Today’s Tip: If you haven’t yet, check out the Sanborn Company Fire Insurance Company maps (and assessor maps)!
As we all know, maps can be great genalogy tools. Lots of times we use the land plat maps for rural propery ownership. I know I have lots of times and often find unexpected benefits of family members owning nearby property too!
But do you know that when you are doing urban research you have similar tools? Yep! There are fire insurance maps and assessor maps among others. These maps are different in that the names of property owners are not listed, but if you have an address, you can find a house on the map and at least learn something about the structure itself, including its relative position to other houses on the same street or block. When combined with a city directory you can get a great idea of older neighborhoods!
One of the largest creators of fire insurance maps was the Sanborn Company. The Library of Congress has an extensive collection of Sanborn maps. Many local libraries and some educational institutions have copies of these maps on microfilm for specific cities or areas. Other companies created fire insurance maps too, but Sanborn created the vast majority. I read that they produced over 44,000 pages of maps!
Founded by D. A. Sanborn in 1867, the company created fire insurance maps from 1867 until 1961. The firm issued and periodically updated maps for 12,000 American cities and towns. The majority of the maps are from the years of 1876 to 1961, and some areas have as many as seven or eight editions. These maps are an excellent way to view older neighborhoods and to even ‘see’ old family homes, churches, businesses, etc. There are also maps for very small towns, including ones with as few as two hundred inhabitants.
Personally these have come in very handy to me as the neighborhood where most of my Bohemian ancestors lived in Cleveland, Ohio is now Interstate 90. UGH! So this is a great way for me to better understand where they lived now that I can no longer stand there.
While the Sanborn maps are wonderful, one of the things I enjoy about assesor maps is that they often list the assessment values on the property per square foot. Easy to see when you cross ‘to the other side of the tracks’ in certain cities! In the case of Cleveland, the Cuyahoga County Archive has many sets of historical assessor maps for Greater Cleveland.
I hope one day a map helps you out as they have me! Be they Sanborn, assessor, or other ones!
Onward To Our Past,