The Library of Congress (LOC) is a dream destination for many U.S. genealogy researchers, but most of us can’t get there in person. Here are 4 ways–all online–to access the mega-resources of the Library of Congress for genealogy.
1. World Digital Library: for the bigger picture
The Library of Congress is home to the World Digital Library, “a collaborative international project led by the Library of Congress. It now includes more than 10,000 manuscripts, maps and atlases, books, prints and photographs, films, sound recordings, and other cultural treasures.
2. Chronicling America: for finding ancestors in the news
The Chronicling America newspaper site, hosted by the Library of Congress, catalogs U.S. newspapers and provides free access to more than six million digital newspaper pages (1836-1922) in multiple languages. Run searches on the people, places and events that shaped your ancestors’ lives. Results may include:
Advertising: classifieds, companies your ancestor worked for or owned, store ads, runaway slaves searches and rewards and ship arrivals or departures.
Births & deaths: birth announcements, cards of thanks printed by the family, obituaries and death notices, funeral notices, reporting of events that led to the death, etc.
Legal notices and public announcements: auctions, bankruptcies, city council meetings, divorce filings, estate sales, executions and punishments, lawsuits, marriage licenses, probate notices, tax seizures, sheriff’s sale lists.
Lists: disaster victims, hotel registrations, juror’s and judicial reporting, letters left in the post office, military lists, newly naturalized citizens, passenger lists (immigrants and travelers), unclaimed mail notices.
News articles: accidents, fires, etc. featuring your ancestor; front page (for the big picture); industry news (related to occupations); natural disasters in the area; shipping news; social history articles.
Community and social events like school graduations, honor rolls, sporting and theater events; social news like anniversaries, church events, clubs, engagements, family reunions, visiting relatives, parties, travel, gossip columns, illnesses, weddings and marriage announcements.
With Chronicling America, you can also buy medicine online china subscribe to receive “old news” on many of your favorite historical topics. Sign up for weekly notifications that highlight interesting and newly-added content on topics that were widely covered in the U.S. press at the time. (Click here to see a list of topics.) To subscribe, just use the icons at the bottom of the Chronicling America home page.
3. Flickr Creative Commons – Library of Congress Photostream for old pictures
Flickr Creative Commons describes itself as part of a “worldwide movement for sharing historical and out-of-copyright images.” Groups and individuals alike upload old images, tag and source them, and make them available to others. The (U.S.) Library of Congress photostream has thousands of photos and a growing collection of front pages of newspapers.
Tip: The Library of Congress isn’t the only library posting cool images on Flickr Creative Commons. Look for photostreams from your other favorite libraries and historical societies. (Use the main search box with words like “Ohio library” and limit results to groups. You’ll see who’s posting images you care about and you can even follow them!)
4. Preserving Your History video for archiving your family history
The Library of Congress has a FREE video about how to create and properly preserve digital or print archival scrapbooks.
It’s a 72-minute video by various experts with a downloadable transcript on these topics:
Basic preservation measures one can do at home for long-lasting albums and scrapbooks
Pros and cons of dismantling old scrapbooks and albums in poor condition
How to address condition problems
Preservation considerations for digital scrapbooks and albums
How to participate in the Library’s Veterans History Project.
The Genealogy Gems Podcast helps you make the most of your family history research time by providing quick and easy-to-use research techniques. Producer and host Lisa Louise Cooke brings you the best websites, best practices, and best resources available. This podcast is 100% free! Just click an episode below to start listening right now.
Episode 243 One Family’s Story: Lessons Learned from History. My special guest is Daniel Horowitz, Genealogy Expert at MyHeritage.
The importance of genealogy research questions and plans. Plus how to avoid research distractions.
Update to Google Search, How to reunite found items to their families, and 10 strategies for finding school records.
In this episode you’ll hear from genealogy experts on genealogical evidence & Proof, DNA, and organization.
Episode 239 Award-winning journalist Libby Copeland, author of the new book The Lost Family: How DNA Testing is Upending Who We Are discusses how DNA testing has changed our world.
Episode 238 Do you love genealogy, mysteries and puzzle solving? Well in this episode we have not one but two tales of mystery. The first has a Valentine’s theme centered around a mysterious love letter. Professional genealogist Kathleen Ackerman will be here to share how a love letter that was missing its last page took her on a genealogical journey full of surprises. Our second story is the mystery of a lost family scrapbook. It’s full of twists, turns and murder!
Interview with Andy McCarthy, Genealogy Reference Librarian on the New York Public Library’s Genealogy Collections. Also, David Fryxell, author of a new book on Scandinavian Genealogy.
Interview with David Lowe, Specialist for the Photography Collection at the New York Public Library on a free tool they provide that can help you identify your old photos. Also a discussion of how to find unindexed records at Ancestry.com.
Episode 235 Federal Court Records with professional forensic genealogists Michael Strauss. You’ll learn the history of federal records, where they are housed, and how you can search for them and access them. You’ll also hear about real examples of federal court records used for genealogical research. Don’t miss the show notes!
Episode 234 In this episode we take a look at a subject that is difficult, and yet ultimately faced by all genealogists: Downsizing. Whether you need to help a relative downsize, or it’s time for you to move into a smaller place or just carve out more room in your existing home, this episode is for you. You’ll hear specific action steps that you can follow to the make the job of downsizing easier and more productive. Also in this episode we’ll cover the latest genealogy news, and take a quick look at the 1830 census.
Episode 233 Professional genealogist Cari Taplin joins me for a conversation about the power lists and why careful examination is so important. Also: what I did on my summer vacation, the Gregorian Calendar, and the new MyHeritage Education Center (where you can also watch my presentation from the MyHeritage LIVE conference held in Oslo, Norway.)
Exploring what you can do to go deeper in your genealogy research for a more accurate family tree with Elissa Scalise Powell. Irish genealogy radio host Lorna Moloney, a professional genealogist with Merriman Research, discusses Irish genealogy.
We start off with tech news about Google Earth, FamilySearch and MyHeritage. Then we dig deep into the genealogical research Julianne Mangin did for “Alice’s Story.”
The story of Roy Thran and how his short life story is impacting lives today. Author Karen Dustman discusses writing your memoir. Lisa shares her adventures in England.
Two listeners shares an exciting find using Lisa’s research strategies. Lisa provides next steps on German research in response to a listener question. Your Master Family Tree, and Sharing Branches Online Explained. The unusual history of one of the earliest forms of the World Wide Web
More new feature enhancements announced by Ancestry.com; Listeners share their stories; Interview with Crista Cowan, The Barefoot Genealogist at Ancestry.com; 3 intriguing discoveries made while searching cemeteries; Women’s registration cards on the home front from 1917-1918 during World War I; RootsTech Film Festival semi-finalist Sydney Orton shares the touching story behind newly discovered precious audio and video tape, and how she and her sister honor their grandparent’s memories.
Episode 226 Research strategies and new resources, the history of your ancestors’ baby clothing, a tech tip that protects you, and the key to deciphering draft registration cards.
Episode 225 Get ready for a fun and inspiring start to your new genealogy year. In this episode, I’m going to bring you a talented lady who’s a sharp genealogist and just happens to be one of the hosts of the television series Genealogy Roadshow, Kenyatta Berry.
Episode 224 In this episode, we recap 2018, and explore additional ideas to help you organize your home movies. Whether you have 8MM film, VHS tapes, Mini DV tapes or DVDs, this episode has what you need to preserve and organize them.
We explore the notion that we are all just bit player’s in everyone else’s show, and how that could lead to video genealogical gold. David Haas MD shares his family’s history of filming home movies, and the tremendous impact they’ve had on countless other families. You’ll learn how to digitize and share your home movies too.
It’s family history month and who better to dedicate this episode to than you! You’ll hear from many of our wonderful listeners who share opinions, research strategies and more. Also, you’ll hear about the exciting new genealogy conference that will be held in Birmingham, England in 2019: THE Genealogy Show.
Lisa talks about vital records with Shannon Combs-Bennett and welcomes a drop-by guest, Daniel Horowitz of MyHeritage.com, a great new resource from Library & Archives Canada; an update from Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard on MyHeritage DNA tools; and the long-awaited conclusion of Project Lizzie.
Episode220 An exclusive tip from one of two major upcoming genealogy events; Fun travel suggestion from The Archive Lady Melissa Barker: “Archive in a backpack”; DNA specificity from Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard; Finding books about your ancestors’ experiences and Finding your German ancestor’s place of origin.
Episode 219: Lisa shares the stories of longtime researcher, librarian, and blogger Julianne Mangin, who has explored the tragic and twisted stories of her ancestors. The stories alone are worth the listen–but for Lisa, the real intrigue and inspiration comes from how Julianne shed light on confusing and contradictory records by finding news accounts that helped explain them.
Episode 218 Lisa Louise Cooke answers your questions and shares your comments. Hot topics on your minds that are covered in this episode include discovering new records online, best practices for working with other people’s online trees, hard-to-locate military records, and early Pennsylvania research with James Beidler.
Episode 217 Spend a thought-provoking hour with Lisa as she explores the Golden State Killer case and the investigator’s use of genetic genealogy websites, and the questions that it raises. Get ready for a deep dive into the questions we face, the reality of the current DNA environment, and what it all means for you.
Episode 216 Lisa shares her experiences at Rootstech and in Australia; an interview with Findmypast CEO Tamsin Todd and executive Ben Bennett; women who have served in the military, and how to use the new MyHeritage chromosome browser.
Episode 215 Blast from the Past: Family History and Silent Movies. An interview with Sam Gill former Archivist for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
Episode 214 Irish expert Donna Moughty joins Lisa to talk about Irish genealogy, helping you get a jump on yours before everyone starts talking about their Irish roots on St. Patrick’s Day next month! Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard has DNA news. Also: Listeners write in with inspiring successes and Michael Strauss musters in with tips on finding your ancestors in the five branches of the U.S. military.
Episode 213 Lisa shares a moving family history video, inspired by a listener’s “Where I’m From” poem. Hear the latest RootsTech news and an excerpt from an interview with author Sylvia Brown. Military Minutes contributor Michael Strauss explains the difference between different kinds of military service: regulars, volunteers and militia in Military Minutes.
Episode 212 Lisa talks with Sunny Morton about turning your fleeting memories into meaningful stories. Diahan Southard takes a look back at DNA advances in 2017. Finding missing ancestors: tips and success stories from Genealogy Gems fans. Ancestor found in a patent using Google Books. And Lisa shares Margaret Linford’s reflections on her “Genealogy Origins.” App Bonus: The history of Mince Pie at Christmas. Yum!
Episode 211 Ellis Island historian Barry Moreno shares the stories of workers at the leading U.S. immigration station (1892-1954). Two listeners write in about rescuing old artifacts and returning them “home;” the National Archives Citizen Archivist and British Library map geo-tagging projects; and Official Military Personnel Files for 20th-century US servicemen and women (hear what Michael Strauss found in his grandfather’s file).
Episode 210 Researching in a “burned city” (Chicago); the latest buzz and opinions about DNA health reports you can get with your DNA tests for family history; news from the Genealogy Gems Book Club; get-started Swedish genealogy tips from Legacy Tree Genealogist Paul Woodbury; accessing unprocessed archival records; and, five years away from the release of the 1950 US census, Lisa has tips on preparing for its release and researching your family in the 1940s.
Episode 209 David Ouimette of FamilySearch is known to his colleagues as “the Indiana Jones of genealogy” because of his globe-trotting adventures in curating record treasures. He joins us to talk about the millions of records being digitized around the world right now. Plus ,lots of excited emails from you, compiled military service records from Military Minutes expert Michael Strauss, and an historic newspaper Gem!
Episode 208 Hear the inspiring story of a genealogy hero who saved a life story–and a community’s history. Lisa shares an inspiring Google Books success story; how one listener gets her shy husband talking about his life story; and a listener’s “Where I’m From” poem. Learn tips for getting started in Swedish genealogy, using historical scrapbooks at archives, watching Lisa and Diahan’s new free webinar and getting ready for RootsTech 2018.
Episode 207 Lisa welcomes Mary Tedesco, a co-host of PBS’ Genealogy Roadshow. Mary shares stories and tips about tracing Italian and Italian-American roots. Also: FamilySearch updates since the end of microfilm lending (and how YOU helped make the last days of lending more effective); A listener uses Google to find her mysterious great-grandmother, with a success story she calls a “game-changer” for her genealogy research. And the premiere of Military Minutes with Michael Strauss.
Episode 206 In this Blast from the Past episode Lisa reprises a favorite research detour into vehicle forensics to identify an old family car and shares tips for creating short family history books like those she given as holiday gifts to loved ones. Hear letters from listeners on a special adoption discovery and a 1940 census mystery that now makes more sense. Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard weighs in with 4 reasons to take a DNA test, if you haven’t taken the plunge yet. Genealogy Gems Editor Sunny Morton spotlights the current Genealogy Gems Book Club title, Murder in Matera. The vehicle forensics and family book segments originally appeared in Genealogy Gems Podcast episodes 18 and 13, respectively, and are being republished here for web audiences.
Episode 205 This double-header episode pairs two interviews and two huge pieces of industry news! Hear about the end of FamilySearch microfilm lending and how you can get the records you need. Get the scoop on the game-changing addition to RootsMagic: your Ancestry.com tree now syncs with the software! Melissa Barker shares tips on preserving heirlooms and visiting archives. Nicole Dyer shares a fun family history activity idea to do with kids—do you have a family gathering coming up that could use this inspiration?
Episode 204 Dave Obee returns with a poignant story about the Canadian Home Children and tips for newspaper research. Also: a new Catalog and improved DNA ethnicity analysis at MyHeritage (it’s free—upload your DNA!); an excerpt from the Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Fannie Flagg; a detailed get-started for British Isles research; and why so many weddings are traditionally held in June.
Episode 203 Renowned Canadian expert Dave Obee shares his favorite tips on researching the Canadian census—his insights are fascinating whether you have Canadian ancestors or not! Also: an inspiring adoption discovery, DNA testing news at 23andMe, the newly-updated Atlas for Historical County Boundaries, a tip for incorporating family history into a wedding, and a brand-new resource that can finally help you solve one of genealogy’s most perplexing questions.
Episode 202 Breaking news in this episode! Learn about AncestryDNA’s new Genetic Communities straight from Catherine Ball, Ancestry’s Chief Scientific Officer. This breakthrough helps us use DNA to follow family migration patterns. You’ll also Relative Race contestant Joe Greer and hear about the new Genealogy Gems Book Club featured title. Naming traditions tip from a listener can help you puzzle out ancestral pedigrees. And watch for a few great Google search strategies for genealogy.
Episode 201 Lisa chats with Angela Walton-Raji, expert in U.S. and African-American research, about tips for interviewing relatives and taking your African-American family tree back to the era of slavery; A RootsTech 2017 recap, with info on archived streaming sessions; Great news from Findmypast about its new Catholic Heritage Archive; A ground-breaking study from AncestryDNA that identifies specific migration patterns among genetically-related clusters of people; Follow-up mail from Lisa’s Episode 200 celebration; An expert Q&A on finding relatives who don’t appear in the census where you expect them to; A teaser clip from the upcoming Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Annie Barrows, author of The Truth According to Us.
Episode 200 Our 200th episode and 10th anniversary episode!
Episode 199 A celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday with Lisa Louise Cooke’s interview with Claire Banton of Library and Archives Canada; DNA Testing with Kids; the announcement of the new title for the Genealogy Gems Book Club 1st quarter 2017; the awesome discovery made on YouTube by a listener; a new social networking platform for families called Famicity; Rootstech 2017.
Episode 198 Lisa Louise Cooke welcomes Genealogy Gems Book Club author and Victorian lifestyle expert Sarah Chrisman to the show to talk about Victorian holiday traditions, some of which may still live on in your own life. Following that conversation, Lisa shares a fun description of Victorian-era scrap-booking: how it’s different than today’s scrap-booking hobby but also how it reminds her of modern social media. Also: Three success stories from Genealogy Gems listeners: a Google search with great results, a brick-wall busting marriage record and yet another YouTube find for family history (people keep telling us about those!). Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard chimes in with what she likes so far about MyHeritage’s new DNA testing service. An internationally-themed German research conference and a makeover for the Scotland’s People website.
Episode 197 A chat between Lisa and Genealogy Gems editor and author of the book Story of Your LifeSunny Morton discuss the value and importance of telling your own story. A reading by Genealogy Gems Book Club featured author and Victorian lifestyle expert Sarah Chrisman. Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard discusses the next steps for your DNA results. Lisa walks a listener through several tips for learning more about her immigrant ancestors, and shows how to use today’s technology tools to help with traditional research skills. A spotlight on new marriage records online for the U.S. and around the world.
Episode 196 Professional genealogist Kate Eakman from Legacy Tree Genealogists shares tips and resources for those tracing their Irish ancestors into Ireland, and answers all your questions about how to hire a professional genealogist. Plus, we have an exclusive $100 discount code for you! Also in this episode: opinions on sharing gossip about our ancestors; new Genealogy Gems Book Club book announced and a past featured author has a new book out; big genealogy conferences in 2017; and organize your DNA test results and matches to help you get the most out of them.
Episode 195 This month, we’re celebrating the 100th episode of The Family Tree Magazine Podcast with one of my favorite segments on shaping up your research, and the 2 millionth download of the Genealogy Gems Podcast. Lisa Alzo gives us the back story on Czech records that have recently come online; and a YouTube search success story. You’ll also hear highlights of the Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Chris Cleave, author of Everyone Brave is Forgiven, and our DNA correspondent Diahan Southard will discuss Gedmatch, a free resource you might be ready for if you’ve done some DNA testing.
Episode 194 This blast from the past episode comes from the digitally remastered Genealogy Gems Podcast episodes 11 and 12 (originally recorded in 2007). They are now interwoven with fresh narration and updated show notes. Topics include: Google Images; Top 10 Tips for finding Graduation Gems in your family history; Display your family history with an easy to create Decoupage plate.
Episode 193 Genealogy milestones, anniversaries, new records, upcoming conferences and new free video tutorials; Email response to episode #192: another tip on the U.S. Public Records Index, a family adoption story and his own research on the changing coastline of Sussex; More response to the “Where I’m From” poetry initiative; The NEW Genealogy Gems Book Club title is announced; A key principle in genetic genealogy.
Episode 192 Lisa shares a favorite new super easy-to-use tool for turning family photographs into captivating professional-looking videos and slideshows that you can share. Then you’ll meet the newest member of the Genealogy Gems team, Amie Bowser Tennant who shares insights into becoming a certified genealogist. A Gem shares a tip about a favorite genealogy database. An inspiring story of adoption and DNA, and a delightful excerpt from the Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Helen Simonson on The Summer Before the War.
Episode 191 Diahan gets us up to date on the changes at Ancestry DNA; Thom shares his success using Google Earth for Genealogy; Jim Beidler talks about new Germany records at FamilySearch, Amy Johnson Crow shares her favorite local history apps; Sunny shares her thoughts on our Book Club featured book.
Episode 190 Extreme Genes radio show Scott Fisher talks about his role in helping to solve a 30-year old missing persons case; Lisa advises a listener on a pesky Gmail problem; A whirlwind world tour of new genealogy records online; Searching out military service details with Google Books; One RootsTech attendee’s Google search success story; the newGenealogy Gems Book Clubtitle, a brand-new, much-anticipated second novel by a breakout British novelist.
Episode 189 Visit with the Wrights, a couple for Alaska, who star in the new genealogy TV series Relative Race. Plus: Irish research tips, 3 very good reasons for testing your DNA for genealogy, and an excerpt from our Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with the author ofOrchard House
Episode 188 RootsTech news and resources for everyone; New records online for Ireland and the United States; Two inspiring emails from listeners who unravel family mysteries with determination, skill and Google sleuthing; AGenealogy Gems Book Clubupdate with more thoughts on the featured titleOrchard House: How a Neglected Garden Taught One Family to Growby Tara Austen Weaver and book recommendations from RootsTech attendees; A critique of a recent NPR article on genetic genealogy by Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard; and a great conversation with Cindy Cochran and Sabrina Riley of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Genealogical Society Library at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Episode 187 Lisa welcomes the Legal Genealogist Judy Russell to the podcast. Judy takes on a Genealogy Gems listener’s fantastic question about the bounty land his War of 1812 ancestor never claimed. Also in this episode: Life after Family Tree Maker software, New strategies for using Google to answer your genealogical research questions, the new Genealogy Gems Book Club title,and all about the upcoming RootsTech 2016 genealogy conference.
Episode 186 Celebrate upcoming holiday family time with a special segment on interviewing relatives. Diahan Southard offers her thanks for DNA connections that are helping fill holes left by adoption. We’ll cover a new resource from MyHeritage for connecting with other researchers, family history poetry from two Gems listeners, letters from the Gems mailbox, and an excerpt from our new Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Lalita Tademy (which appears in full in Genealogy Gems Premium podcast episode 130..
Episode 185 Genealogy Gems is celebrating reaching a milestone: 1000 genealogy-filled blog posts on our website! But we’re not just celebrating our own genealogy writing. We’re celebrating YOURS! In this episode we celebrate what you have shared with us about your adventures in family history blogging. I also have a short, fun family history writing challenge to share with everyone, not just those who blog, a writing contest, and the poet laureate of Kentucky.
Episode 184 Listeners thoughts on saving your genealogy from theft and a tip on digital preservation. I share An Open Letter to Grandma, and Sunny will join me to announce our next Genealogy Gems Book Club pick—and we may or may not digress a little to talk about other fun things on our minds. And Diahan will discus “empty-handed genealogists” and their DNA.
Episode 183 A digital expert joins us to talk about digitizing and storing your old movies, videos, and pictures. You’ll hear a juicy clip from our exclusive Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Pamela Smith Hill, the editor of the new Laura Ingalls Wilder biography, Pioneer Girl. And Your DNA Guide is here with a story of DNA and President Harding.
Episode 181 Researching your family in the 1950s, introduction to the 3rd Quarter 2015 Genealogy Gems Book Club featured book, a new patent by Google for an innovative solution, two new record collections online that fill in a hole in American documentary history, and email from listeners about the new Ancestry site and family history blogging.
Episode 180 Changes at Ancestry, books at FamilySearch, Canadian research, Google’s new device, getting the most from a trip to the state archives, Military records for sailors, Integrating Genetics and Genealogical Tools, Interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin author of The Lost Ancestor.
Episode 179 In this episode I’ll share inspirational story from listener Helen, and another amazing story about an adoption reunion. And we’ll check in with our Genealogy Gems Book Club Guru Sunny Morton about this quarter’s featured book, The Lost Ancestor by Nathan Dylan Goodwin. And of course all kinds of other genealogy news and tips for you.
Episode 178 Niche record collections that might just be what you are looking for. Interview with genetic genealogist CeCe Moore about using DNA for genealogy research, adoption, and the Finding Your Roots TV show. Announcement of the Genealogy Gems Book Club book for the 2nd quarter of 2015. A listener shares an update on adoption records in Ohio.
Episode 177 This episode features part of our interview with Christina Baker Kline, the author of our Genealogy Gems Book Club featured book Orphan Train. The book spent five weeks at the #1 spot on the New York Times Bestselling list as well as time at the top of The Bestsellers List in Canada, and by now after reading the book you know why. Christina will share how the book came in to being. And why she first hesitated to write it. And how, although this is a novel, in fact the details of Vivian’s story are true thanks to her extensive research. And Christina sheds light on the effect that being an orphan had on the children of yesterday and the children of today.
Episode 176 Get a Round Up of RootsTech Round, join Genealogy Gems Book Club Guru Sunny Morton for more on our featured bookOrphan Train, and some additional books you’ll want to add to your reading list that also provide insight in to how you can approach writing your own family’s history. Then Your DNA Guide here at Genealogy Gems, Diahan Southard, shares how to Social Network Your YDNA with Surname Projects.
Genealogy Gems Contributing Editor Sunny Morton announces our new Book Club read for this first quarter of 2015. Then, professional genealogist Mary Tedesco from the Genealogy Roadshow television series will join Lisa to talk about her experience on the show and also about her specialty which is Italian research. Our Genealogy Gems DNA Guide will also be here. And we wrap with a very special announcement at the end of the show.
You’ll also love all the expert interviews that make the Genealogy Gems Podcast your own personal genealogy conference: Dick Eastman, DearMYRTLE, Curt Witcher, CeCe Moore, Arlene Eakle, the folks from Ancestry.com and celebrities such as Lisa Kudrow of Who Do You Think You Are?, Mary Tedesco of Genealogy Roadshow, Tukufu Zuberi of The History Detectives, Kathy Lennon of the Lennon Sisters, Tim Russell of Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, and Darby Hinton of the Daniel Boone TV series from the 1960s.
Season 1 – Episode 1 – 20 The originals shows are no longer available in the iTunes feed. Episodes are being remastered and are being rebroadcast in current episodes as follows:
Premium Podcast Episodes As a Genealogy Gems Premium Member you have access to the entire back catalog of Premium Episodes! Of course, things do change over time, so occasionally you’ll hear about something that is no longer around (like the Premium Message...
Show Notes: Discover Sanborn Fire Insurance maps with Julie Stoner of the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress. Learn the best search strategies, how to download the Sanborn maps for free, and hidden online resources! Sanborn maps are an invaluable tool for family history because they provide an up-close look at the places where your ancestors lived.
(This interview has been minimally edited for clarity.)
Lisa: Today we’re talking about Sanborn fire insurance maps and how we can use them for genealogy. They’re available at the Library of Congress. Here to tell us more about that is Julie Stoner. She’s a reference specialist in the geography and map division of the Library of Congress.
Julie: Thanks so much, Lisa. Happy to be here.
I adore the Sanborn fire insurance maps because they give us such a unique perspective and view of our ancestors’ world.
What are Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps?
Start us off and tell us exactly what are Sanborn fire insurance maps?
Julie: The Sanborn fire insurance maps are a uniform series of large scale maps. They date starting from about 1867, though, they mainly start in the 1880s, and they run mostly through the 1950s. There are some from later dates as well.
It was a company started by a man named D.A. Sanborn. He was drawing these maps at a building level to sell to fire insurance companies so that they could then assess how much to charge people for the fire risk of their building. We use them for a lot more things today than they were originally intended for because they show the building level details of a city.
We have over 12,000 cities and towns represented. Some smaller towns may only have a few sheets. But the larger cities may have multiple volumes. They would go back and create a new map every 10 or 15 years or so. Therefore, you can really see how a city changed over time and how the buildings changed over time, and how a neighborhood was built. These maps can be used for all sorts of things now.
Lisa: I love the fact that they have such detail and are really unique. There really aren’t any other maps quite like these, are there?
Julie: It’s true. We do have other maps, like real estate atlases, and things like that of maybe a few cities, here and there, like Washington D.C. or New York. We have land ownership maps, but nothing of quite this scale or detail.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps Online Collection
Lisa: Let’s talk about the scale of the map collection. At the Library of Congress you have the physical map collection, and then there’s the collection that we can access online. Tell us a little bit about the scope of the collection? And does it vary whether we’re online or in person?
Julie: It does vary a bit because of copyright restrictions. As I said, we have about 12,000 different cities and towns represented, that equals over 700,000 map sheets. So, that’s a that’s a lot of sheets of maps. And a few years ago, the library, in conjunction with a third party, took on a project to scan all of the public domain Sanborn maps. Public domain means that there are no copyright restrictions on those maps. So that included anything published before 1922 at that point. Then anything published before 1964, in which the copyright wasn’t renewed. The library took on this project to scan all those, and those are completed and are all online on our website and can be downloaded.
That copyright date is now a rolling date. This means that there are now maps between 1923 and 1926 that are public domain that we haven’t scanned yet, and we are working to get those scan to get those online. And as soon as new maps come into the public domain, we hope to process them and upload those when that happens. So, a very large chunk of the Sanborn maps are online. But, if they are not, you can always come and see them in person as well, because we do have the physical copies.
Sanborn Map Resolution
Lisa: You mentioned that the part that the part of the collection that is in the public domain is available online. And they’re downloadable. Are those pretty high-resolution maps, so that we’ll be able to use those in our own genealogy projects?
Julie: For sure! They are definitely high resolution. The library scans them at the highest resolution that we can and so there’s actually a variety of files that you can download. We have JPEG images, which are a bit lower quality but are good for something like PowerPoints or computer screens. And then we have our TIFF files, which are the largest high-resolution files which have. These are a good size for printing.
Lisa: I know that the online collection, which I think most of our folks would be interested in accessing from home easily, is at the Library of Congress at the loc.gov website at https://www.loc.gov/collections/sanborn-maps. Tell us a little bit about what we’ll find there on the website.
Fire Insurance Map Research Guide at the Library of Congress
Julie: Sure, so that link that you said is a landing page for our digital images. Let’s start with the fire insurance map research guide that we have that is about our fire insurance maps in general, not just the Sandborn maps. There are a few other companies though Sanborn took those over in time. They became pretty much became the only one.
On the research guide page, there’s a large section on the left side of the page that says Sanborn Fire Insurance Company Maps. If you click on that, you will find a number of links to help you with your research of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps.
The Research Guide at the Library of Congress
How to Search for Sanborn Maps
I want to point out the easiest way to find the maps. Under the searching for Sanborn Maps tab you will see some information including a link to our Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Checklist. This is the easiest way to find the maps that you’re looking for. It will take you to our fire insurance map index. And this is the easiest way to search for maps.
It’s so large that it can be a little overwhelming. This checklist is taken from a 1981 publication produced by the library that lists all of the Sanborn maps that we have in our collection. While the library has the largest collection of Sanborn maps in the world, we do not claim to have every one ever made. We are missing some. For example, if you found a map at your historical society that is not on this list, it just means that we don’t have it in our physical collection. Not that it doesn’t exist.
You can search by state at the Map Index. If you click on U.S. from the drop-down menu, you’ll find all the states. Scroll through and pick your state. I live in Virginia and I was born here, so I will search for Virginia. I will then see a list of hyperlinks with all of the cities available with Sanborn maps in the collection. Scroll through here and click on the city of interest. For example, if you want to click on Richmond you will get the list of Richmond maps here at the library. It’s a table and on the far left side you will see the date of the volume. And then you will see the number of sheets in that volume. Other geographic areas included sometimes in larger cities. The Sanborn Map Company would pick some areas farther outside the city to include in that volume, perhaps a few sheets. You’ll see a column called Comments which is mostly about the physical binding of the maps your library. And then a column called Website. If you click on the website link it will take you to the digital images.
Why are there multiple dates on Sanborn maps?
And just one other note about the date. If you look at the date, sometimes it can look a little confusing because you’ll see two dates listed. For example, volume 1924 through April 1950. So what’s happening here is that starting in the mostly the 40s and 50s, the Sanborn Map Company, decided it was faster, instead of making an entirely new map to cut and paste over an old map. So, this 1924 date is the face of the map. The 1950 date is the last time that they updated it. So, it’s really showing a 1950 era Richmond, but they’re just using that base map of 1924.
Downloading Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
When you click through to these digital images, we can download them. Click on an image and you will see in the center of the screen the map that you can scroll in and out of, and then at the bottom underneath the image, you’ll see the download link. You’ll find that there are several options for JPEG images, a GIF file, and then the high resolution tiff file. It’s pretty great. We’re very happy that a lot of these are now online for researchers to use from outside of Washington, DC.
What do the colors and symbols mean on Sanborn maps?
Lisa: And when you look at these maps, there’s a lot of detail. There’s color coding, and all kinds of markings. Do you have resources on the website to help people interpret the map?
Julie: Sure we do. The best method first is to look at the first page of a volume. If you zoom in you will see that there is a map key. It’s a box usually at the top or the bottom of the sheet. That is going to show you what the colors and the symbols in each volume mean.
Different cities have different unique characteristics, and the Sanborn Map Company would map those. So, not every map is going to have every symbol. The key at the front is a really good way to see what specifically applies to that volume.
For example, pink typically means brick. Yellow typically means it was made out of frame, or wood. Green can change. I’ve seen it as cement, I’ve seen it as special, not exactly sure sometimes what that means. The colors indicate the type of building materials, and then you will see what the hash marks or the circles or the x’s mean, in various buildings. There are a lot of abbreviations that the Sanborn Map Company uses as well. D typically stands for dwelling, S for store.
If you want to see an entire list of the symbols, we have a great resource back on our research guides page. Go back to the research guide to the Interpreting Sanborn Maps section on the left. That’s going to tell you a lot more about the colors, the symbols, things like that.
If you go to the Internet Resources, under Websites, there’s a list called Sanborn Map Abbreviations and Legendcreated by Environmental Data Resources, who are the copyright holders of the Sanborn maps. They’ve created this great PDF that shows the most common abbreviations and symbols used to the Sanborn fire insurance maps. It’s pretty comprehensive.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Search Strategies
Lisa: That’s a fantastic resource! If we do the search and we don’t see the town that we have in mind in that list, is there another way or any other way to search to figure out if it is part of a bigger map? Perhaps it’s just too small of a town to have its own map?
Julie: That’s a great question. If it’s a really small town and you don’t see it on the list, the other thing you can do is search back on the index page. The main index page under the full text field. For example, there might be a few sheets of a smaller town on a bigger city. You can search for that in the all full text fields. That will search the other geographic location that we saw, like in Richmond. So say if we typed in Manchester, and we did a search for that. You would see that it’s here as well under Richmond, as well as its own city. So, you can see that maybe it had earlier sheets here in Richmond. If you don’t find it in the search, and you don’t find it in the search fields, and if you don’t find it in the list, then it’s likely that one was not made at that town. Unfortunately that does happen. A lot of small cities and towns just don’t have them sometimes.
Searching for counties and regions in Sanborn maps
Lisa: Well, that brings up another question. Are these always sorted by town or city? Or might we even see a county or even some other kind of regional area described in a map?
Julie: That’s a great question. You do sometimes see counties, I can think of an example off the top my head if you go to California, for example. If you scroll down to Los Angeles, you’re going to see that you have the city of Los Angeles, but then you also have Los Angeles County. That’s going to cover some of the county areas that are outside of the city itself. Typically they’re covering things like factories or industrial areas, or things of that nature, but you never quite know.
Another example would be in New Jersey. If you go to New Jersey, and scroll down to New Jersey coast which includes several different seaside towns. This would be an example of when you might want to do the full text search if you didn’t find it in the list. For example, New Jersey Coast includes Longbranch, and Monmouth Beach, etc. All of these volumes are kind of scattered down the coast.
I like to say that, for every rule for Sanborn maps, there’s an exception. It would be worth perusing that list just to see what other gems are out there are maybe very close by areas that would be worth taking a look at, even if we do find our cities listed or in a search.
The Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Index
Lisa: I can imagine there was a lot of effort that went into the indexing part of this collection, just getting all these cities and counties and everything listed. Was that work that the Library of Congress had to do? Or was that given to you by the company who now owns the copyright on Sanborn? And does it include anything besides a geographic place such as for example, any map with a saloon or any map with a particular feature?
Julie: That would be pretty amazing! Unfortunately, no, we don’t have anything that would list every saloon ever found, though, if somebody wanted to do that project, we’d be happy to take that.
This list was created by the Library of Congress in 1981, and we’ve added to it as we gained new material. The library is always looking for Sanborn maps that we don’t have in our collection. And when we find them, we do try and acquire them and then add them to our index. So, this particular list was created by staff at the library in 1981.
Lisa: What made me think of that question was I know that the David Rumsey collection out at Stanford is now working with and experimenting with a special type of OCR to pull that kind of text off maps. It’s amazing to see what technology might be able to do for us in the future.
Sanborn Map GIS Project
Julie: It is amazing what technology could do. And you’re right, there is a great project going on right now called machine reading maps that is experimenting with pulling the text out of the Sanborn maps to then create new products out of that.
We also have a new GIS project. GIS is geographic, geographic information systems. It’s basically putting information on a map so that you can see it and comprehend it at a glance.
One of the problems that we were having with our Sanborn maps, especially for our very large cities, like New York, LA, Chicago, is that there are so many volumes covering that city, and people would want to know where their exact address was. Well, there are, let’s say, seven or eight volumes of New York City. Which volume includes that address, right? So, we’ve created what we’re calling the Sanborn Atlas Volume Finder. You can find the link on our resource guide page. Click the link and you will see a map of the country. It’s going to pinpoint our current volume blinders.
We are hopefully going to be making more as we go. But basically, the first map is an index of what we have. Tight now we just have Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit. We’re working on getting Washington DC and New York City out.
But say, for example, you’re interested in a map of Detroit, or an address in Detroit. If you click on Detroit on the pink pin, you can then click on the Sanborn volume finder. That’s going to take you to the Detroit map. It’s going to show you exactly what areas are covered in Detroit. It’s going to show you the extent of the Sanborn maps for the different years that it was mapped in Detroit.
If you look on the left side of the screen you’ll see the legend. This is a range of years for each set of maps that was created. You might see 1884 to 1896 and then 1897 to 1899. You can click the years on and off. So, if you just wanted to know the earliest maps of Detroit, you can see where it was mapped. And you can enter your address in the upper right corner of the screen. That’s going to pinpoint for you the address. Then when you click on it, it’ll tell you the volume where you’ll find the map, and a link that’ll take you to the digital images. So you don’t have to guess which volume your address is in anymore. It will tell you whether the digital images are available, or if the map is not available online, you can contact us to learn more about it.
Lisa: What an amazing tool. It’s exciting to think that will continue to expand particularly for these really big cities where like you said it, it’s like a needle in a haystack with the addresses.
Julie: Yes, there are a lot of volumes for some of these cities. It can be really difficult without expert knowledge how to find your address. We feel like this is really going to help researchers in diving deeper into the Sanborn maps and really finding what they’re looking for.
Accessing Offline Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
Lisa: You mentioned that sometimes you’re going to see that it is not available online. That might be a copyright issue or something else. Explain to us a little bit about what our options are for getting access to a map that might only be available in person the Library of Congress. How might we go about the in person visit, or making a request online to get a copy?
Julie: It’s the geography and map division policy that we will not scan or send items that are possibly under copyright protection. In the case of the Sanborn maps, if they were renewed or after 1964 then they are copyrighted, so we can’t send those electronically to you. You can make an in person visit to the Library of Congress reading room. We’re open Monday to Friday 8:30 to 5:00, and we will pull out anything you want to see.
Another option is that these volumes have all been scanned in black and white by ProQuest, a subscription database. Those are all scanned in black and white. A lot of universities and public libraries subscribe to the ProQuest database. Go to your public library and ask if they subscribe to the ProQuest database. If they do, you can see them there, and you can download them. However, those are black and white, so that’s a little bit not as helpful sometimes if you’re looking for building construction, and things like that.
There is also on our research guide page, under Internet Resources a link called the Union List of Sanborn Maps. This is a list compiled by the University of California at Berkeley of other institutions that have Sanborn maps other than the Library of Congress. So if, for example, you are in California, and you can’t make it to the library, you can see if other institutions also have those physical copies that you could go to that institution to see.
Lisa: I’m familiar with ProQuest. Do you happen to know, is there one place where you can look up and see which libraries subscribed to ProQuest? Or is that just too much to ask?
Julie: I think you would have to do that individually by library. I’ve never seen a master list. But I find that librarians are usually very helpful people. So, if you called your local library or university library, I’m sure librarians there could tell you help you track it down.
The Growth of the Sanborn Map Collection
Lisa: So it this indeed a growing database? And do you continue to get both stuff that can go online as well as maps that will just be available in person?
Julie: We are always looking for maps that we don’t have here in our collection. Usually, most of those are going to be more recent, like 1950s, 1960s and 1970s maps. The library gained most of our early collection from copyright deposit. It used to be that you had to send in a physical copy of something for to get it copyrighted and that’s how our collection was built. We are still always looking for new updated ones that we don’t have. It is a growing collection. I wouldn’t say that we’re receiving them every day or anything. But when we do find them, and we do like to acquire them.
Final Thoughts on Sanborn Maps
Lisa: Wonderful. Well, before I let you go, you are the guru when it comes to the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps over at the Library of Congress. Anything else that we should really know about, or look for as we’re working with these Sanborn maps?
Julie: That’s a good question. First, I want to say that we always welcome questions to our division. On the left of the research guide, or on our main library of congress homepage, there’s a link that says Ask a Librarian, and you’re welcome to send us any questions that you have, that we haven’t answered on our research guide, or that you’re confused about. We’re always happy to answer questions.
The Sanborn maps are a fantastic resource for doing genealogy, for finding out more about the town you lived in, and the buildings that were there, and the types of buildings. A lot of the buildings will say what was in them, for example, a candy shop or a hat shop or whatnot. So, they’re a great resource to just find out more about the town. There’s always more to learn about them. I’m still learning about things that I didn’t know about Sanborn maps, years later.
Lisa: Julie, thank you so much for coming and sharing this terrific collection, and giving us such a unique view of the places where our ancestors may have lived. I’m sure you’ll be getting many inquiries through Ask the Librarian.
Julie: Yeah, dive in, reach out. We’re here to help.
Lisa: thank you so much for joining us here today.
Julie: My pleasure. Thank you.
Citing Sanborn Maps
Julie: The Library simply requests an attribution to the Library and the Geography and Map Division when publishing material from its collections, the format of the citation is up to you.
One thing that many genealogists have in common is a connection to Pennsylvania. Perhaps one of your family tree branches extends back to the early founding of the Pennsylvania colony. Or it may be that one of your ancestors was one of the hundreds of thousands who arrived through the port of Philadelphia. Even if you don’ t have Pennsylvania ancestors the State Library of Pennsylvania has a lot to offer.
Genealogy at the State library of Pennsylvania
In this episode I’ll be sharing with you a video of my interview with two librarians from the State Library of Pennsylvania. We’ll discuss their collections and specifically what’s available through their website. After the interview I’ll show you some specific search techniques that you can use at the State Library of Pennsylvania website, including a trick that you can use with any state library website.
Elevenses with Lisa Episode 46 Show Notes
My special Guests from the State Library of Pennsylvania: Kathy Hale, Government Documents Librarian
Amy Woytovich, Genealogy Librarian
This interview was recorded in December 2020. Here’s the latest update (as of this writing) on the library closure and access:
The State Library is currently closed to all visitors. However, staff is teleworking. People may send inquiries to email@example.com staff will answer questions as best they can.
Renovations have begun on our library in the Forum Building. There may be times we cannot get to the materials requested because of the construction.
Interlibrary loan services are available, but patrons must check if their home library has the equipment and are open for patrons to use that equipment. The Library still ships all over the U.S.
Watch their website for instructions on how to access the State Library of Pennsylvania when it does reopen to the public.
The State Library of Pennsylvania Background
The library has been a federal repository library since 1858, and is one of the oldest in the country. The government printing office deposits materials here.
The State Library of Pennsylvania Collection
The State Library of Pennsylvania physical collection includes:
100,000 reels of microfilm
A million pieces of microfiche
The State Library of Pennsylvania digitized items include:
County and family histories
Small church histories from rural areas
Regimental histories (Revolution to Spanish-American War)
Pennsylvania Published Archives (collection of military, government, marriage, immigration records from colonial times)
The 1940 U.S. Federal Census
Pennsylvania Documents Example: a report for Pennsylvania of the 25th and 50th anniversaries of the Battle of Gettysburg. Includes information gathered at reunions including names, pictures, and more.
U.S. Government Documents – Serial Set This collection includes reports to the legislature from agencies and institutions. Example: The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) were compelled to provide to Congress a yearly report of the names of people approved by DAR. These can be accessed through many libraries, the federal government or by contacting the State Library of Pennsylvania via email:Rafirstname.lastname@example.org
State Library of Pennsylvania Research Guides
Amy discusses research guides available on the website. However, here is the linkto the topics she specifically mentions such as Cemeteries and Zeamer collection – recorded information about Cumberland County PA cemeteries. General Research Guides page. These research guide pages include links to additional helpful websites.
State Library of Pennsylvania website’s Genealogy Page
The library’s collection of newspapers includes papers from all 67 Pennsylvania counties on microfilm. They do have a lot of digitized newspapers at the Pennsylvania Photos and Documents Collection at the Power Library.
Newspapers at the Power Library
The Power Library
You can find the Power Library by going to the libraries home page, and under the For General Public tab go to Our Collections > PowerLibrary. Or visit the Power Library website at Powerlibrary.org.
Electronic Databases: you have to be a resident with a library card.
Digital Documents: you don’t have to be a Pennsylvanian to access this collection.
At the top of the Power Library home page on the right you’ll find Digital Docs and Photos:
Pennsylvania Photos and Documents Collection at the Power Library.
There you will find many materials from Pennsylvania colleges including yearbooks. You can browse by subject area, with Genealogy being one of those areas.
Interlibrary Loan and Lookups
At the time of the interview the library was not open for interlibrary loan and lookups. Check the website for the latest updates.
The library does loan its newspaper microfilm. Up to 5 reels of microfilm per request. Kathy says that if you find a newspaper article at Newspapers.com and you see the title, date and the page that an article is on, you can provide the information to the interlibrary load reference librarian at your local library and place a request for a scan of the article from the State Library of PA microfilm. The article can then be returned to you digitally through interlibrary loan. The digitized scan is yours to keep.
The Librarians Favorite Collections
Amy’s Pick: Historic maps found at the library’s website Home > For General Public > Genealogy and Local History > Maps and Geographic Information. This includes Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. Note: log in with a library card may be required. Contact the library with questions.
Kathy’s favorite collections include:
Map Collection consisting of over 35,000 maps.
The 5 generations from the Mayflower collection.
Usage of Materials
Usage rights and copyright are important considerations when utilizing library materials. Usage depends on the individual item’s copyright. It should be researched as much as possible. Check the meta data of digital images for copyright information.
How to Get Research Help from the State Library of Pennsylvania
“Think of Amy and I as your personal librarians.” Kathy Hale, Librarian
Contact State Library staff by phone at 717-787-2324 or by email at:
Lisa’s Tips for Using the State Library of Pennsylvania Website
Maps for Genealogy
At the website go to Home page > General Public Tab > Our Collections > Search our Resources.
Type in a location and the word map
Use the filters on the right side of the page > Library > State Library
Click to select a map
Try filtering to Full Text Online
Look for the Online Access link, just above Text Item Call Number.
On the map viewer page, click the thumbnail button (looks like a checkerboard) to see multiple pages at a time. You’ll find the Download button in the bottom right-hand corner. The Print button is in the upper right corner.
Cite your source: Go back to the result page, and scroll down. Click the red button called Cite This. This allows you to copy the source citation which you can then paste into other documents and programs.
Newspapers for Genealogy
The Library of Congress Chronicling America website has many Pennsylvania old newspapers, but it doesn’t include all of the newspaper that the library has in its collection. Here’s how to find old Pennsylvania newspapers at the State Library website:
On the State Library website go to General Public > Research Guides > Newspapers
Click the link to the Pennsylvania Newspaper Archive
Browse by title or date, or use the drop-down menus
On the viewer page, zoom into the desired article. Then click Clip/Print Image
Right-click on the clipped image to save it to your hard drive.
The Persistent link is the URL address to your clipping.
Many websites have their own search engine. However, each search engine is only as good as it was programmed. If you can’t find what you want on a website like the State Library PA website, try using a Google site search. Site search tells Google to search for your search terms only on the website you specify.
In my example in the video, you can see that Google found the one page mentioning the surname in a listing of microfilms much faster than I would have found it digging around and navigating the website itself. This page was not a card catalog entry so it would not have come up in a search of the catalog on the website.
Learn More About the State Library of PA Collections
In episode 43 of Elevenses with Lisa we discussed genealogy records available for free at the Internet Archive. The State Library of Pennsylvania has been partnering with he Internet Archive to digitize many additional items from their collection. You can access these items for free at the State Library Internet Archive Collection. This collection includes a large number of World War I materials as well as a growing number of 19th and 20th century pamphlet volumes.
Get My Free Genealogy Gems Newsletter – click here.