Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 236

My how time flies and it’s flying further and further way from when our ancestors’ got their photographs taken, which can make the task of identifying and dating them harder and harder. Don’t fret my friend because I have the coolest free tech tool for you that can help you zero in on the date of your photos.

David Lowe a Specialist in the Photography Collection of the New York Public Library will be joining me today to tell you all about it.

In this episode we’re also going to be talking about some important genealogical records that you may be missing at Ancestry.com. I wrote about How to Find and Browse Unindexed Records at Ancestry in the Genealogy Gems newsletter which linked over to my article on our website, but this is so important that we need to talk about here together.

Podcast host: Lisa Louise Cooke
December 2019
Download the episode mp3

The Mailbox

Genealogy Gems Podcast mailbox image

From Kristine:

In my newspaper research (at) newspaper.com I came across election results that included, of course, all towns, townships, and the county covered by the newspaper.

Though the election results were not of interest to me in my research, I was pleased to see residential information that can help me confirm my ancestors’ in records that include their address or town.

Boundaries moved over the years, so my family may not have moved but their location may have been reassigned which gives me pause as I locate them in records.

In this particular case, the last location I had for them was not listed BUT the new location was detailed under the new name.

Using “Election results” search I found more information in my research area. Hoping this information will help other genealogists like me.

Your podcasts and other offers are the best I’ve found and worthy of my genealogy budget.  I’m happily retired and have time to soak it all in. I’m using your Research Plan to manage my findings!

From Mark:

I am the de facto family historian for my huge Italian family. 

We had our 62nd annual family reunion last July and as I have explained to family members who is a 3rd cousin and who is a 2nd cousin once removed I am flummoxed as to why they have left ambiguity in family relationships. 

Why are 2nd cousins’ parents and 2nd cousins’ children both referred to as “once removed”? 

Why isn’t there a distinction, such as “2nd cousin once ascended” and “2nd cousin once descended” so the vertical moves through the tree can be distinguished? 

I am a data scientist so I don’t like ambiguity!

From Lisa:

Including ascending and descending indeed can be done when explaining relationships. Read more at:

The Relationships and Cousins page at the Weinel Genealogy website:

http://www.weinel.com/family/relations.html

Wikipedia conversation thread on Cousins: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk%3ACousin%2FArchive_4?redirect=no

From Audrey in Texas:

I am new to podcasts and love listening to your podcasts. 

I started a new job over 2 months ago and your podcasts keep me sane. 

First of all, driving from Austin to San Antonio Texas is a tough drive and I am now doing it weekly.  I was struggling to fit in any genealogy with my new job so I turned to podcasts to keep me in the genealogy loop. I have listened to many different podcasts and yours is my favorite.  I learn something new every week and actually quite entertaining!  It really helps pass the drive timely quickly.  Thank you!

Email Lisa Louise Cooke:

If there’s something you’d like to hear on the podcast, or if you have a question or a comment like Kristine, Mark and Audrey did, drop me a line here or leave a voice mail at (925) 272-4021.

 

GEM: Storyworth

My favorite part about the holidays is reconnecting with family. I love swapping stories and reliving moments together. But, keeping these memories alive can be hard. That’s why I’m giving my family the most meaningful gift this year – StoryWorth.

StoryWorth is an online service that helps you engage with your loved ones, no matter where they live, and help them tell the story of their lives through unique and thought-provoking questions about their memories and personal thoughts.

The way it works is that : Every week StoryWorth emails your family member different story prompts – questions you’ve never thought to ask. Like, “What have been some of your life’s greatest surprises?” and “What’s one of the riskiest things you’ve ever done?”

After one year, StoryWorth will compile every answered question and photo you choose to include into a beautiful keepsake book that’s shipped for free. That way it’s not just a one-time conversation, but a book that you can refer to again and again as a vital part of your family’s history.

You never know what family history StoryWorth will uncover, not just about your loved one and family, and sometimes even yourself!

Preserve and pass on memories with StoryWorth, the most meaningful gift for your family.

Sign up today by going to StoryWorth.com/GEMS. You’ll get $20 off your first purchase!

GEM: The New York Public Library

Interviewee: David Lowe, Specialist II from our Photography Collection 
New York Public Library Photographers’ Identities Catalog: http://pic.nypl.org/

NYPL_New York Public Library Photography Collection

Do have old family photos that you’re trying to identify? Hopefully they have the photographer’s imprint on them, which might include their name and even their location. And if they do, then you can research that photographer to try and find out when they were in business, and therefore, narrow down the time frame when the photo was taken.

In this gem we’re going to take a look at a website that can help you research those photographers. It’s called the Photographers’ Identities Catalog, also known as PIC, and it’s hosted by the New York Public Library.

It’s an experimental interface to a collection of biographical data about photographers, studios, manufacturers, and others involved in the production of photographic images.

David Lowe, Photography Specialist at the New York Public Library, is the driving force behind this project and I’ve invited him to the podcast to help us tap into this terrific resource.

What are the origins of this database?

The information has been culled from trusted biographical dictionaries, catalogs and databases, and from extensive original research by NYPL Photography Collection staff.

The function of the database is two-fold:

  • To assist with the genealogical research of the photographers
  • Strive to capture the history of photography

What time frame does the database cover? 

The emphasis is on 19th to mid-20th century photographers, and is international in scope.

How we can use PIC to find the photographers we’re researching?

The database includes over 130,000 names, and leans toward showing broader search results. 

Start here at the New York Public Library’s Photographers’ Identities Catalog (PIC) database website:

NYPL Photographer's Identifies Catalog PIC website

NYPL Photographer’s Identifies Catalog PIC website

Enter the photographer’s name in the search box. You may way to start broad by just entering the surname, depending on how common it is.

NYPL Photographers' Identities Catalog PIC how to search

Searching for photographers at PIC

Use the filters on the left side of the website to narrow your search. You can also click the magnifying glass icon in the upper right corner to reveal a search box where you can enter a location. 

If you find an error or would like to contribute information to the database, click the Feedback button in the bottom right hand corner. 

Here’s an example of a search I ran for Minnesota photographer, C. J. Ostrom:

searching for a photographer in the NYPL Photographers' Identities Catalog PIC

Searching for a photographer in the NYPL Photographers’ Identities Catalog (PIC)

Why are there so many photographers listed on a tiny island off the west coast of Africa?

That’s not actually an island, and there’s not actually anyone there. That point is located at the coordinates 0’ latitude & 0’ longitude, and we use it to map information when we don’t know a location (in the cartography world, it’s often called “Null Island”). If, for instance, we know someone was born in 1872, but we don’t know where, we put the point on Null Island. You can help us evacuate the island by finding locations we’re missing!

Lisa’s Search Tip:

One of the ways I research photographers is by searching the US Federal census. In 1880 for example you can specifically search by occupation and location. Enter “photographer” in the occupation field and enter a location if known. For the entire United States that results in about 9100 photographers in 1880.

How to search the 1880 census for photographers

How to search the 1880 census for photographers. Results: 9,116!

 

How to search the 1880 census for photographers

Searching for photographers in Minnesota in the 1880 US Federal Census.

Can users submit corrections or new information that you don’t have?

NYPL welcomes your contributions. Use the feedback link in the bottom right of the map on the website or email pic@nypl.org.

It is helpful if you include the Record ID number to identify the photographer in question. That ID can be found after the Name, Nationality and Dates of the constituent.

How to contribute photographer information to NYPL's PIC database

How to contribute photographer information to NYPL’s PIC database

Can we download the data?

Yes! The data is available for download from this GitHub repository. You can browse an alphabetical list of all constituents. You can also export the first 1000 search results from the map interface.

GEM: How to Find and Browse Unindexed Records at Ancestry
The Better Browsing Checklist

Read the full article here with all of the step-by-step instructions covered in this episode:

better browsing ancestry checklist

Profile America: Bill of Rights Day

Saturday, December 14th. 

Tomorrow is Bill of Rights Day, in honor of the day when the first ten amendments to the Constitution took effect in 1791.

The Bill of Rights added specific freedoms and government limitations to the three-year old Constitution. Among them are enshrined freedom of religion, speech, the press, the right to peaceably assemble and bear arms. Also the right to petition the government and be secure in property.

When the Bill of Rights was passed, America’s population of about 4 million in the then-14 states had available about 100 newspapers exercising the First Amendment freedom contained in the Bill of Rights.

Today’s population is around 330-million, and chooses from nearly 7,500 newspaper publishers nationwide.

You can find more facts about America from the U.S. Census Bureau online at www.census.gov.

Bill of Rights Pg1of1 AC

Transcription of the 1789 Joint Resolution of Congress Proposing 12 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution

Source: National Archives. Learn more at Founding Documents. 

Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.

THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.

RESOLVED by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all, or any of which Articles, when ratified by three fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of the said Constitution; viz.

ARTICLES in addition to, and Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, proposed by Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the fifth Article of the original Constitution.

Article the first… After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.

Article the second… No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

Article the third… Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Article the fourth… A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Article the fifth… No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Article the sixth… The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Article the seventh… No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Article the eighth… In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Article the ninth… In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Article the tenth… Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Article the eleventh… The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Article the twelfth… The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

ATTEST,

Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg, Speaker of the House of Representatives
John Adams, Vice-President of the United States, and President of the Senate
John Beckley, Clerk of the House of Representatives.
Sam. A Otis Secretary of the Senate

Sources:

See Lisa in Person:

Genealogy Roots
We’re bringing Genealogy Roots to St. George, Utah which is a gorgeous location and just a few hours drive from Las Vegas.
Learn more here. 

Genealogy Roots in St. George, UT 2020

 

Rootstech 2020 speaker

 

Download the Show Notes PDF in the Genealogy Gems Podcast app. 

Alaska Genealogy and an Important Milestone

Alaska genealogy researchers celebrate an important milestone. It’s the 150th anniversary of the Alaska Purchase. This special commemoration includes a photography exhibit, musical program, and much more. Keep reading to learn more about resources for Alaska genealogy.

The National Archives is celebrating the sesquicentennial (150 years) of the Alaska Purchase with a special Hidden Treasure Alaska panoramic photography exhibit at the National Archives at College Park. It will also include a presentation by the exhibit curator, a musical program at the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, and a loan to Polar Bear Garden exhibit at the Anchorage Museum. The National Archives programs and exhibit are free and open to the public.

The Musical Program

The musical program will be held on Thursday, March 30, at 7:30 p.m. at William G. McGowan Theater, Washington, DC. On March 30, 1867, U.S. Secretary of State, William Henry Seward, signed the Alaska Treaty of Cession that purchased Russian America. To commemorate the life and contributions of Seward, the State of Alaska is sponsoring a performance of the Alaska chamber group, Wild Shore New Music. Wild Shore will perform the work of living composers who have found inspiration through their experiences with the natural beauty and indigenous cultures of Alaska. Reservations are recommended and can be made online.

The Exhibit

The Hidden Treasure exhibit will be at the National Archives at College Park, MD, on the lower level. Hidden Treasure dramatically captures the beauty of Alaska, as captured on film by U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) topographers from 1910-1932. These extraordinary images of more than 6,000 panoramic photographs from the collection were used, but then stored and remained unseen for decades. Thanks to the research, work, and photographic skill of National Archives expert Richard Schneider, these images can now be seen by the public in their original panoramic format for the first time. These images capture work-life in the Alaskan wilderness, surveying techniques, towns, and geological formations, such as the Columbia Glacier. See Richard Schneider’s related Prologue Magazine story: The Alaskan Frontier in PanoramaHow the National Archives Preserved Early 20th-Century Photographs.

Schneider will discuss these historic panoramic photographs of the Alaska Territory in his presentation on Wednesday, April 12th at 2 p.m. EST. You may see it live streamed at the William G. McGowan Theater &  YouTube.

Polar Bear Garden

Beginning March 3rd through September 17, 2017, The Polar Bear Garden exhibit will be on display at the Anchorage Museum in Anchorage, Alaska.

Archival and contemporary photographs combined with nesting dolls, cartoons, feature-length films, and Cold War propaganda will take viewers on a journey between Alaska and Russia since the purchase. It will further explore stereotypes, language, storytelling, boundaries, and crossings. The exhibit highlights are on rare loan from the National Archives and include the original cancelled check and President Andrew Johnson’s Ratification of the Treaty.  More information about the Polar Bear Garden can be found online.

Alaska Genealogy

Your Alaskan heritage will likely include stories of great strength and perseverance. To begin your Alaska genealogy research, you may wish to review the FamilySearch Wiki article titled Alaska, United States Genealogy. In it, you will learn important tips like the fact that Alaska is not divided into counties, as nearly all the other states are. Instead, Alaska is divided into boroughs.

There is also a free guide on the wiki titled Step-by-Step Alaska Research, 1880-Present that you may particularly helpful. Among other things, it will help you located birth, marriage, and death records; wills and probates; and naturalization and immigration records.

Alaska genealogy marriage record

Marriage record found online at FamilySearch.org in collection titled “Alaska, Vital Records, 1816-1959”

Additionally, the Alaska State Archives have resources available. They hold many records that contain information on individuals such as:

Lastly, check out the Alaska Genealogy online guide provided by the Alaska State Library. This basic guide of Alaska related genealogy resources is not intended to be comprehensive, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. Sources for several of the boroughs may be available in other Alaska libraries or through interlibrary loan at your local library. They include:

More Resources for Alaska Genealogy Research

Alaska genealogy guideThe Alaska State Research Guide Digital Download by Family Tree Magazine is a digital download you will want to have for your genealogy library. Trace your Alaska ancestors with the advice and resources in this four-page download. It includes:

  • a how-to article detailing Alaska history and records, with helpful advice on tracking your family there
  • the best websites, books and other resources for Alaska research, handpicked by our editors and experts
  • listings of key libraries, archives and organizations that hold the records you need
  • descriptions of the top historic sites for learning about your ancestors’ lives and times, including visitor information
  • timeline of key events in the state’s history
  • full-color map to put your research in geographical context

Happy hunting…or should I say mushing!

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

Here’s our weekly roundup of new genealogy records online. Do you see anything you should be searching for your ancestors?

Featured: U.S. – SOUTH DAKOTA CENSUS. The 1945 South Dakota state census collection at Ancestry.com has been updated. According to a FamilySearch.org collection description (where it can also be searched for free), “This 1945 South Dakota State Census is an every-name list of the state’s inhabitants as of 1945. The records are handwritten on printed cards and are arranged alphabetically by surname. People enumerated in the census are recorded individually; the census records do not show individuals in family groups.” It’s wonderful to see census records access pushing past that 1940 blackout!

AUSTRALIA VITAL RECORDS. Findmypast.com has updated collections of birth, marriage and death records for Western Australia. Transcripts for all three record sets appear to be taken from original civil registrations, which began in 1841.

SPAIN MUNICIPAL RECORDS. A free collection of Cádiz municipal records (1784-1956) has been updated with over 155,000 new browsable images at FamilySearch.org. The full collection (some of which is indexed) includes “civil registration records, censuses, military records, and other miscellaneous records microfilmed and digitized at municipal archives in the province of Cádiz, Spain.”

U.S. – LOUISIANA WILLS/PROBATE. Ancestry.com’s collection of wills and estate records for Louisiana (1756-1984) has been updated. Indexed images represent nearly 3/4 of Louisiana parishes.

U.S. – NEW YORK CHURCH. Findmypast.com has updated its collection of New York State Religious Records, 1716-1914. Find indexed images of baptisms, marriages and deaths from dozens of churches from various denominations. You can even search by denomination, church name, county or full text.

U.S. – NORTH CAROLINA MARRIAGES. There’s a new index with over 53,000 entries from North Carolina civil marriage bonds and certificates (1763-1868) at FamilySearch.org. Click here to see a description of the index’s coverage.

U.S. – NORTH DAKOTA FUNERALS. An index to records from North Dakota funeral homes hosted by the Red River Genealogical Society is newly indexed at Ancestry.com and can be searched for free. (Click here to search the index on the host website.)

More Genealogy Record Gems

U.S. State Census Records: Capture Your Family History Between Federal Censuses

3 Strategies for Finding Catholic Church Records

U.S. Passport Applications: Finding Immigrant and Traveling Ancestors

We Dig These Gems: New Genealogy Records Online

Here’s our weekly roundup of new genealogy records online. Which ones mention your ancestors? Think Australian, British, Czech, German, Irish and the U.S. (Illinois, New Jersey and Texas).

AUSTRALIA IMMIGRATION. A new collection of passenger lists for Victoria, Australia (1852-1924) is now browsable for free on FamilySearch.org.

BRITISH MILITARY. Findmypast.com has released over 900,000 Royal Navy and Royal Marine service and pension records (1704-1919). Transcripts and images may divulge personal details along with the particulars of a person’s military service, next of kin, payment and more.

CZECHOSLOVAKIA HOLOCAUST. A new database of selected Holocaust records for Prague, Czechoslovakia (1939-1945) is available at Ancestry.com, as is an update to a companion database of Czech Holocaust records for the same time period, both from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

ENGLAND – SURREY. Ancestry.com has posted various new records collections for Sutton, Surrey, England: Church of England vital records spanning 1538-1812; more Church of England births and baptisms (1813-1915), marriages and banns (1754-1940) and deaths and burials (1813-1985); tax collection rate books (1783-1914) and electoral registers (1931-1970).

GERMANY – HESSE CIVIL REGISTRATIONS. Nearly 300,000 indexed names have been added to a free online collection of civil registrations for Frankfurt, Hesse, Germany (1811-1814, 1833-1928).

IRELAND CHURCH. The initial phase of a fantastic new collection of Irish Quaker church records has been published at Findmypast.com. Over 1.3 million Irish Quaker records are there now, including births, marriages, deaths, school and migration records, many dating back to the mid-1600s.

UK VITAL EVENTS. Ancestry.com has added new collections of UK births, marriages and deaths recorded in far-flung places or unusual settings: at sea (1844-1890); with the Army and Navy (1730-1960); and as registered by British consulates (1810-1968).

US – ILLINOIS BIRTHS. About 160,000 indexed names have been added to a collection of Cook County, Illinois birth certificates (1871-1940). Cook County includes the city of Chicago.

US – NEW JERSEY MARRIAGES. Over 100,000 names are newly-indexed in a free online collection of New Jersey marriage records (dating to 1670!) at FamilySearch.org.

US – TEXAS IMMIGRATION. About 860,000 indexed names have been added to a free existing database of Laredo, Texas passenger arrival manifests (1903-1955) at FamilySearch.org.

share celebrate balloonsThere are literally millions of new genealogy records online every week. It’s hard to keep up, so will you help us spread the word? Thanks for sharing this list on your favorite social media site.

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

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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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