Saturday, March 1, 2014

"Finding the Neighborhood" modern location from Sanborn maps

This blog post accompanies my lecture series "Finding the Neighborhood."

This is the third example and is not as "research" intensive as the previous township and range example. It can help bring your family history to life by locating an historic residence on modern streets.
As with the first example, an address was found in 20th century census records. Once again, the address can't be found via Google Maps. Below is a satellite image with the historic location(the small pink shape) overlaid.
It's not surprising this address didn't come up since there are no houses on the entire block but the street name has also been changed. 

So how was the location identified? Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. This example is for Atlanta, Georgia and Georgia Sanborn maps can be accessed for free online through the Digital Library of Georgia. Below is the segment showing the address.
     Once this was found it's just a matter of lining up streets or other landmarks in Google Earth with the corresponding item on the historic map. But how do you even find the right sheet in a city? With the Digital Library of Georgia collection, it is possible to enter a search term (in this case the street name, without "street" or "st"). Then I just clicked on the relevant results and followed the street over until I found the correct block. The "shortcut" you can use is if you can match an incorrect sheet (i.e. one showing the street but a block whose numbers are way off) to a modern map; you can then guess which sheet will help by using the index sheet of the complete city. Below is the index map as an illustration.
     If you can identify which colored section you think your address is in you can start zooming in (the four colors represent the four "volumes"). For Atlanta you might notice the railroad. If the street crosses volumes you might be able to skip ahead to a new volume rather than clicking from one sheet to the next following the entire length of the street (the sheets are numbered and the adjoining numbers are shown on each edge making it easy to browse from one to another if you do want to follow along the whole street).
     It's nice to see where the house stands or stood but why else go through this process? Finding the exact location may reveal new research avenues. You might identify the local school or church which may have records available. In this case, where no houses exist today, there might be records if the entire block was purchased by an institution or was obtained by the city, county, or state. In some cases, the actual Sanborn Map lists information about the structure if it was relevant to the insurance. Once you try mapping an address, different options will appear to you based on your project.

1. Annotated image of "485-537 Cameron Madison Alexander Blvd NW, Atlanta, Georgia," 33°46'09.21"N and 84°24'11.30" W, Google Earth, 8 April 2010, accessed 14 October 2011.
2. Atlanta Fire Insurance Map, vol. 1, sheet 45 (Sanborn Map Co., 1911); digital image, Digital Library of Georgia ( : accessed 16 August 2011).
3. General Index and Insurance Maps Atlanta, Georgia (Sanborn Map Co., 1911); digital images, Digital Library of Georgia ( : accessed 24 February 2014).