I’m going to share with you my 10 “DON’T MISS!” features of MyHeritage. If you don’t currently use the site, this is your chance to see what it can do for you. If you do use it, let me introduce you to some of the GEMS you should be using. Scroll down to watch the video replay and get the show notes.
Watch Episode 63
Video & show notes below
Episode 63 Show Notes
10 Awesome MyHeritage Features You May be Missing:
1. Instant Discoveries™
Want to get started fast? After you add what you know about your family, you can start taking advantage of instant discoveries. You’ll find Instant Discoveries in the menu: Discoveries > Instant Discoveries.
There are three types of Discoveries:
I particularly like Photo Discoveries:
Finds photos of people in your tree
Consolidates into packages of up to 10 photos from different family sites.
Photos will originate only from family sites where the privacy setting for allowing photos to be copied from Smart Matches™ is enabled.
Click the View Discovery button for a batch of photo discoveries. Click “View original photo” to see a larger version and who else is tagged in it. By default, all photos in a Photo Discovery will be
copied to your tree when you add the discovery. Exclude specific photos by clicking the checkmark to deselect it. Click Add to add all selected photos to your tree.
To reject a Photo Discovery, click Reject this Discovery at the bottom of the list of photos.
Rejected discoveries will not be offered again. After applying a discovery, your tree will change,
and new discoveries will need to be recalculated (up to 24 hours.) Unlike SmartMatches, once a person or photo discovery is added, you can’t “undo”. You’ll need to remove them manually.
PremiumPlus and Complete subscribers have access to unlimited Discoveries.
2. Tree Consistency Checker
No tree is perfect! That’s why MyHeritage provides this handy tool that accelerates your ability to find and correct problems.
You’ll find the Tree Consistency Checker in the menu under My Family Tree > Consistency Checker.
MyHeritage’s Consistency Checker flags three types of issues:
Errors: Obviously incorrect. (red triangle icon)
Warnings: Possible but unlikely. (orange circle icon)
Notices: Maybe OK but worth a look. (grey square icon)
To adjust what the tool searches for, click the gear icon to change the settings. The Consistency Checker searches for 37 types of issues. Make adjustments as desired.
As you review the found issues, you can:
dismiss individual issues
dismiss checking for this issue.
3. U.S. Yearbooks
After starting with what you know, the next logical and honestly one of the most fun record to go after is yearbooks! MyHeritage has over 250,000 yearbooks. To find the yearbook collection, go to the menu Research > Collection Catalog > U.S. Yearbooks Name Index, 1890-1979. To find even more school related records head the to grey column on the left side of the page and click School & Universities.
Description from MyHeritage: “This collection contains almost 290 million records…A student or faculty member often appears in a yearbook several times. Part of the work conducted to produce this collection merges all occurrences of the same name in a yearbook into one record with references to the pages where the person is mentioned. Records in this collection will list the person’s name, often their gender, school’s name and location, and likely residence based on the location of the school. Additional work was done to identify the grade of the students to be able to infer their age and an estimated year of birth for some of the records.
The same person will often occur in previous or subsequent editions of the same yearbook and these related yearbooks are presented at the bottom of the individual’s record – to assist the researcher in finding other books where their person of interest might be found.
This collection is a name index produced by MyHeritage from the U.S. Yearbooks, 1890-1979 collection and is based on the same set of yearbooks…In case you didn’t find what you were looking for, we encourage you to check out the U.S Yearbooks 1890-1979 collection to search the entire free-text index of this amazing collection.”
Yearbook Search Tips:
Review the entire yearbook carefully for handwritten notes.
Look for people in their social circle.
Take a look at the Advertisers
Keep in mind that yearbook content had to be submitted early, often by early spring. Events occurring after that may be missing.
In the menu: Collection Catalog > U.S. City Directories
561,503,516 records in 25,468 directories
Description of the collection from MyHeritage: “City directories contain an alphabetical list of adult residents and heads of household, often with their spouse, with addresses and occupations and additional information. This collection is a huge genealogical compilation from 25,468 city directories published in 1860-1960 across the United States, created exclusively by MyHeritage using advanced machine learning technologies developed specifically for this purpose.”
“City directories, like census records, contain information that helps genealogists establish residences, occupations, and relationships between individuals. The added benefit of city directories is that they were published annually in many cities and towns throughout the United States.”
MyHeritage says that this collection will be updated soon to include pre-1860 directories as well as a large and unique set of directories published after 1960.
In the video I showed you how I use Snagit to capture clippings. Learn more by watching episode 61. Get SnagIt here.
There’s a ton of data in your family tree, and MyHeritage has the tech tools to help you see it in many forms. One of the coolest and most fun is Family Statistics. You’ll find it in the menu under Home > Family Statistics. Here you’ll find stats on:
Living or Deceased
Common Last Names
Common First Names – Male
Common First Names – Female
Places of Birth
Places of Death
Places of Residence
Average Life Expectancy
Oldest Living People
Lived the longest
Lived the shortest
When Were People Born
6. MyHeritage PedigreeMap™
PedigreeMap™ is a free feature on MyHeritage. It allows you to visualize and navigate information found in the Place field of the ancestors in your family tree from a geographic perspective. You’ll find PedigreeMap in the menu under Family Tree > More > PedigreeMap.
Use MyHeritage’s PedigreeMap to help identify errors and migration patterns over time.
At the center of the PedigreeMap screen, you’ll see a map of the world with circles indicating the locations listed in your family tree.
Gray circles = aggregations of locations in the same country or state
Orange circles = specific locations
To the left of the map you’ll see your ancestral places in list form, sorted by the number of references in your tree and grouped by country or state. By default, PedigreeMap™ will display places associated with your extended family, with you as the central person. In the field where you as the central person are name, type in the name of any family member to change the view to focus on them. Then use the filtering options in the bar at the top of the map to change which groups of people in your tree are displayed (ancestors, descendants, etc.)Click the funnel icon for even more filtering controls.
PedigreeMap™ Top Tips:
Click Heat Map in the bottom right corner. This displays concentration areas for your family. It is especially useful when combined with filtering by year and type.
Click Not Found in the list on the left to quickly find family members who need Place information added.
Look for grey exclamation marks which indicate that the place name needs more clarification.
Because PedigreeMap™ is based on Google Maps, it can be best to use the current country so you can accurately locate it on the map. For example, you could list the country as “Poland (formerly East Prussia).”
7. MyHeritage Relationship Report
Have you ever found a person in your family tree and lost track of how you are related to them? MyHeritage’s Relationship Report makes it quick and easy to visualize your connection to any person in your tree. In fact, it will show you the relationship between any two people in your tree.
You’ll find the Relationship Report in the menu under Family Tree > More > Relationship Report. Simply enter the names of the two people and click the Display Relationship button. Change the detail drop down menu to show the amount of detail you want.
8. Confirm or reject a Theory of Family Relativity™
The Theory of Family Relativity ™ helps provide theories about how you and your DNA matches might be related by incorporating genealogical information from MyHeritage’s records and family trees. Of course, some theories might not be accurate.
Until recently, you didn’t have the option to confirm or reject theories. Now you can review theories, marking the ones you have already processed so the new ones are easier to notice.
Status Options: Pending, confirm, or reject.
Go to the DNA Matches page and use the filters to see only those DNA Matches that have a Theory of Family Relativity™.
Theories can be confirmed or rejected in two places:
Review DNA Match page, which includes a summarized view of the theory.
2) Full theory view.
In the list of DNA Matches, once you’ve confirmed a theory, it will be displayed in the DNA Match card. Change your mind? Click View theory and then undo your confirmation or rejection, returning the theory to pending status.
Learn more about DNA at MyHeritage. Watch episode 42 on Genetic Groups at MyHeritage.
9. MyHeritage Photo Tools
Some of the most exciting advances coming from MyHeritage recently have been in the area of family photos. Currently they offer three outstanding tools:
You try them a few times for free. Complete plan subscribers get unlimited usage. You will find the photo enhancement tool in the menu under Family tree > Enhance Photos. It works much the same way as colorizing your photos.
Use the Comments section under the photo to share information and collaborate with others.
How to colorize a photo at MyHeritage: Under Family Tree in the menu select Colorize Photo. Click the Upload photo button and select a photo from your computer. You can drag and drop it onto the screen. In a few seconds your colorized photo is ready.
After colorizing your photo you can:
Share the colorized photo to Facebook
Share to Twitter
Copy link to clipboard
Download the photo
Go back to your photos and click the photo. You can compare the before and after. You can click to view the photo full size and use the zoom tool for an even closer look. Click the edit icon to edit the photo title, date, and place. Click Apply to save the changes. You can also make manual adjustments to the colorization.
Animate photos: You can upload a photo by going to the menu: Photos > Animate Photos. If you plan on enhancing or colorizing the photo do that first. Then from the photo page click the Animate button for that image. Currently you can animate one face at a time in a group photo. Closeup faces animate better than smaller faces in a bigger photo. Once the animation has processed you in the animation window, you can download the video or select different types of animations.
Photo Tools as Research Tools: Sometimes colorizing and enhancing your photos can help you spot more information in the photograph than was originally visible. You can colorize both photos and documents to improve clarity, readability, and visibility.
MyHeritage recently published the following announcement about their commitment to privacy:
“Earlier this year, prior to MyHeritage’s acquisition by leading private equity firm Francisco Partners, we issued a press release in which we promised to expand MyHeritage’s strong privacy framework for the benefit of our users.
From Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide here at Genealogy Gems: DNA testing is one of the most personal ways to get involved in your family history. You have DNA from your parents, who have DNA from their parents, and so it goes, back into your greats and great-greats. The technology of genetic genealogy is all about tapping into that DNA record and pulling out information that might be useful in your family history. DNA can do this for you in two ways:
First, it connects you to places. These are places where your ancestors came from a hundred, a thousand, or tens of thousands of years ago.
Second, it connects you to people. These people are your genetic cousins, other living people who have taken the same DNA test that you took. The similarities in your DNA tell you that you share a common ancestor. You can then examine the pedigree of your match and work with them to help verify your family history, or give you new ideas about who your ancestors might be.
Types of DNA Tests for Family History
You have three choices of DNA tests, each with its own unique purpose.
Autosomal DNA – For any ancestor, male or female, who is fewer than 5 generations from you, you can take the autosomal DNA test at either Family Tree DNA, AncestryDNA, 23andMe, or MyHeritage to find out more about that individual. Remember with the autosomal DNA that you always want to test the oldest generation first. So anyone who does not have both of their parents living should take the autosomal DNA test.
mtDNA – If I want to know about a female ancestor, let’s say Mary West, I need to find Mary’s daughter’s daughter’s daughter’s, etc. child (male or female) to take the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from Family Tree DNA.
YDNA – Essentially, if you want to know about a male ancestor, you need to find a direct male descendant to be tested. So if I want to know about my 3X great grandfather Morris Mitchell, I need to find Morris’s son’s son’s son, etc. until I find a living male with the Mitchell surname who can be tested on the Y chromosome DNA (mtDNA) test at Family Tree DNA.
DNA Testing Companies
There are several companies that test DNA for family history including:
Each of these companies offers a very similar autosomal DNA test, but each has its own unique tools and databases. Decide which company you want to test with by evaluating things like:
their website accessibility
their company goals
and especially the size of their database
You can see a table comparing these companies here.
Great (DNA) Expectations
The best thing you can do when setting out on your genetic genealogy journey is set good expectations. You can expect that the test will document the personal genetics of the person who takes it. By so doing, you are creating another genealogy record that will last for generations. This test will link you to your ancestors via your cousins. That means that you may take the test looking for ancestors, but what you get are cousins. It will take traditional genealogy work to turn those cousin connections into ancestral connections. Above all, expect that this is a growing industry, and what we know today is different than what we will know tomorrow, so enjoy the journey!
Genetic Genealogy for the Layman
There are several comprehensive books on Genetic Genealogy out there. However, for the layman who just wants to understand their DNA test results and get some additional value from them, an entire book full of scientific explanations can be overwhelming and daunting. The following email is one we receive regularly:
“Could you direct me to an understandable publication which explains dna results in layman’ terms ? Thank you” – Anne B.
Genealogy Gems Publications is proud to publish Diahan Southard’s wonderful series of DNA quick reference guides for understanding your DNA results in plain language, and helping you get the most out of the investment you made in testing.
8 Guides to Help You Understand and Use Your DNA Results
The complete collection of DNA quick reference guides cover:
The testing companies: AncestryDNA, 23andme, Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage
The tests: Autosomal, YDNA, Mitochondrial
How to find your ancestors using your DNA.
All guides are available in convenient digital download format.
Click here to shop now: Save on the set of 8 DNA quick reference guides at the Genealogy Gems store.
Free Podcast: Diahan has a regular segment on the free Genealogy Gems Podcast where she answers your questions and provides invaluable insights into the latest in genetic genealogy.
Free Articles: You can browse the complete archive of DNA articles at Genealogy Gems. The most recent will appear first and then scroll down to read through the past articles.
DNA in the News
As of March 28, 2017, AncestryDNA customers can see if their ancestors belonged to about 300 different Genetic Communities, small migratory groups that can be identified by DNA. In the next free Genealogy Gems podcast episode #202, you will learn more about it straight from Ancestry’s Chief Scientific Officer, Catherine Ball. For more information on Genetic Communities, watch the video below:
The new MyHeritage DNA chromosome browser offers two different kinds of browsing–and a triangulation tool. Here’s what these tools are and how to work with them. Just last year, if you had asked me if I thought anyone could catch AncestryDNA in their race to own...
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.
If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is an audio excursion with Lisa on an old railroad track up to a silver mine in the Colorado Rockies, an excursion she originally shared in Episode 18 of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, not now available online, and is being republished here exclusively for your enjoyment. The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 forWindows, iPhone and iPad users
Qualities of a successful short family history book, from Lisa Louise Cooke
The book conveys an overall theme.
Start by reviewing all the available material you have. That will give you a good sense of what the time period was like for your ancestor. You’ll also start to understand their goals, experiences, and emotions. Ultimately a theme should begin to surface.
In the case of A Nurse In Training, I wanted to communicate my grandmother as a young woman taking on a new adventure away from home that ultimately led to this warm, caring woman’s successful career as a nurse. I also tucked a bonus subplot in there of how she just happened to meet her husband at the same time!
You don’t need every scrap of research and every photo to get this theme across. It’s your job to be a sharp editor and to pick out the critical pieces. You want the words and photographs that clearly communicate your theme to the reader.
#2. The book can be read in one sitting.
Like it or not, if it takes too long read, they probably won’t. Strive to create a book that doesn’t look intimidating. I create books that are ten to twenty double-sided pages. People will be willing to pick up a thinner book off the coffee table. If it’s well done they’ll find that all of a sudden they’ve finished the entire book without wanting to put it down. The final goal is that they will walk away with a real sense of having gotten to know that ancestor.
#3. It contains the best of the best of what you have.
This goes back to conveying the theme and being a strict editor. My grandma had many funny stories, but there just wasn’t room for all of them. I picked the best of the best. Anyone who reads the book should hopefully come away with the fact that she had a sense of humor and could laugh at herself. So keep the content of your book focused, full of graphics and photos, and including the best of the best. If you can capture their interest in the first three pages, you’ll have them for the entire book.
#4. There are lots of photos and graphics.
A picture is definitely worth a thousand words. Since the number of words in this size book will be limited, photographs will be your best friend. If you’re lacking in family photos, many of my previous podcasts will give you countless ideas for locating associated photos. In A Nurse In Training, I included scanned images of skating rink tickets, programs and announcements from my grandma’s scrapbook, and journal pages in my grandmother’s own hand. These types of items really add texture and interest to your book, as well as help the reader to see that you’ve really done your homework.
#5. Keep it in chronological order.
This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to get sidetracked and start going back and forth in time. Believe me, for the reader’s sake keep things in chronological order. You as the researcher know this information backward and forwards, but this is probably your reader’s first exposure to it. Be gentle with them and keep it straight forward and simple. Your reader will thank you.
#6. You choose only high-quality images and printing.
High-quality glossy pages, good image quality and a hardcover binding all shout to the reader “I’m worth your time, read me!” For example, I found a drawing of Dameron Hospital where my grandmother worked, but it was a low-quality image and didn’t translate well in the book. As much as I wanted to include it, I ended up leaving it out. I’m glad I did; it wasn’t critical to the book and there were other ways to communicate the hospital to the reader.
Start creating fabulous, irresistible videos about your family history with Animoto.com. You don’t need special video-editing skills: just drag and drop your photos and videos, pick a layout and music, add a little text and voila! You’ve got an awesome video! Try this out for yourself at Animoto.
I used to think that economics was just a series of numbers and calculations that helped to gauge the future growth of companies and countries. In a word: boring. But that was before I discovered that you can study the economics of people and essentially use math to describe human behavior, and therefore in some ways make that behavior more predictable.
This is of course especially intriguing to my current situation as the parent of a teenager, a pre-teen, and a daughter. Teenagers especially are always talking about the things that “everyone else has,” a phenomenon that Malcom Gladwell, one of these interesting people-economists, describes as the “tipping point.” He says that the tipping point is “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” For my kids it’s everything from the point at which a party becomes fun to doing everything that is humanly possible to procure a fidget-spinner (if you don’t know what that is, ask the nearest 11 year old).
In DNA testing in the United States, that tipping point is now. We have reached the point where most genealogists at least have the passing notion that genetics can be useful in genealogy. Most genealogists (I would guess 85%) who attend the lectures I give have already had at least one DNA test completed. Let’s stop for just one minute and recognize how incredible that is! Not too long ago I was still trying to convince people that this was a good idea and that you didn’t have to dig up your ancestors to do it! But now we have scores of genealogists who have not only tested themselves, but have convinced half their family to test as well!
This got me thinking though, who are those people who haven’t tested? And why not? One category of people sans DNA test are those who have full pedigree charts. I have heard many of them say that they don’t see the need to do DNA testing since they have most of their lines “way back.” To those with the blessing of ancestors who kept better records than mine, I am offering four reasons why you should RSVP to your invitation to DNA test.
Record. First and foremost, your DNA is a record. Just as you have obtained birth certificates and marriage licenses for your ancestors, your DNA is a unique record. It does represent you and your family in a way that no other record can. It is a document of your genetic history, and should be preserved. Further, while you may doubt the ability of your DNA to shed light on your current genealogy, don’t underestimate the contribution it might make in the future.
Second Cousins. And third cousins, and fourth cousins, etc. Having your DNA tested means you can see a biological connection between you and other relatives that have had tested. For many, the idea of meeting or forming relationships with distant cousins is not appealing. But even if you have no intention of attending DNA family reunions or even in corresponding with these relatives, there is something reassuring about seeing them there on your match list. There is a certain thrill that comes with recognizing the connection between you and someone else. A connection that may not add any new names to your tree, but it helps you feel a deeper connection to your ancestor, and a greater appreciation for your biology.
Verify. Which brings me to the next point. Seeing these cousins on your list can actually help verify the genealogy you have already collected and documented. It helps to reassure you that you have made the right steps along the way, and may help you gain additional resources about your relative through their descendants that you find on your match list. Resources that can help turn that ancestor from a name on a chart, to a story and a life worth preserving.
Philanthropy. The last reason to go ahead and have your DNA tested is to help others. If you have been lucky enough to fill in most of the blanks on your tree, you can help others do the same by simply having your DNA tested. Your DNA provides a link to your tree that might be just what someone needs to overcome a brick wall in their family history.
So, if you have been hanging out on the outskirts of DNA testing because you feel like your tree is full enough without it, remember to RSVP to your invitation to be DNA tested, and join the party!
GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB: A FAMILY HISTORY MURDER MYSTERY!
Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagicfamily history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. RootsMagic is now fully integrated with Ancestry.com, too: you can sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.
Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more athttp://www.backblaze.com/lisa.
GEM: VEHICULAR FORENSICS: Updated links, tips and resources
Here’s the original photo of my grandma next to her father’s car:
The original zoomed in image of the license plate:
The license plate with the “alternative light source” applied:
Since I first published this episode, iGoogle has gone away.
FromItStillRuns.com: “Veteran cars were manufactured before 1903, vintage cars were made between 1903 and 1933, and classic cars are considered to be vehicles manufactured from 1933 until fifteen years ago.”
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.