How to Find Original Manuscripts with ArchiveGrid

Original manuscript records may reveal genealogical gems about your ancestors. Find these old records in archives around the country using this little-known, free online tool: ArchiveGrid.

archivegrid

Manuscript records such as old diaries, letters, vital record collections, military documents, church registers, store ledgers, school and even business records can be genealogical gems. But finding original manuscript collections in archives and libraries can be difficult. Which archive has it? What’s the collection called? How can you access it?

ArchiveGrid can help

A little-known free website can help you locate old documents and manuscript items available in over 1,500 different archival collections. It’s called ArchiveGrid, and it currently includes close to 5 million archival item entries!

ArchiveGrid is a companion website to WorldCat, the free online catalog of millions of library items from thousands of libraries. The difference is that ArchiveGrid focuses not on published items but (generally-speaking) on unpublished ones.

How to search ArchiveGrid

From the ArchiveGrid home page, you can do two types of searches:

Search for repositories in ArchiveGrid

ArchiveGrid website

Use the map view, shown above on the left side, to identify archival collections that are near your ancestors’ home. These archives may hold materials related to your ancestors’ communities. Hover over the red markers to see the names of institutions. Click on them to find contact information and search their collections.

Search for specific manuscript items in ArchiveGrid

1. In the search box in the upper right part of the ArchiveGrid home page, enter search terms related to the manuscript items you hope to find, such as berks county pennsylvania marriage records. Then click Search. You’ll see a list of search results, such as these:

2. Browse search results. If you need to narrow or broaden your results, you can scroll to the bottom of the search results page and click the options you want.

3. Click on items of interest to read more about them. Here’s what a typical ArchiveGrid catalog entry looks like:

The entry tells you more about the individual item. You may see when it was created, a physical description of it, who or what organization created it, and even brief historical background. You’ll see what repository holds it–and you can click under the name of that repository for its contact information. You may be able to order copies, visit to view the item in person, or hire a local researcher to do that for you.

As you can see, a sidebar to the right of this catalog entry says More Like This, with categories like people, places, groups, or topics. These links point to additional catalog items that are related in some way to the one you’re looking at—it’s something like browsing the stacks by topic at a library. (You can also sort all your search results this way from the main list of search results by clicking on Summary View.)

Now that the Family History Library is discontinuing its microfilm lending program, you may find yourself increasingly searching for original manuscript items that aren’t available online. And now that you know how to use ArchiveGrid, you may find yourself wanting to seek out these genealogical gems even more!

Learn More About Original Records

Learn more about finding and using original records from our new regular contributor on the Genealogy Gems podcasts: “The Archive Lady” Melissa Barker. Hear a full-length interview with her in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #205. Genealogy Gems Premium website members can hear even more from her on finding and using original records in the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #149.

Photos used in the collage in this post are courtesy of Melissa Barker.

 

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for Genealogy

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. 

 Watch the Video:

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Sanborn fire insurance maps at the library of congress for genealogy

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for Genealogy

(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.

Sanborn fire insurance map resource guide

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 Legend created 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.

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4 FAST Strategies for Searching the 1931 Canadian Census

Show Notes: The 1931 Canadian Census was released by the Library and Archives Canada on June 1 of 2023. These digitized images can (as of now) be browsed by general location. The challenge with this census, like with other census records when they first come online, is that there is no index. Creating the index that makes the census searchable by name and other identifying factors takes a while. So right now, the digitized images are available online to browse. Ancestry.com is partnering with the Library and Archives Canada and using its artificial intelligence technology to generate the index. Until that happens, I have four strategies for you that are going to help you find your ancestors right now. And you’ll be able to find them much faster than if you just browsed the images one by one. Once the index comes out, it’s not necessarily going to be perfect. They never are. So, these strategies can help you if you run into trouble finding someone in the 1931 Canadian census. And they’ll also help you better understand the information that you do see in the images.

Watch the Video: 1931 Canadian Census

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The 1931 Canadian Census was released by the Library and Archives Canada on June 1 of 2023. 

Strategy #1 Check Earlier Census Records

My first strategy for finding your ancestors in the 1931 census of Canada is to check the earlier census records. Our goal is to identify the enumeration sub-district and the municipality where they lived. If we can find it in an earlier census, we can use that information to find them more quickly in the 1931 Canadian Census.

In my case, the person I’m looking for in the 1931 Canadian census is my husband’s great-grandfather, Harry Cooke. He emigrated to Canada in 1912, along with his second wife, Martha. I started my search for them by seeing if I could find them in a census record sometime after 1912, but prior to 1931.

Harry lived in Regina, Saskatchewan. So, I was able to use the Census of Prairie Provinces that was taken in 1926 in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba. You can use the Census Search Tool at the Library and Archives Canada website to search those census records.

If your ancestors lived in other provinces, again, that Census Search Tool is going to help you find the most recent census records available for them.

In 1926 Harry Cooke was in sub-district number 8 and the municipality was Sherwood, so I made note of that. Also, while looking at that 1926 census, I found there is an area where it talks about where each household is located. They list the Township, Range and Meridian. So, I also made note of the township number listed, which in this case was 17. If your ancestors happen to live in a city, there may be a street address listed. Though many people came to Canada to work the land, so you may not be fortunate and find that information. But make note of the street address if it’s listed. Sometimes it’s written right across the Township, Range and Meridian columns.

Strategy #2 Check City Directories for Addresses

I really easy way to look for city directories is just to google it. I found the 1931 city directory for Regina by going to Google.com and typing in 1931, Regina city directory. The very first result was the city directory for Regina in 1931 at Internet Archive. I happen to have heard that there was a directory for 1931, so that’s why I searched for it specifically. If you don’t happen to know the year you can run a Google search for a time frame. Do this by entering the name of the town or the closest big city to where your ancestors lived in the search field. Add the phrase city directory, and then enter a number range. Google calls this search operator a numrange. Here’s an example:

Regina city directory 1912..1931

This type of search brings up links to web pages that mention Regina, the words city directory, and also a four-digit number that falls within the specified range, which for us would be the year that the city directory was published!

The Internet Archive has thousands of digitized and searchable city directories. Many genealogy record websites use The Internet Archive as their cloud hosting service for their records. They digitize everything and upload it to Internet Archive where they can host it, and then link to it on their website. So that is a great place to look.

However, it’s a good idea to run a Google search because that way you are going across the internet, and hopefully you’ll find the city directories that you need.

In my case, in 1931 Harry and Martha are still at 520 Osler Street. So that reinforces what I had found in the 1926 census.

Strategy #3 Search at the Library and Archives Canada website

At the time of this writing, without an actual index, we’re going to enter the province name, the city / district if you have it, and the sub-district.

In the case of Harry and Martha Cooke, I found them in 1926 in sub-district #8, so that was the first place I searched. However, in 1931 sub-district #8 was not associated with the municipality of Sherwood. In fact, it didn’t mention township 17 either, so it was very suspicious.

It is possible that enumeration sub-districts can change over time. This can happen because as a country grows, the population grows. District lines must be redrawn in a way that allows a single census taker (enumerator) to cover the area within a certain given amount of time. In a more populated city, that can mean that the sub-district actually shrinks a little bit, and there are more sub-districts added. However, the previous sub-district does give you a great starting point. It’s very possible that the person you are looking for is in a sub-district close to the original. So, you’ll just have to browse a little further. And that takes us to strategy number four.

Strategy #4 Browse the Records Faster Using Clues

You could go through each digitized page of the 1931 Canadian census one by one looking for your relatives. That took an especially long time when the records were first released on June 1 of 2023. On my computer each image took at least two hours to load…it was crazy! But it’s not surprising, because I’m sure everybody and their brother wanted to look at these records.

Thankfully, now it’s running much faster. But it could still take quite a long time to look page by page. There are a few more things that you can do to make the process much faster.

First, as you pull up each sub-district, keep track of your search with a research log. After checking the sub-districts before and after the one Harry Cooke was in in 1926, I went back to the beginning and started with sub-district #1.  The very first image in each sub-district is going to be a title card that will include the township number, and the municipality covered in that sub-district. So, since you already located that in the earlier census record, you are going to be able to immediately tell if that group of images is worth going through.

If it doesn’t match, go on to the next sub-district. This is why a research log is important. Genealogy Gems Premium Members can download the worksheet in the Resources section at the bottom of these Show Notes. It’s just a really simple way to keep track of everything that you’re finding and make sure that you’re not covering the same base twice.

You might come across a title card that has the right municipality but not the right township number, or vice versa. I found that in one case while looking for the Cookes. Just make note of it on your worksheet, and keep moving, looking for an exact match.

If you find a sub-district that looks really promising, perhaps it includes the township or the municipality you need, take a quick look at image number two. This is the first page that shows people in the neighborhood. There are a couple of things to look for.

If you know that your ancestors were British, like Harry and Martha were, then you might expect them to be in a neighborhood with predominantly British people. That was really common. When our ancestors left their homeland and came to a new country, they oftentimes emigrated with other people from the country that they knew. They may have heard about the opportunity from those people. And once they arrived, they tended to congregate together. They lived together in communities and neighborhoods because they shared a culture and language. They could support each other and help each other.

One of the things that tipped me off that sub-district #8 wasn’t the right place to be searching for the Cookes was that it was comprised primarily of Russians, Austrians, Romanians, and Hungarians. Harry and Martha didn’t speak those languages, so I would not expect them to be there. Also, when I looked at the 1926 census, I made note of who his neighbors were. And indeed, it was a very predominantly British neighborhood. So that was a clue to me that even though I might have had the right township number, it didn’t mention the right municipality, and it certainly had a completely different makeup when it came to the neighborhood.

Also, as you’re reviewing the surnames and going down the list on the image, take a look at the township column. As you’ll recall, we made note of the township number and / or the address that we found in the earlier census. As you scan the surnames on the page, also check if the correct township number or address is showing up.

In my search, I saw a lot of different street names (not Osler St.). I don’t know Regina very well, so in another browser tab, I opened up Google Maps. I did a search for 520 Osler St., and then I selected “Directions” and entered one of the street names that I was seeing on the census. And sure enough, they were miles and miles apart. That’s another clue you’re not in the right area for browsing.

Our goal is to find our relatives as quickly as possible without spending hours reviewing pages that are not likely to include them. So, again, if you don’t find that exact match of Township and Municipality on the sub-district index card, look at these other factors to see if you’re in the right ballpark.

In the end, I am happy to say I found Harry and Marth Cooke pretty quickly. They were in sub-district number 11. The title card showed that it covered township 17 and the municipality of Sherwood. It was an exact match! They were on image number 18 residing in a very predominantly British neighborhood on Osler St., exactly where I would expect them to be.

1931 Canadian Census Search Wrap Up

The 1931 Canadian Census is full of valuable information about your Canadian relatives. While it take a little more time to search without an index, these strategies can help you do so faster. You can also apply (and tweak) these techniques to other types of searches where an index is unavailable, or your relatives aren’t showing up in the search results. And remember, if you find an address, look up the location in Google Maps to see it for yourself. 

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Reconstructing Ancestors’ Lives with Newspapers

Show Notes: Reconstructing with Ancestors’ Lives with Newspapers

In this video, Lisa Louise Cooke and Jenny Ashcraft from Newspapers.com discuss how to use newspapers to fill in the missing stories in your ancestors’ lives. Jenny shares strategic tips on finding unique information many researchers miss. 

Interview with Jenny Ashcraft of Newspapers.com. (Edited for clarity) 

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Lisa: Let’s talk about one of my favorite things, which is reconstructing the life story of an ancestor. Not just the names, dates, places. We want to expand that out to include the events, the people, what they did in their life. Newspapers really can tell that kind of story for anybody, can’t they?

Jenny: It’s true. We love those vital records, right? As genealogists we’d love to have those birth, marriage and death records. But what happened in between? Newspapers are a wonderful resource for kind of bringing color and stories to your ancestors’ life. How did their life impact history? How did history impact their life? You can try to find those stories and piece together a story of their life through newspapers.

Lisa: And the newspaper articles don’t have to actually name our relative to be really valuable in reconstructing their story. We can look at the family tree and see what we’ve found so far. We can find supporting evidence and information that helps tell us what was happening at the time in their life.

Jenny: Exactly! Because sometimes you might not find your ancestors name or a newspaper article about a specific event. But what you can do is create a context for what was happening, what was happening in their family, what was happening in their community, the country and the world. Even if you can’t find a specific article about them, you can still create a context for what their experiences would have been.

Lisa: Well, I know you’re doing to share your grandfather’s story today and I just think it’s a perfect example. We’ll use your grandfather as kind of a test case and have you kind of show us the reconstruction process. Where did you start?

Lamar Norton

Jenny’s grandfather Lamar Norton

Getting Started Using Newspapers for Genealogy

(03:17) Jenny: I started looking for my grandfather’s birth announcement and I couldn’t find it.

He lived in a tiny town called Panguitch, Utah. The local newspaper was just a short little run of a newspaper, only a few years. It was a weekly, and the birth announcement was not there!

I thought, okay, if I can’t find my grandfather’s birth announcement, I’ll look for the family. And I found a  birth announcement for his older brother that was born just two years before him.

I started looking for other clippings that I might be able to find more information about my grandfather. I found just a few months before his birth. I found this little article about his father driving to purchase to seven passenger Paige automobiles. This is just months before my grandfather was born. And I’m thinking well, what is a Paige automobile? So, I searched for Paige automobiles, and found a picture of one. And even though my grandfather’s name is not in this clipping, but I’m starting to get a little context. This is the car that his father was going to purchase just before his birth. So that’s kind of fun!

All of these clippings they start to create a context for this little Norton family. My grandfather’s name was Lamar Norton. He was born in a small town in Panguitch, Utah. He was a father of seven, and a World War II veteran. I just wanted to learn a little bit more about his life.

Even though I couldn’t find a birth announcement, I started finding clippings about his family, his siblings, his parents, and it started to help me create a context for what the Norton family was experiencing in 1915 in Panguitch, Utah.

Lamar started to grow up. And his family moved to another very small town called LaPointe, Utah. He was living in the point when he met a young woman that would become his future wife. Her name was Velma Hollinger. I wanted to find out if they talked about their marriage in the paper. Was there a newspaper story? And what can we learn about their marriage?

Newspapers.com Marriage Index

(06:11) An effective way to search for marriages in the newspaper is by using the Marriage Index at Newspapers.com.

Our data science team at Ancestry, figured out how to use data intelligence to scour through all of the newspapers and extract marriage announcements and obituaries. There are like 250 million obituaries and 17 million marriage announcements. You can search for just marriage announcements.

Here’s how I searched for my grandfather’s marriage announcement in the Marriage Index.  His last name was Lamar Norton, so I’m entered Lamar Norton in the Search tab. It brought up about 468,000 matches! So, I needed to filter the search. You can do that by using the button called result type and selecting. I could add a location and a date and filter those as well.

Next, I went to the map because I know the marriage was in Utah. So, I clicked on Utah on the map. This gave me 10 matches. As I looked through the list, I found his marriage announcement. This process allows you to search without going through all the clippings. You can search just for marriage announcements.

Lisa: That’s really slick. It’s nice that we can just run a simple search first, and then start making adjustments. We don’t necessarily have to mark everything on the very first search time.

Jenny: You don’t have to. There are so many filters. If you find yourself with too many results, start using those filters and narrow the years or narrow the location.

I happen to know that he was born in Utah. So, I just quickly added Utah onto that filter. But if there were too many things. I could keep filtering and filtering until I just have a very few results to choose from.

Lamar and his now wife, Velma started their young family and they had two little children. But this simple life for the Norton’s was not going to last because in just a very few short years, we went to war. The headlines of the newspapers announce the U.S. entry.

With a wife and two young children, Lamar hoped that he wasn’t going to be drafted. But when it came time to register Lamar and some of his friends loaded in a car and they headed to the registration office to register for the draft. Apparently, they discussed on the way who might or might not get drafted and everybody was sure that he was not going to get drafted because he was the only one married with two small children. Well, it was quite a shock just days later, when Lamar received notice that he had been drafted and had just days to report.

It was apparently quite a big deal in the community that this young father had been drafted. I was sure that there must be something about it in the newspaper. But when I searched Lamar Norton, I couldn’t find it in the tiny, small-town paper.

I started adjusting my search parameters and eventually I did find it was published in the paper. However, the quality of the printing was really poor. His name is Lamar Norton, but I could hardly even see that. When I adjusted my parameters to just search Lamar and Norton, in the right timeframe in the right town, that’s when I found this little announcement that he had been drafted.

Expanding Your Newspaper Search

(10:45) There he was heading off to war, knowing that my grandmother is going to be left at home with two small children. I thought, what was she going to do? What’s her life going to be like now that her young husband is heading off to war. She doesn’t know when he’s going to come back, or there’s always the possibility that he might not come back.

Asking questions about the story you’ve found so far can help you develop new searches. These questions that I had certainly prompted me to start searching for my grandmother in the paper. er name was Velma Norton. Sure enough, I found an article that shows that she decided to go home and live with her parents while her husband is off fighting. I just searched for her name, and then again, adjusted the search parameters for that same time period.

Lamar headed off to basic training, and in this training he learns how to repair tanks. They start training him to become a mechanic, and he was assigned to serve with Patton’s Third Army. Well, through the newspapers I learned that right before he headed off to Europe, he was able to come home one last time on furlough. I found a little announcement about it in the paper. He’s home visiting his wife and his two children and his parents. I find it very interesting also because of the date of the article, November 9, 1944. If you’re familiar with World War II history, then you may know that there was about to be a very big, pivotal battle in World War II. It was one of the costliest battles of the war. It was the Battle of the Bulge. Well, Lamar headed off to Europe, and for the next several months, he was involved in horrific fighting.

He came home from the war with something that was called Shell Shock. Today, we know it as PTSD.  I remember, as a little girl, that if a balloon popped, or if there was a loud clap of thunder, he would just dive under the table. It was just kind of an involuntary reaction due to such tremendous fighting that he endured. There was one instance when he was repairing a tank. The track had come off the tank, and he was under fire in the tank surrounded by the enemy. Still, he managed to repair this tank and get the tank on the road. For that he received a Bronze Star.

Maybe you have an ancestor that fought in World War II or another military battle. Perhaps they came home but they didn’t want to talk about it. I know that my grandfather’s brother said at his funeral, when your grandfather came home, he wanted to forget what he had seen.

In addition to searching for your ancestor, search on other aspects of their life such as the battalion or unit they served in. If you know a specific battle that they participated in, you can learn about that battle. It’s just like we talked about creating a context. Even though all of the Battle of the Bulge newspaper articles I read didn’t talk about my grandfather specifically, I was able to get a context and understand this traumatic fighting that he endured and what that might have been like.

Another search strategy is to look for their obituary. Oftentimes veterans’ obituaries will list what unit they served in or what battles they may have participated in.

Lisa: Well, that’s a great point. We can take records we’ve already found and go back and pull those pieces of information off and then go search them in the newspapers.

Jenny: Yes indeed.

Now, the Third Army Patton’s Third Army, following the Battle of the Bulge, they started moving across Germany. On April 4, 1945, they came across a concentration camp, and it was called Ohrdruf concentration camp. This was the very first concentration camp that was liberated by the Americans.

These young men just couldn’t believe their eyes. They did not know what they were seeing. They came across soldiers that had been killed. They saw bodies stacked like cordwood. They just had never seen anything like it. They called to their superiors, and they said,” We have found something amazing here. We think you better come and see it.” And so, generals Eisenhower and Patton and Bradley all came. They said, “Don’t touch anything we want to see with our own eyes, what you’ve found.”

When they arrived, they were searching through this camp and they found the bodies and they found a pyre where there were remains from burned soldiers, as the Nazis tried to destroy the evidence. It was so traumatic for Eisenhower and Patton and Bradley that General Patton became physically sick by the things that he’d seen. Everybody was just astounded.

Even though I’m not seeing my grandfather by name, I can learn even more about his experience. I found and amazing article about a man who had been side by side with Lamar. He gave a personal account to their hometown paper when they got home from the war. This allows me to understand even more the impact that this experience had on my grandfather. It was just so sobering and powerful to understand what he has experienced! As I said, when he came home, he didn’t want to talk about it.

Soldier recollections in the newspaper

Newspaper article found

Newspapers as a Replacement for Lost Records

A lot of these soldiers’ military personnel files were gathered up and sent to the National Personnel Records Center where they were stored. It was in St. Louis, Missouri. Lisa, you’re probably familiar with the fire that occurred there. In the 1970s the facility caught fire, and between 16 and 18 million personnel records were destroyed. And so many of us that are trying to do research on our ancestors, we no longer have their military papers. Newspapers are a wonderful way to try to reconstruct their story and to understand the experiences that they endured while they were in the armed services.

Search Beyond the Time and Place

(18:35) Lisa: I noticed as you made your newspaper discoveries that you moved out from those very local papers that you knew where you were finding his name, and you’re reached into newspapers across the country for these kinds of stories from people who may be served right next to him, or who saw the same things he did. And I noticed some of these were fairly recent newspapers. It’s a great example that we can pull from something maybe from the 90s, or from 2005. Something like the soldier’s recollections article that you found. We have this wealth of information that spans so many decades and potentially holds these stories.

Jenny: You’re exactly right, Lisa. It’s common, particularly with monumental anniversaries, that you might see the newspaper going back to soldiers 20 years, 50 years later and saying, ‘it’s the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Ohrdruf. Can you tell us about your experience?’ For me, these papers were able to tell the story that my grandfather couldn’t. They were able to shed light on what he experienced when he wasn’t willing to talk about it.

Lisa: You’ve already found so much. What else did you pull out of newspapers?

Jenny: Well, now that he had endured the Battle of the Bulge, and he had participated in the liberation of this concentration camp, we are close to the day things were getting better, and the war was starting to wind down. It wasn’t too long until I came across a discharge notice. My grandfather had been discharged in October 1945. I was able to find that discharge notice in his little local hometown paper. I learned that his unit was one of the few units that received the Presidential Citation award, and that he received a Silver Star award. I learned about some of his military decorations.

So, that’s another great tip when you’re searching for your ancestors. If they were wounded, if they received awards, if they were taken prisoner of war, all of those are likely to be mentioned in the paper. Search for some of those things, in addition to battles and places and anything that might be able to help you reconstruct their military story.

How One Newspaper Article Can Lead to the Next

In 1945, Lamar came home. I found an article in a Salt Lake City paper. It listed all of the Utah soldiers that were heading home. At the bottom of the article, I found listed Private First Class, Lamar Norton. And what’s great about this is it tells me what ship he came home on! That gives me a further avenue to research. I can go to the newspapers, and I can learn about that journey. I can read about when that ship docked in New York, perhaps there was rough weather or sickness or a death on the journey. I can find out all about that now that I have the name of the ship.

I then found a notice saying that he has now returned home, reunited with his family, and parents and that he was recently discharged. So, their family is being reunited and moving back in together. And I’m continuing to put this story together. You can kind of see how much context and color these newspaper article provide for his military experiences in the newspaper.

Newspaper.com Search Techniques

(22:37) Lisa: That’s terrific! As you found each one, did you use any special techniques? Can we use things like quotation marks around his name as we can in Google? You mentioned in the very first article that you found that you had to separate the name Lamar Norton and not have the first and last name right next to each other because they might appear separately in an article or both names might not appear clearly to be read by the search engine. Can you tell Newspapers.com, I want this name to appear first name last name together?

Jenny: You absolutely can! At the newspapers.com homepage I can enter Lamar Norton. And yes, one of my favorite strategies is to add quotation marks before and after his name. That is going to only return results where those two names appear together in that order. Instead of every mention of Lamar, and every mention of Norton, I’m only going to have results that are in Lamar Norton.

Be sure to take advantage of the map off to the right side of the webpage. You will see all of the states have different colors. If there is a gray state, that indicates that there is no mention of Lamar Norton. The darker the color gets the more mentions there are of what you searched for. When I clicked on Utah which was the darkest red, I see there are 251 results for Lamar Norton. And it’s kind of cool right that it also breaks it down by county. I know that for a while Lamar lived in a number of these counties, so I can actually search through the various counties and see if that is my Lamar Norton.

Lisa: I see a timeline at the bottom of the screen as well, so we can really target one particular area of time as well.

Jenny: You absolutely could! You can also do that up at the top of the page. Maybe I only want to know about his military experiences. I can search 1941 to 1945. And I have 42. Matches. A lot of them are him talking about his military experiences. So many of these are the Vernal Express, the little newspaper in the area where he lived. I can use these filters by year as well. Maybe he’s landing in Utah and a New York paper does an interview. I don’t want to just have Utah results. I can remove the state, and I can make it as wide or as narrow as I want. I would really recommend just playing with the dates. Maybe your ancestor gave an interview to the paper about their World War II experiences, but it was in the 1990s. Don’t limit yourself. If you want to know World War II history, the information might not be in World War II years. You might find it at a later date.

Lisa: That’s a great point. And a great point about not necessarily limiting yourself to his state, because I did notice when he was coming home with the Utah troops that was a newspaper from New York, right?

Jenny: Yes, because the Liberty ship had landed in New York. Exactly.

Alerts for New Newspapers at Newspapers.com

(26:20) Lisa: Now I see an Alert Me button. I’m guessing Newspapers.com is continually adding newspapers all the time. Is there a chance that it can tell me if something new gets loaded onto the website?

Jenny: Yes. You can set up an alert. WE are constantly adding new papers. In fact, we hit a milestone a few weeks ago, 750 million pages of newspapers. You’ll find a counter on the home page. In fact, in the past week and a half, we’ve added another 5.3 million pages.

You can set up an alert for any search you want. Then, if there’s new content that meets the criteria, you will get a notice that there is a new article that mentions it.

Keep Searching in Newspapers

(27:23) Lisa: Any other tips about how people can find information about their ancestors?

Jenny: Keep searching! I found a newspaper article that mentioned something I’ve heard about many times in my life. It’s 1949, a few years after Lamar returned home, and he and his young family have a new baby and they are living in Clearfield, Utah. His little daughter who happens to be my mother was returning home from kindergarten and got hit by a truck. Well, you can imagine how traumatic this would be to this little family and what an impact that would have on their lives. You can imagine as a father, and that being your little daughter, how traumatic that would be and what an impact that would have on you and your story.

Lisa: Oh my gosh! Obviously, she survived all that. But it just goes to show that there are just so many pieces to the puzzle. I see many names listed in that article. I imagine that gave you a wonderful opportunity to search for some of those people too.

Jenny: And you know what, I know who these people are because they’re in my family tree. But if you didn’t know and you’re trying to discover your family tree, this would be a great help. People are rushing to the hospital, and there’s been an accident, and it’s a familiar surname. I can look through all of these names and ask, “who is Harvey Hollander?” “Who is Mrs. Harvey Hollander? “ I can do some research and search for her in the paper and get an idea of how she fits into this family and into this story.

Downloading and Organizing Newspaper Research

(29:12) Lisa: I see there are buttons for downloading and editing the clippings we find. We’ll definitely have you come back and show us how you organize all this stuff. Obviously there’s a potential here to find a lot of items and we’ll want your best strategies for keeping newspaper articles organized. Will you promise to come back and help us get organized?

Newspapers Expand Our Ancestors’ Stories

(29:34) Jenny: I would love to. And you know, when you are putting together a story for your ancestor, this is such a wonderful way to do it because they become more than a name on paper, they become real and relatable. It’s no longer just this sterile name. It’s a person whose life impacts your life, and you get to tell their story. And like you said, they don’t have to be famous to be mentioned in a newspaper. They don’t have to be a notable person. My grandfather was the most ordinary person, but I was able to kind of reconstruct things that impacted his life and must have impacted how he parented and how he raised his family. And that impacts how I was raised in it. We’re all connected.

Lisa: Very well said. Even with a man who didn’t necessarily want to come back and talk about his experiences, who was a more private person, you learned so much through your newspaper research.  

Jenny, this has been fascinating. We all need to make our list of what we know so far about our ancestors and then go our and search these newspapers to find gems like these waiting for us. Newspapers.com is certainly a great place to do that.

Thank you so much for coming and sharing your grandfather’s story.

Jenny: Thank you so much, and I just wish everyone the best of luck as you dive into your own research. I’m so excited for you to find amazing newspaper clippings about your family.

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