Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps and the Library of Congress

Hi Everyone!

One of the librarians at the Schaumburg Township District Library made me aware of a web location within the Library of Congress that provides a great deal of background information about the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps as well as the ability to easily see what Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps are within the Library of Congress on a State-by-State basis and a city/town level basis within a state.

If you happen to know that an ancestor lived in a particular town at a particular time, there may actually be a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map detailing all of the details of the dwelling site of an ancestor.  The maps were in use from 1867 to 1970.  You can see what the building shape of an ancestor looked like and what it was constructed from as well as knowing the dimensions.  It is sort of like the equivalent of a Plat of Survey you do today on your own property to see the outline of a building and any other buildings on the property.

There is even some, although extremely limited, availability of some online Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps from the Library of Congress website on this subject.  The site mentions that there are over 3,000 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps available online through the Library of Congress.

While the site may offer very limited access to online Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, the site does provide a great deal of online information about the fire insurance maps in  general.  You can really learn a great deal about what this great genealogy resource really is.

Check out the link for this very informative site on Sanborn Maps at:

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps at the Library of Congress

Here are some of the Topics available from the Library of Congress site on interpreting  Sanborn Maps:

  • Keys and Colors
  • Symbols
  • Title Pages
  • Reports
  • Scales
  • Sheet Numbering
  • Indexes
  • Line Styles
  • Abbreviations
  • Congested Districts
  • Publication Dates
  • Water Systems

Under the category “Essays” about the Sanborn Maps you will find the following at the Library of Congress site:

  • Introduction to the Collection by Dr. Walter Ristow
  • Sanborn Samplers by Gary Fitzpatrick
  • Sanborn Time Series by Gary Fitzpatrick

Under the category “Other” for the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps at the Library of Congress you will find the following”

  • Related Resources
  • About the Collection
  • FAQs
  • Copyright and Restrictions

When you select a state to see what maps exist for a state you will find long, long lists of towns for that state.  You can click on the town name and another window opens up providing you with information on what exists within the Library of Congress for Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.  Again, the vast majority of material exists within the LOC and not online.

When you are looking at the list of towns within a state, the LOC indicates that a particular town has online maps available by noting the town with an asterisk “*”.  When I browsed through the towns for Illinois, I saw one town with an asterisk.  That was for Tampico.  So do not expect to gain access to these maps online.  You will at least be able to determine that the LOC has a Sanborn Map for a particular town and for a particular year in their collection.

I just found that the site is probably more valuable for all of the knowledge it conveys about the Sanborn Maps.  This alone cans educate you about this great resource.  Use the site for that.  Anything that may be available online is just a bonus.

If you were not aware of Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps as a resource tool for your genealogy research then take a look at the material from the Library of Congress from the link earlier on in this post.

If you were aware of this as a resource I still think the material from the site can certainly make you more aware at a detailed level about all there is to really know and understand about these Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.

Check it out.

Tony Kierna
Genealogy Coordinator
Schaumburg Township District Library

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