How to Get Back Into Genealogy

Show Notes: Restart Your Genealogy!

Has it been a while since you worked on your genealogy research? As passionate as we may be about genealogy, the reality is that a little thing called “Life” can get in the way!

Getting back into genealogy can actually be a bit daunting. Where did you leave off? Where should you start back up?

If it’s been months or even years since you had your hands in genealogy, you’re in the right place. In this video, we’re going to talk about how to pick up your genealogy after a hands-off spell so that you can quickly and efficiently get back on the trail of your ancestors.

how to get back into genealogy

 Get your Genealogy Restart checklist in the Resources section.

And by the way, perhaps you haven’t taken a break, but you feel like you’ve gotten a little out of control and disorganized in what you’ve been doing so far. This process also works very nicely as a quick audit to help you get back on track. 

How to Jump Back into Your Genealogy

Has it been a while since you worked on your genealogy research? As passionate as we may be about genealogy, the reality is that that little thing called life can get in the way.

In my case, my daughter got married earlier this year. There were plans to make, bridal shows to throw, and the wedding itself which meant planning a trip because it was a destination wedding. Needless to say, I didn’t work on family history for several months.

If it’s been months or even years since you had your hands in genealogy, you’re in the right place. In this article and companion video we’re going to talk about how to pick up your genealogy after a hands-off spell so that you can quickly and efficiently gets back on the trail of your ancestors.

Even if you haven’t taken a break, you might be feeling a little out of control and disorganized in what you’ve been doing so far. This quick genealogy audit can help you get back on track too!

Genealogy Restart Checklist

I love a good to-do list where I can have the satisfaction of checking things off and knowing that at the end of it I have accomplished something. Some of the things on this list may not apply depending on how long your genealogy hiatus has been. If that’s the case you get to check them off right away!

Get my comprehensive downloadable Genealogy Restart Checklist. (Premium Membership required)

Step 1: Find Out Where You Left Off in Your Research

Do you remember where you left off the last time you were researching your family tree? If not, your search history is a great place to start. For example, if you used the popular genealogy website Ancestry.com you can pull up your past search history.

How to find your search history at Ancestry.com

At the Ancestry® home page you will see a box at the top that highlights the recently modified items in your family tree. According to one source at Ancestry.com, this “shows a list of last modified nodes in the tree. For a shared tree – any user who has access to the hint can modify the nodes and it will show up in that list. It (also) shows a hint leaf for the nodes that have at least one undecided hint.”

This could be a place to start, but I recommend reviewing Your Recent Searches if you want to pick up where you left off.

You’ll find your search history in the menu under Search. Click All Collections. Toward the top of the All Collections page you’ll see Your Recent Searches. It’s just above the map. You’ll see a few buttons listed for the most recent names you searched. Next, click the View All button to get a more comprehensive view of your activity history, starting with the most recent activity.

On the Recent Activity page, you’ll see the names you searched for and the details you included such as a place and time frame. Ancestry also tells you the date you ran the search.

how to find search history at Ancestry

Recent Search History page at Ancestry®

If you see searches in the list that you don’t need anymore, click the trash can button to delete them.

Notice over on the left that you are viewing Recent Searches, but you do have other options:

  • All Recent (activity)
  • Viewed Content (records you’ve viewed)
  • Viewed Collections (record collections you accessed)

All Recent provides the best overall picture of your past search history. This is a great tool for jogging your memory and helping you decide where to pick back up.

Review your activity history in your genealogy software.

You can also review your most recently activity in your genealogy database software.

In RootsMagic for example, in the menu go to Search > History or click the History tab at the top of the side bar on the left side of the screen.

Step 2: Identify Gaps that Need to be Filled

Many people enjoy focusing their research on their direct ancestors (grandparents, great grandparents, etc.) While you may have traced back many generations, you may have missed a few things along the way. This is a good time to start with yourself and work backwards through the direct ancestors in your family tree. Look for gaps in your timelines and information, and then start back up by researching to fill them in. Of course, you can also do with any relative that you want to learn more about.

Once you’ve identified the person you want to work on, create a research plan. If you’ve never created a research plan before, don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be complicated. You create and track it on paper, a spreadsheet or any number of notetaking programs. The important thing is that you identify:

  1. your specific research question,
  2. the records you think you’ll need to answer it
  3. the locations where you think those records may be housed.

See this in action in my video Hard to Find Records, a Case Study.  

Premium Members check out these classes with downloadable handouts:

 

Step 3: Prepare for Genealogy Research Success Going Forward:

Since you’re picking your genealogy back up, this is the perfect time to check to make sure you’re set up for success going forward. These remaining items will help ensure that your new discoveries will be well-documented, organized, and protected from loss.

Genealogy software database

If you already have genealogy database software, open it up and see if there’s a newer version available. Look for Check for Updates in the menu.

If you don’t have a genealogy database software program on your computer, go get one now! We’re talking about a software program that you install on your computer. It’s a database specifically designed to record all the information you find. It keeps it organized and searchable, allows for source citations, photos, links, and more. It also gives you tremendous flexibility in running reports. This is something with which an online tree can’t compete. And most importantly all your data resides on your computer hard drive. This means it’s completely within your control and not subject to a paid subscription, or problems with a website such as the site being closed or sold off. The tree you build can be synced to an online tree if you wish to do so. Back in the old days (early 2000s) a database on your computer was the only option, and it remains your best option today.

Genealogy software is typically very affordable. You can  even download Family Tree Builder at MyHeritage for free. If you’re willing to invest a few dollars there are several excellent programs to choose from such as RootsMagic, Family Tree Maker, Legacy, etc. I use RootsMagic but all of these programs have been around a long time and are great. The one you pick really depends which user interface you like, and to what extent you may want to sync your tree online.

Premium Member Resource Video: Take Control of Your Family Tree.

Cloud backup

If you don’t have a cloud backup program running on your computer, now is the time to get one. What’s the point of restarting your genealogy research if you’re going to risk losing everything if your computer is damaged or stolen? I’ve used Backblaze for years because it’s reliable, affordable, has an app, and automatically backs up all my files including video. There are several out there to choose from. The important thing is to pick one and get it installed on your computer. It will run automatically in the background, giving you peace of mind that your files are backed up offsite on the cloud in a secure location.

Status of Genealogy Website Subscriptions

Now that you have the tools you need to restart your genealogy research, it’s time to check genealogy websites. Did you have subscriptions to some of the popular genealogy websites like MyHeritage or Ancestry? Log in and go to your account to see if they are still active, and if they are, when they are set to renew. This will help you decide where to spend your time first. Start with the subscription that is up for renewal first. Then you can determine if you want to allow it to renew or cancel and try another genealogy website subscription to round out your research.

If you don’t have any current subscriptions, consider focusing first on familysearch, the largest free genealogy website. Then, depending on your research goals, you can select the paid subscription(s) that will support your research plan.

A Paper Filing System

While we don’t generate as much paper these days as we used to, some paper is inevitable. Don’t add to the paper clutter. If you don’t have a paper filing system in place, take a moment and set one up. Pick a filing system and stick to it. Then as you start your genealogy research you’ll always have a place to put things.

Filing Digital Content

The same goes for digital files as goes for paper files. Don’t jump back into your research without a filing system in place. It’s important to download the digital records you find so that you have access to them even when your subscriptions run out. Avoid a messy computer and commit to a digital filing system and filing name convention.

Check out all of my organization system classes.

Source Citation Brush Up

Were you citing your sources consistently when you last worked on your family history research? If not, STOP EVERYTHING and watch my video Source Citations for Genealogy. Citing your sources will save you headache down the road. You may discover that a previous conclusion was incorrect, and you’ll want to review the source where you got that information. A downloaded record usually doesn’t include specific details as to where you go it. Going forward, as you download records and add the details into your database be sure to also add the source citation.

With this in mind, familiarize yourself with the source citation tool in your genealogy program. If it looks daunting, don’t panic. Head to the menu and click Help, and then search for source citation. There you’ll find the instructions you need to once and for all get a handle on how to cite sources in your software.  

Now’s the Time to Restart Your Genealogy

Don’t let the passing of time stop you from getting back into your favorite hobby. By following this checklist you will quickly get back into goal-oriented research and exciting discoveries about your family.

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout (Premium Membership Required.)

Bonus Download: Genealogy Restart Checklist (Premium Membership required)

 

How to find newspapers in Google Books for free

Show Notes: Google Books is known for having millions of free digitized books. But did you know that it’s also packed with hidden old newspapers? Since newspapers don’t typically appear in your initial search results in Google Books, I’ll show you two ways to filter down to only newspapers. Plus I’ll also show you some of the most effective ways to quickly find the right ancestor and the right article.

Watch the Video

Show Notes

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

Old newspapers are a tremendous resource for family history information. One of the most surprising places that you can find old newspapers is Google Books. However, newspapers don’t typically show up in the general searches we run at Google Books. It’s important to use specific strategies designed to effectively and find what you’re looking for.

We typically think of Google Books as a place where you look for books. However, we really need to change our thinking on that. Think of Google Books as a place to find printed material. At Google Books you could find not only books, but printed newspapers, catalogs, almanacs, magazines, anything that would have been published on paper. Google Books catalogs all the printed material it finds, and digitizes that which isn’t under copyright restrictions. That means that it’s more common to find older newspapers, books and so on that are digitized and searchable.

Dealing with Too Many Results

I love finding articles like this one about my husband’s grandfather, Raymond H. Cooke.

newspaper article found at Google Books

You can find newspaper articles like this at Google Books.

Newspapers clearly offer a lot more than just obituaries. You may be able to find all kinds of articles on what was going on in their life and their community.

We start searching at the Google Books homepage. There are a couple of different ways to find Google Books. You can just google Google Books, or you can go directly to the URL https://books.google.com/.

At Google Books, you can start by typing in an ancestor’s name such as Raymond H. Cooke, or topic of interest. What you will typically see is a list of books, many fairly recent, but no newspapers. In fact there will be typically be an abundance of results, many of which are not a good match. But don’t worry, we can improve these results.

Better Newspaper Results with Quotes

One of the easiest ways to fix this situation is to go back up to the search box and put quotes around the full name. This tells Google Books that I want this exact phrase (name), spelled the way I spelled it. This prevents us from getting results that contain the words but not within the context as a whole name. It also ensures that Cooke will be spelled with an “e”. Without the quotes we get too many non-matching results. Most included one or more of the words, often separate from each other, and some weren’t even spelled the way I spelled the name.

As you can see, using quotes is very effective at reducing unwanted results. However, we can do even more to improve newspaper search results at Google Books.

You’ll notice that most of the results you receive are books, some of which may be digitized and some that are not. What you don’t see typically are newspapers. So, our next strategy will fix this and give us only newspaper results.

Filtering to Only Newspaper Results

It might seem logical just to add the word newspaper to your search query. However, this doesn’t work. Google looks for the words in the text of the material. It doesn’t look at the word newspapers and understand that it’s a type of material.

However, Google Books does give us ways to filter results down to only newspapers. On the search results page you will see a filter menu below the main menu of tabs. If you don’t see it, click the Tools button.

Notice that Any Document is one of the filters. That means that right now our results are showing all types of documents that meet our search criteria including books, catalogs, magazines, newspapers, etc. Click that drop-down menu and select Newspapers. This will display only newspaper in the search results.

At the top of the results list you’ll see exact matches to your query. Sometimes, if there aren’t a lot of matches, Google will then remove the quotes you used, and show you additional results that match without quotes. So several pages of matches doesn’t always mean that they all match exactly. But the good news is, all the exact matches will display first.

Search Name Variations

My example of searching for “Raymond H. Cooke” is very specific. In order to find all the possible articles that mention Raymond, I will need to expand my search to include the name variations that might appear in the papers. Here are just a few examples:

  • “Raymond Cooke”
  • “Ray Cooke”
  • “R. H. Cooke”
  • “Raymond H. Cook” (because it’s very possible a spelling error could be made in the newspaper)

Another Way to Filter to Only Newspapers

Google Book’s Advanced Search is another way to filter down specifically to newspapers. It’s not as easy to find or use as the Tools menu, but it can prove very helpful.

There isn’t a link to Advanced Search on the Google Books home page. There are three ways to get to it.

#1 Use the URL

You can use the URL, but it’s not easy to remember. https://books.google.com/advanced_book_search   A nice solution is to go there with this link and then add it as a bookmark in your web browser bar.

#2 Google Google Books Advanced Search

The easiest way to find the Advanced Search page for the Google Books is simply to google it.

#3 Any Google Books Catalog Page

The Advanced Search link appears in the search box on the catalog page of all items in Google Books. To find the page, run a search (it doesn’t matter what item you search for) and click the book or other item to open it. If the item is “full view” or “preview” you’ll need to close it. You can do that in the most recent version of the Google Books user interface by clicking the X in the top right corner of the page. This will then display the catalog page for the item, and you’ll see the Advanced Search link in the search field.

The Advanced Search page provides you with a special form. You can use this to run your search as well. You can type the names or phrases that you want to be exact in the Exact Phrase field. Best of all, in the Content section you can click the button for Newspapers to filter your results only to newspapers.

So already, we’re quickly finding newspapers within this massive catalog of over 25 million items in Google Books. I have a few more suggestions of ways to find what you’re looking for in newspapers specifically.

Adding Location to Search

If you want to be look for ancestors in Google Books, it really helps to add a location.

When you look at the search results, you’ll notice that it doesn’t give you a location in the result’s short  descriptive paragraph (called a snippet). That makes it a little more challenging to be able to figure out if the items is talking about the right person. Where our ancestors lived is part of what sets them apart from everyone else by the same name. The result usually doesn’t tell us even where the newspaper was published. Try adding the name of your ancestor’s town, county or state to your search query.

Adding Timeframe to Search

While the snippets on the results page show the date of the item, we might have a lot of items to look through. It would be nice to narrow it down to items published during your ancestor’s lifetime. It’s not to say that there might not be a newspaper article published after an ancestor’s death, but it can help to start by first just searching during their lifetime.

On the initial results page, make sure the Tools filter menu it turned on. You’ll find Anytime in the filter menu next to Any Document. Click the Anytime drop-down menu. Here you can select a century. Click Custom Range and enter the years. For example, 1865 to 1930. This will filter your results list down to newspapers published between those years. It’s another great way to filter out results for other people with the same name who didn’t live at the same time. Filtering for both timeframe and the location can really help you zero in on the right person.

The Source of the Newspapers at Google Books

Google Books has not always had newspapers as part of their collection. The digitized newspapers found there today come from the old Google News Archive. This was a newspaper digitization project that was discontinued several years ago. In the last few years they’ve been adding the collection to Google Books. And now with the new Google Books user interface, they are easier to search and use than ever before.  

The old Google News Archive can be found at https://news.google.com/newspapers. This old website can come in handy if you’re not sure if Google Books has the issues that you need of a particular newspaper title.

Start by going to https://news.google.com/newspapers and click the letter at the top of the screen that corresponds to the first letter of the first word in the title of the newspaper. For example, if you want to check to see if they have The Lawrence Daily Gazette, and if so which issues, you would click “L”. If you find the newspaper the website will also tell you how many issues are in the collection and what dates they cover. Then you can head to Google Books and search on the title.

It’s possible that Google may have added additional issues since the old Google News Archive closed. You can check this at Google Books by searching on the title and using the Any Time filter to specify the years.

Start Searching for Newspapers at Google Books

Now you can find newspapers at Google Books quickly and efficiently. I hope you’ll leave a comment and let me know about the article that you find!

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members

 

Top 10 Strategies for Finding School Records for Genealogy

Have you found all the school records there are to be had for your ancestors? Most of us haven’t, and the chances are very good that there are still some gems out there waiting to be found. Here are ten solid strategies that will help you track them down for your genealogy research. 

10 strategies for finding school records

Watch episode 82 below.

Because the movement for compulsory public education didn’t begin until the 1920s, many people assume that there few records to be had for genealogical purposes prior to that time. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Many children attended school much earlier.

In fact, it may be surprising to learn that the first public school in what is now the United States opened in the 17th century. On April 23, 1635, the first public school was established in Boston, Massachusetts.

The Boston Latin School, established 1635 first school

Illustration of the Boston Latin School  by Ebenezer Thayer, courtesy of Wikimedia

It was a boys-only public secondary school called the Boston Latin School, and it was led by schoolmaster Philemon Pormont, a Puritan settler. The school was strictly for college preparation, and produced well-known graduates including John Hancock and Samuel Adams. It’s most famous dropout? Benjamin Franklin! The school is still in operation today, though in a different location.

Thousands of schools serving millions of students have been established in the U.S. since the inception of the Boston Latin School. (According to 2015-16 data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) there are 132,853 K-12 schools in the U.S.) This means that the chances of there being school records for your ancestors is great indeed!

10 Solid Strategies for Finding School Records for Genealogy 

Here are 10 proven ways to find your ancestors’ awkward yearbook photos, sports triumphs, and much, much more.

1. Establish a Timeline of your Ancestor’s Education

Check your genealogy software database to figure out when your ancestor would have attended high school or college. Keep in mind, as recently as the 1960s, children did not go to Kindergarten but may have started school at about 6 years old and beginning in First Grade.

To keep my search organized, I decided to create a simple worksheet form in a Word document. It allows me to identify the right time frames, locations, and other pertinent information for my search, and record my progress along the way. 

Premium Bonus Download: Click to download the blank school records worksheet for your own school research use. (Premium Membership required.)

2. Consult Family Papers and Books for School Records 

Go through old family papers and books looking for things like:

  • school photos
  • senior calling cards,
  • high school autograph books,
  • journals and diaries,
  • fraternity or sorority memorabilia,
  • yearbooks and more.

When I dug through boxes and my grandmother’s cedar chest I found several records like…

a Report Card:

Example of a report card school genealogy records

My grandmother’s brother’s 6th grade report card found among family papers.

Grandma’s class picture from the 7th grade in 1925, Chowchilla, California. She is in the back row on the far right, and her brother is the boy in the center of the back row:

School Records: 7th grade class

Grandma (back row, far right) with her 7th grade class.

And Grandma’s senior portrait, 1930:

School records: senior portrait

Grandma’s senior portrait from 1930

3. Google for Academic Family History

From the professional website of the state archives to the family history site cobbled together by a cousin you’ve never met, the potential for finding school records on the vast expanse of the internet is limitless! Google is the tool to help you locate websites that include school-related records with lightning speed. 

Since I’m not sure which school my grandmother attended, I started off my search for my grandmother’s school with a simple query for the history of schools in the county where she lived as a child:

google search for schools

Google search for the history of school’s in the county

I was pleasantly surprised at the first search result. It’s a newspaper article from the Madera Tribune literally outlining the history of how the schools evolved in the county! It details such things as the driving forces behind where schools were located, when they were founded, and which ones at the time of the article were no longer in existence. 

history of schools article - genealogy records

History of Madera Schools Outlined in the Madera Tribune, September 1955.

Next, I focused my attention on the grade school listed on Grandma’s brother’s 6th grade report card that I discovered during my search of family papers. I Googled the name of the school, county and state.

A search like this can literally deliver millions of results. In fact, this specific search brings up over 1 million search results.

The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa Louise Cooke’s book is available in the Genealogy Gems Store

You can typically reduce the unwanted search results by 90% by using search operators. These symbols and words give Google further instructions on what you want done with the words you are searching.

While I cover a large number of operators in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, I’m going to use just one of the most popular to dramatically improve my search for the Sharon school. 

In the example below I put quotation marks around the name of the school. Doing this explains to Google that I want this phrase to appear exactly as I typed it in every single search result. You’ve probably noticed that when you search a phrase by itself, you’ll receive results that include only one of the words, or the words spelled differently, or in a different order. The quotation marks search operator prevents this from happening. It mandates that the phrase appear on every result exactly as you typed it.

google search for the school

Using Search Operators to Google the Grade School

Notice that I didn’t put quotation marks around the county name or the state. I recommend using search operators sparingly, at least in your initial search, to ensure that you don’t miss out on good results. If I were to put quotations marks around “Madera county” I would not receive any web pages that do mention Sharon School but just don’t happen to mention Madera County as a phrase. 

Notice also that this search resulted in just over 11,000 results, a small fraction of what I would have received had I not used the quotation marks! Even more important is that the results on the first few pages of are all very good matches. 

I could try a few more variations such as adding words like history, genealogy or records

My googling led me to the Internet Archive where I found old silent color movies shot in the 1940s. There were several films and one featured the local school in the area where my relatives lived. Many, many people were filmed! Could one of those faces be one of my relatives?! Learn more about finding genealogical information includes school records by watching and reading 10 Awesome Genealogy Finds at the Internet Archive.

using internet archive for genealogy

Click image to watch episode 43.

4. Search Newspapers

Historic newspaper are also a wonderful source of honor rolls, school sporting events and anything else having to do with school life.

While there are certainly more historic newspapers online than ever before, it’s still a fraction of what is available.

A visit to the Chronicling America website can help. At the home page click the U.S. Newspaper Directory button: 

Newspaper directory at Chronicling America

Click the U.S. Newspaper Directory button at Chronicling America

On the Directory search page, enter the state, county and town:

U.S. Newspaper Directory searching for the school town

Search the U.S. Newspaper Director for the school location.

On the results page, click the “View complete holding information” link: 

newspaper directory location Chronicling america

Click “View the holdings”

Now you can view all of the known available locations for this item:

U.S. Newspaper Director known holding locations

The item I searched for has three known locations.

In my case, the Chowchilla newspaper of the early 20th century has not been digitized and is not available online. However, the California State Archives in Sacramento has an extensive collection of microfilm. I was able to make the trip in person, and was certainly glad I did! They not only had the newspaper I needed but also countless other resources that were helpful for my genealogical research. 

School record: newspaper clipping

My Grandma listed by name in the newspaper for making the Freshman high school honor roll.

Here are additional resources to help you find newspapers for your school records research:

  • Local newspapers can also be found by searching for the public library website in the town where your ancestor attended school. Check the library’s online card catalog or contact them directly to see what newspapers they have and whether any can be loaned (on microfilm) through inter-library loan.
  • Click here to visit Newspapers.com by Ancestry website.  This is a subscription website with over 14,900+ newspapers from the 1700s–2000s and millions of additional pages being added monthly.
  • Click here to search Genealogy Bank – (This page includes a 7 day free trial option.) This popular subscription website has over 11,000 newspaper, 95% of which Genealogy Bank says are exclusive to their website. 

5. Consult U.S. State Archives and Libraries

The public libraries and state archives across the country are a treasure trove of genealogical resources, and that includes school-related records.

While it’s easy to stop by your local library for a search, it may not be as easy to make your way to the public library in the town where your ancestors lived. Turn to the internet to do your homework regarding the repositories, their holdings, and the most convenient and economical way for you to access them. 

A great place to start is the WorldCat website.

Start by conducting a search. Once you find an item of interest, enter your zip code under the “Find a Copy in the Library” section to identify where it’s available. 

worldcat search for school records for genealogy

Enter your zip code to determine your proximity to the libraries and archives.

As you can see, the name of the libraries are hyperlinked so that you can click through to the item on their website. This makes requesting a look-up or photo copy very easy. 

I can’t stress the value of State Libraries enough. Gere are three more excellent resources:

  1. Click here for the List of U.S. state libraries and archives at Wikipedia.
  2. List of U.S. State Libraries and Archives at the National Archives. 
  3. Click here to read Archivist Melissa Barker’s article called Using Vertical Files in Archives.

6. Contact State Historical and Genealogical Societies

In addition to newspapers, state historical and genealogical societies might have old yearbooks, school photograph collections or other records. For example, the Ohio Genealogical Society library has a large collection of Ohio school yearbooks.

Local historical and genealogical societies may also have school memorabilia in their small or archived collections.

To find contact information for a local historical or genealogical society, Google the name of the county and state and add the words genealogy, history and / or society at the end. For example: Darke County Ohio genealogy society

7. Search for Online Yearbooks

One of the most exciting genealogical record collections to have come out in recent times is Ancestry.com’s U.S. School Yearbooks 1900-1999 collection. It is an indexed collection of middle school, junior high, high school, and college yearbooks from across the United States.

Old school yearbooks for genealogy

In June of 2019 Ancestry replaced old records with new updated records for most of the yearbooks found on the site. They also added new records from 150,000 yearbooks that previously only had images available. Later in August of 2019 they improved the collection even further by adding a staggering 3.8 million new records. This update also included 30,000 new image-only books.

Ancestry also has an extensive indexed collection of middle school, junior high, high school, and college yearbooks for Canada. Click here to search the Canadian collection. 

MyHeritage has an international collection of yearbooks. In the menu under Research go to the Collection Catalog and search for Schools & Universities.

Additional websites featuring yearbooks include:

Old-Yearbooks.com – According to the website, “Old-Yearbooks.com is a free genealogy site, displaying old yearbooks, class rosters, alumni lists, school photos and related school items. All materials on this site are the property of the submitter. You may not use the images, text or materials elsewhere, whether in print or electronically, without written permission from the submitter or this site.”

Classmates.com – “Register for free to browse hundreds of thousands of yearbooks! You’ll find classic photos of friends, family, and even your favorite celebrities. Viewing the books is always free, and you can purchase a high-quality reprint.”

E-Yearbook.com – Their goal is to digitize all old high school, college & military yearbooks. The site has millions of yearbook pictures digitized, they say they are adding thousands of new pictures every week. “From our estimates, we offer the largest collection of old high school, college and military yearbooks on the Internet today.”

8. Check Township Archives

You might be thinking you didn’t read that right, but you did. Townships are small areas within the county. These small townships may have their own archives or one room museums. They are often the holders of some pretty one-of-a-kind finds.

School Records found in the township records

The best way to determine what the township may have is to contact the township trustees. Google your township name, the county name, state name, and add the word trustee. You will likely need to give one of the trustees’ a phone call to ask what resources might be available.

Search for township trustees to find old school records

Google search example

9. Search ebay Auctions 

The auction website ebay is the perfect place to look for school record and memorabilia, particularly hard-to-find yearbooks. 

Conduct a search on the school or town you are looking for to see if anyone is selling a yearbook that you want. (You’ll need a free ebay account to do this.) Also, search for old photographs or postcards of the school building that you can add to your family history.

ebay search for school records

Initial search for school items at ebay

When I searched for Chowchilla California School, several auctions for school-related items from Grandma’s high school came up. Unfortunately, these are auctions for yearbooks after she had already graduated. But no worries! This search is only for today. Tomorrow someone could put up an auction for exactly what I want. There’s only one problem: no one has enough time to search every single day!

A way to save time and ensure that you don’t miss new auction items is to save your search.

Click the Save this search button toward the top of the page:

ebay saved search for school item auctions

Click the Save button to save the search you just ran.

By doing this, you will be sent an email any time a new auction comes up that meets your search criteria. You can learn more about setting up ebay saved searches for family history by listening to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #140

Here’s another one of my favorite strategies: After you run your initial search, check the box on the results page to include completed listings. 

ebay completed search for school records

Click the Completed search box in the left hand column

In the revised “Completed” search results you may see some items that are of interest. If the item has a green price, it means the item was sold. If the price is black, it did not sell.

Each item will also have a link that says View Similar Active Items. Click that to see a list of items currently for sale that are very similar to one that you wanted.

You can also contact the seller of any item to inquire about the unsold item or to ask whether they have related items.  

school records for genealogy

Bought on ebay: A yearbook from the school where my husband’s grandfather was a music teacher 

I bought the yearbook above on ebay several years ago. It includes several photographs of my husband’s grandfather who was a music teacher at the high school back in the 1940s.

10. Call the School

If the school is still in operation, try calling the main office of the administration office. They may have old yearbooks and scrapbooks in their library or on display. If they don’t, they may very well be able to tell you where they can be found. 

You can obtain contact information by Googling the name of the school and the location.

Good times to try calling a school are mid-morning after kids are settled into class, or between 3 and 4:00 pm local time, when many of the kids have gone home but the school office is still open.

Best school records for genealogy

Tell Us About the School Records You Find

Using these strategies you are bound to find more school records for your genealogical search. Please leave a comment below and share what you found, where you found it, and which strategy you used. It will inspire us all to keep looking! And if you have a favorite strategy that we didn’t mention here, please do share that too. 

Resources

10 Questions to Rate Your Readiness for Genealogy Research Success

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 39 Show Notes

Elevenses with Lisa is our little slice of heaven where friends get together for tea and talk about the thing that never fails to put a smile on our face: Genealogy!

Are you ready for a year of successful genealogy? Learn how to develop an effective research plan, and preserve and protect your genealogy. Keep reading for the show notes that accompany this video.

10 Questions to Rate Your Readiness for Genealogy Success

1. Have you selected a place to start?

I started learning how to play the guitar in 2020. I began with an online course to learn the basics, and I picked one song that I really wanted to learn how to play. 

For three months I worked my way through the course and played that song over and over every day. This resulted in two things: I learned how to play the song, and my husband took a blow torch to my guitar! (Just kidding.)

At the end of those three months I had several weeks where I just didn’t feel I was making any progress at all. I practiced every day, but I wasn’t getting anywhere.

It turns out that I had reached my initial goals – I knew the most popular chords, had memorized the Pentatonic Scale and could play the song Crazy On You for a captive audience in my home. However, I had not  stopped to identify my next set of goals. Therefore, stagnation set in.

In an effort to restart my learning and success trajectory, I spent an evening looking through my record collection and I made a list of 6 of my favorite songs. Then I put them in the order I wanted to learn to play them. Most importantly, I identified which one was my top priority to learn. Once I did that, I knew exactly how I was going to spend my practice time.

It sounds simple, but finding and deciding on the place to start (or restart) is really easy to miss. When it comes to genealogy there’s always a bright shiny object online ready to gobble up a few precious minutes, or hours, or days! Having a predetermined project goal in mind will help you get down to business faster and keep you from wandering aimlessly.

2. Have you developed a project research question?

Once you know what your project will be, it is time to formulate the general question. In other words, what is the question you are trying to answer?

In this episode I shared the family story that had been handed down the McClelland family about their ancestor Washington McClelland. The story went like this: “He immigrated to the U.S. from England. He was working on the railroad when he met a girl in Idaho. She became pregnant. They married. He converted to the LDS church. They raised a family together.”

The general research question was “is this story true?” That’s a big question, and one that we’ll break down further in question #3. 

Genealogy Gems Premium Members can learn more about formulating research questions by watching the segment How Alice the Genealogist Avoids the Rabbit Hole Part 1 in Elevenses with Lisa Episode 2. It’s available in the Premium Videos area of the Genealogy Gems website. Don’t miss the downloadable handout! You’ll find the link under the video. (Learn more about becoming a Premium Member here.)

3. Do you have a Research Plan for your genealogy project?

The general project question can usually be broken down into several bite-sized actionable questions. In the example of “Is the story about Washington McClelland true?” we can break that question down into several questions:

  • Where exactly was Washington from in England? 
  • When did he come to the United States?
  • Why/how did he end up out West?
  • Did he work on the railroad?
  • When and where did he marry?
  • When was their oldest child born?
  • Did he join the LDS church?

And many of these questions can likely be broken down further. These more focused question help provide the framework for the project’s research plan. They can then be re-sorted so that they follow a logical progression of answers.

The next step will then be to identify and prioritize the sources (records) that are likely to provide the necessary relevant evidence. Then determine the order in which you will locate each identified record. Finally, add where you think you can find the records to the plan.

4. Do you have the research forms you need?

There are many different types of genealogy research forms: research logs, blank record forms, checklists, just to name a few.

Research logs are great for keeping track of your research plan progress. Blank record forms (such a blank 1900 U.S. Federal Census form) are very handy for transcribing the pertinent information for analysis. And checklists (such as a list of all types of death records) help ensure that you don’t miss and records, and you don’t look for the same record twice!

Free Genealogy Forms at Family Tree Magazine
Family Tree Magazine offers a plethora of free genealogy forms. You’ll need to register for a free website account to download the forms.

Free Genealogy Forms at Ancestry
Here you’ll find several common and helpful genealogy forms including:

  • Ancestral Chart
  • Research Calendar
  • Research Extract
  • Correspondence Record
  • Family Group Sheet
  • Source Summary
  • US, UK And Canadian Census Forms

5. Have you established Your Filing System?

Having an organizational system in place takes the guesswork out of where things should be filed, making it much more likely they will actually get filed. It also ensures that you’ll be able to put your hands on your records whenever you need them.

Here’s a secret: There is no one perfect filing system. The most important thing is that it makes sense to you and that you are consistent in how you use it.

In Elevenses with Lisa Episode 6 (available to Premium Members) I cover step-by-step the system I developed and have used for over 15 years. I’m happy to report I’ve never lost an item. (Whew, what a relief!)

As you work on your genealogy research you’ll find there are two important tasks you will be doing often:

  • Storing items that you have not had a chance to work on yet (I refer to these pending items as “to be processed.”)
  • Storing items that need to be filed. (Let’s face it, we rarely want to stop in the middle of an exciting search to file a document.)

Not having a way to store these two types of items leads to clutter and piles on your desk. Here’s my simple solution:

  • Place a “to be filed” basket next to your desk.
  • Create a “Pending” tab in each surname 3-ring notebook (if you use my system.) The beauty of the surname notebook Pending section is you have a place to put documents (out of sight) that are associated with a specific family. When you’re ready to work on that family line, grab the notebook and jump to the Pending section to start processing and analyzing the previously found records.

7. Do you have the supplies you need on hand?

Make sure that you have a small quantity of all of the supplies you need for the filing and organization system you are using.

Here’s what my shopping list looks like:

  • 3” 3-Ring View Binders
    (allow you to customize covers & spines)
  • 1” 3-Ring View Binder
  • 1 box of Acid-Free Sheet Protectors
  • 3-Ring Binder Tab Dividers

8. Have you settled on a file naming scheme?

How to name digital genealogy files is something we all struggle with. Good intentions don’t make the job any easier. Take a few moments to nail down the basic naming scheme you will commit to follow. I say basic, because there will be times when you’ll need to modify it to suit the file. That’s OK. But always start with the basic format.

Here’s what my basic file naming format looks like:

  • Year (will force chronological order)
  • First Name (filed in surname folder)
  • Location

Example: 1920_robert_m_springfield_oh

Notice in my format I don’t usually include the surname. That’s because I file in surname folders. Notice that I said “usually.” That’s because we are always free to add on additional information like a surname if we think it will prove helpful. For example, if I anticipate that I will have a need to share individual files with other researchers or family members (rather than the entire folder) then I will add the surname so that the person receiving the file has the pertinent information.

8. Are you prepared to make copies?

Protecting and preserving our genealogy for generations to come is a top priority for most genealogists. All of us at some time have worried about what would happen if a website that we upload our content to goes out of business or sells out to another company. Now there is a new reason to take a few extra steps to ensure you don’t lose access to your genealogy data. 

Recently, According to Buzz Feed, on Jan. 9 the largest cloud-hosting service notified a large social media network with millions of users that it would be cutting it off  from its cloud hosting service.  According to the Wall Street Journal, “other tech partners also acted, crippling operators.”

Now we must add to the list of concerns the possibility that a genealogy website we use might be cut off from web hosting. How might this type of action impact our personal family history that we share on websites? Many companies that provide access to millions of historical records and likely house a copy of your family tree and your DNA test results use the same cloud hosting service. In fact, it’s hard to find a company out there that isn’t tethered to it in some way.

My research showed that both Ancestry and FamilySearch have been featured on their website in case studies and blog articles:

The bottom line is that our family history is our responsibility to preserve and protect. While we can benefit from sharing copies of it online, putting all our genealogy eggs in only the online basket puts it at risk because we don’t have control.

While I love the idea of going paperless and I’ve been striving to do that in recent years, I’m changing my tune on this. For several years I’ve been strongly recommending that you get your own genealogy software on your own computer and use it as your master database. All online family trees are simply copies. Many people, particularly those who rely solely on FamilySearch often wondered why I was so concerned. The events of this week make my point and put an exclamation point on the end of it.

Making digital and paper copies of your data is a simple strategy you can put in place today. This means regular print outs of your tree, family group sheets, and the most important genealogical documents. I keep mine in a portable fireproof safe.

We can also make digital copies as well. For example, last year I had all my old home movies transferred to digital and they are stored on my computer. I went the extra step to get copies on DVD and I also copied the digital files onto a terabyte hard drive that is in the fireproof safe.

Remember, your computer is connected to the Internet. If you’ve ever woken up to a Windows update, then you know that tech companies can make changes to your computer. Having your own paper and digital copies are just extra insurance that certainly can’t hurt.

Here’s a checklist of things you can put in place today:

  • a good printer
  • extra ink
  • a stock of paper
  • a portable terabyte hard drive

Ideas for saving paper and ink:

  • Print only the most important documents that might be more difficult to replace.
  • Focus your printing on direct ancestors.
  • Print in draft mode (depending on the document) and / or black and white to save ink.
  • Make double-sided copies.
  • When possible, add two documents to each side of the paper so that one piece of paper holds 4 documents.

 

9. Is your computer backed up to the Cloud?

I use and recommend Backblaze for computer cloud backup. They have their own storage facility. Here’s what their storage pods look like:

backblaze server podcast

Image courtesy of Backblaze.

I am also an affiliate of Backblaze so I appreciate when you use my link if you decided to make a purchase. I will be compensated at no additional cost to you, and that supports this free show. https://www.backblaze.com/landing/podcast-lisa.html 

Learn more: Premium Members can watch the Premium video Your Guide to Cloud Backup and download the PDF handout. You’ll get answers to questions like:

  • What is cloud backup?
  • Why should I use cloud backup?
  • How does cloud backup work?
  • Is cloud backup safe?
  • What should I look for when selecting a cloud backup service?
  • My personal cloud backup choice

10. Have you scheduled ongoing education time?

Pick one area you want to improve your genealogy skills and knowledge and make time each week to learn something new about it.

Thank you for making Elevenses with Lisa and Genealogy Gems one of your places for genealogy learning, laughing and getting refilled!

On the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel:

  • Click the Subscribe button
  • Click the bell for notifications.
  • Use a free service like Blogtrottr.com to receive email notification reminders. Simply paste the Genealogy Gems channel URL into the first field,
    https://www.youtube.com/GenealogyGems
    enter your email address and select from the drop-down menu how often you would like to receive notifications. Then click the orange “Feed Me” button. When I post a new video or schedule an Elevenses with Lisa episode you’ll receive an email notification.

Recap: 10 Questions to Rate Your Readiness for Genealogy Success

  1. Have you selected a place to start?
  2. Have you developed a project research question?
  3. Do you have a Research Plan for your genealogy project?
  4. Do you have the research forms you need?
  5. Have you established Your Filing System?
  6. Do you have the supplies you need on hand?
  7. Have you settled on a file naming scheme?
  8. Are you prepared to make copies?
  9. Is your computer backed up to the Cloud?
  10. Have you scheduled ongoing education time?

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Let us know if you found this video and article helpful. I’d also like to hear from you about the topics you would like to learn more about in future episodes. Thanks!

 

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:

Show Notes

Resource: Download the ad-free Show Notes handout
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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.

Resources

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