery and Mapping Agency, Unknown, GEOnet Names Server.

    Online Links:

    Other_Citation_Details:
    The GEOnet Names Server (GNS) provides access to the National Imagery and Mapping Agency's (NIMA) database of foreign geographic feature names. The database is the official repository of foreign place-name decisions approved by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (US BGN). Approximately 20,000 of the database's features are updated monthly.
    U.S. Census Bureau, Unknown, LandView.

    Online Links:

    Other_Citation_Details:
    LandView is a desktop mapping system that searches and maps selected information from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Census Bureau, and the U.S. Geological Survey. LandView contains a large subset of GNIS feature, location, and attribute data for the United States. It is available on DVD. See the LandView web site for information concerning the latest edition and ordering.


How reliable are the data; what problems remain in the data set?

  1. How well have the observations been checked?

    During Phase I data compilation, a random sample of 10% of the entries in the system were visually verified against the compilation source data (large-scale USGS topographic maps) to ensure an accuracy rate of at least 95%. Subsequent data compilation and input processes ensure accuracy with programmed validation checks for format and content, visual examination, and spot checks of data.

  2. How accurate are the geographic locations?

    Accuracy of these digital data is based upon the use of source graphics which are compiled to meet National Map Accuracy Standards. Comparison to the graphic source is used as control to assess digital positional accuracy.

  3. How accurate are the heights or depths?

  4. Where are the gaps in the data? What is missing?

    This dataset contains information about physical and cultural geographic features identified by a proper name and location, with the exception of most roads and highways.

  5. How consistent are the relationships among the observations, including topology?

    During Phase I data compilation, a random sample of 10% of the entries in the system were visually verified against the compilation source data (large-scale USGS topographic maps) to ensure logical consistency of locative references (geographic coordinates, topographic map, and county. Subsequent data compilation and input processes include programmed validation checks for logical consistency, visual examination, and spot checks of data.


How can someone get a copy of the data set?

Are there legal restrictions on access or use of the data?

Access_Constraints: None
Use_Constraints:
None. Acknowledgement of the U.S. Geological Survey would be appreciated in products derived from these data.

  1. Who distributes the data set? (Distributor 1 of 1)

    Geographic Names Project, U.S. Geological Survey
    523 National Center
    Reston, Virginia 20192

    703 648 4544 (voice)
    gnis_manager@usgs.gov

    Hours_of_Service: Monday through Friday 0730-1700 Eastern Time
  2. What's the catalog number I need to order this data set?

    Geographic Names Information System

  3. What legal disclaimers am I supposed to read?

    Although these data have been processed successfully on a computer system at the U.S. Geological Survey, no warranty expressed or implied is made by the USGS regarding the utility of the data on any other system, nor shall the act of distribution constitute any such warranty. The Geological Survey will warrant the delivery of this product in computer-readable format.

  4. How can I download or order the data?

  5. Is there some other way to get the data?

    Custom data sets may be requested. Contact gnis_manager@usgs.gov


Who wrote the metadata?

Dates:
Last modified: 28-Feb-2003

Metadata author:
Roger L. Payne
U.S. Geological Survey
Chief, Geographic Names Project
523 National Center
Reston, Virginia 20192

703 648 4544 (voice)

Metadata standard:
Content Standard for Digital Geospatial Metadata (FGDC-STD-001-1998 20 )


Generated by mp version 2.7.19 on Thu Feb 27 13:03:32 2003