Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Value of Insurance Maps

Access to maps is one of the delights of a genealogist. 
A workshop called Heating Up Your Research with Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps was presented at CGS by Melinda Kashuba on December 11, 2010.  The information provided in this post comes from my notes taken in attendance at the workshop, and some statements have been quoted from the handout provided by Melinda. 
Genealogists can use maps to recreate past landscapes. Access to Sanborn maps can be an expensive option if viewed in the comfort of your own home. Some libraries though have limited access to the collection including San Francisco Public Library if you have a library card

Sample Map accessed at
Sanborn Maps began around the time of the Civil War and were popular from 1860 to 1940. During the Industrial Revolution, people started moving to the cities. Denser populations meant more possibilities of fires. Thus the industry of fire insurance mapping was started. Fire insurance companies could not afford to send their underwriters to view distant properties, so they relied on the maps developed by engineers and published by companies such as Sanborn. These maps provided detailed plans of the cities including physical characteristics of buildings and the type of material used in construction. An image which shows more detail on a 1904 street in Wilmington, NC is shown here:

Image provided by the University of North Carolina Library website.

Many Sanborn maps are in the process of being digitized but if you are lucky enough to live in Missouri, Florida or Utah, the universities in these states have online collections. Fun for anyone to peruse, a webpage has been set up for viewing the Sanborn images from San Francisco in 1899-1900 available at: SFgenealogy.  My next blog post will offer a review of more general mapping resources. Stay tuned...

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