Our friends at our local Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County let it slip today that they’re digitizing their local Sanborn maps and putting them online. They’ve already got two volumes scanned.
Wondering what Sanborn maps are? The Sanborn company published them regularly from 1867 to 1970 to evaluate fire insurance liability in urban areas. Between publications, the company would issue updated maps on single sheets to be glued into a volume of maps.
The maps are detailed street plans at a scale of 50 feet to one inch on large sheets of paper—one sheet shows about four to six city blocks. You can see building outlines, locations of windows and doors, building use (including the names of most public buildings), property boundaries, house and block number, street names, street and sidewalk widths, fire walls, composition of building materials and more.
You can learn a lot about your ancestor’s house and neighborhood, or research the history of your own old house.
Each map volume has a title page showing the publication year and an index of the streets and addresses covered in that volume. You just look up the address or building name to find the sheet number for the large-scale map it appears on. There’s also an index map of the entire mapped area, with the sheet numbers for each large-scale map in that volume. If you don’t know the address, you can use this index map to guess the sheet number you need.
Sanborn maps cover most urban areas. Many public and university libraries have Sanborn maps in print or on microfilm for the local area. The Library of Congress has a huge collection. At some libraries, you can access ProQuest’s database of digitized maps (check your library’s Web site or ask at the reference desk).
Back to the Cincinnati library’s collection: Each index page and map sheet is an individual PDF document. First, check the index page to find the map number you want. I was looking for my great-grandfather’s store, H.A. Seeger Cigar Manufacturer, which operated for decades at the corner of 12th and Pendleton in downtown Cincinnati.
I clicked on volume 2, published in 1904, and checked the index:
Then I downloaded sheet 148. H.A. Seeger’s Cigars is circled in yellow:
Dwellings are labeled D and stores are labeled S. My relatives probably attended the Roman Catholic church across the street and bought bread from the bakery seven doors down.
More resources: Walking with Your Ancestors: A Genealogist’s Guide to Using Maps and Geography by Melinda Kashuba