Saturday, September 24, 2011

Introducing Doug Magee - PLCH "Map Librarian"

Map Librarian Doug Magee
Self-described "Map Librarian," Doug Magee, kicked off the year with a presentation on how Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps can be an aid to genealogists.  According to the Map and Geography Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:

"Sanborn maps were made to assist insurance underwriters in determining fire insurance rates for individual buildings by examining the buildings' construction methods, heat and lighting sources, manufacturing uses, and the same attributes of nearby buildings. The maps primarily provide information on the downtown areas of cities and adjoining residential areas. They are especially useful in providing a record of urban development from the 1880s through the first half of the twentieth century."

Doug presented a slide show that can be used to gain a better understanding of the symbols that are used on the maps. 

1887 was the first year that Sanborn maps were published for Cincinnati. They have limited value for identifying a specific home because house numbers were not included on the map.  In addition, the streets of Cincinnati were renumbered in the early 1890s and some street names were changed. The cost of publishing the maps with any kind of frequency was prohibitive, so changes in the forms of cut-outs were provided that could be glued on top of the original map.  Since there is no indication for when these changes took place, the maps do not have as much historical value as they could have had.

We learned that the Sanborn Map of Cincinnati for 1922 is significant because it was not updated and included all of the areas within the city limit. In addition, there are two index books kept at the Genealogy and Local History desk that are invaluable when used in conjunction with the 1922 maps.  The first book is an index listing all of the real estate values for Hamilton County, and the second is a 2-volume Index of Property Owners, Real Estate Atlas of Cincinnati, 1922.

In answer to questions from the participants, Doug discussed some other resources that many genealogists may find helpful.  The Catholic Cemetery Society recently added more searchable databases for cemeteries to their site.  Included are the long-awaited records of the Baltimore Pike Cemetery.

There is also a digitized version of the 1892 Decennial Tax Valuation of Cincinnati online.  It can be downloaded from the Virtual Library from the Old and Rare Books section (R336.220977 C574 1892). 

Finally, I was made aware of the numerous indexes published by William H. Graver, including an index to property ownership maps.  Just when I was beginning to think that I was pretty familiar with some of the resources available at our library, I found out that I haven't even begun to scratch the surface.  Happy hunting!

Note:  To view the Cincinnati Sanborn Fire Maps online, click on this link.


  1. It was an informative talk! Doug mentioned using Cincinnati Directory listings (on the Virtual Library as well) in conjunction with the Sanborn maps and indexes to get a better idea of the neighborhood where your family lived.

    This was a great insight as most Cincinnati residents at the turn of the 20th century did not own their own houses. I'm used to using property records to get a sense of the community, social standing, etc. But, for my Cincinnati renters, no such luck. Now I have a new way to learn more!

  2. After writing this post, I happened to come across this post
    that was published in Family Tree Magazine. It discusses the library's digitization of some of the Sanborn maps and gives a specific example of how a genealogist used them.

  3. Thank you so much for this information. Off to search some maps, but I noticed you referenced the renumbering in 1890. Therefore if I have an address from a 1912 death notice the address would still be the same today. Detroit's renumbering did not take place until 1920, so just varifying.

  4. Sue,
    You shouldn't have a problem with an address for 1912 in Cincinnati. I'm glad you found this post helpful. I feel like I'm currently "into" Sanford maps right now. They've been so helpful with my research.

  5. Are these maps indexed? I do not see a way to search them logically on the library website, short of browsing.

  6. Are these maps indexed anywhere? There does not appear to be a directory on the library website. I am probably just missing something since it is after midnight!

  7. I will try to find out for you from Doug.


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