I'm trying to get some historical geographic information from Wisconsin and have been pointed the way of the TIGER/Line Shapefiles. Unfortunately, they're in a strange format (see, e.g., the files for Adams County from 1992 [.zip download link]), with file types like .F5A (a set of files of type .F5{x} where {x} is one of A, I, P, R, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8).

This is quite foreign to me, but I've seen it suggested that it may be possible to convert these to modern shapefiles.

Is there a robust way of doing so? (It goes without saying I prefer a free option)

Alternatively, how could I open the file in a common GIS program (QGIS, SAGA, or R), whence I could convert it within those programs (or at least view the polygon boundaries, which is a step in the right direction)?

  • GDAL has TIGER driver gdal.org/drv_tiger.html which is also compiled by default. Have you tried to open your files as vector layer with QGIS?
    – user30184
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 13:54
  • @user30184 thanks, I'll check that out when I get to a machine. I've tried qgis but I'm not sure which file to select. Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 14:08

1 Answer 1


GDAL has TIGER driver gdal.org/drv_tiger.html which is also compiled by default. You can simply open the Tiger files with QGIS with Add vector layer. Select all layers and you will see this:


Alternatively you can use GDAL command line utilities for converting TIGER data into other formats. Use ogrinfo for reading the list of layers (add -ro if you want to avoid the ERROR 4 message):

ogrinfo  TGR55001.F51
ERROR 4: Tiger Driver doesn't support update.
Had to open data source read-only.
INFO: Open of `TGR55001.F51'
      using driver `TIGER' successful.
1: CompleteChain (Line String)
2: AltName (None)
3: FeatureIds (None)
4: ZipCodes (None)
5: Landmarks (Point)
6: AreaLandmarks (None)
7: KeyFeatures (None)
8: Polygon (None)
9: EntityNames (Point)
10: IDHistory (None)
11: PolyChainLink (None)
12: SpatialMetadata (None)
13: PIP (Point)
14: TLIDRange (None)
15: ZipPlus4 (None)

Use ogr2ogr for converting layers into shapefiles. This command will create directory "output" which will contain a separate shapefile for each layer. The error message means that Shapefile format does not support all the integer list datatype that is used in some columns of TIGER data.

ogr2ogr -f "ESRI Shapefile" output TGR55001.F51
ERROR 6: Can't create fields of type IntegerList on shapefile layers.

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