Image courtesy the David Rumsey Map Collection
Pittsburgh, most famous today for steel and yellow-and-black professional sports teams, has a history dating back to Colonial times. If you’re lucky, you can use historical maps of Pittsburgh to discover how your ancestors fit into the city’s history.
The French first settled the region where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio River in 1754. The British captured the site (called Fort Duquesne) and built their own stronghold, “Fort Pitt,” a few years later. The settlement became the city of Pittsburgh in 1816, and the city rose to prominence by producing large amounts of iron and (later) steel.
Pittsburgh continued to grow, both in population and land area. People flocked to the region, and Pittsburgh’s population nearly quadrupled between 1870 and 1900. Because of this population boom, Pittsburgh ranked in the top-10 most-populated cities in the United States from 1910 to 1940.
The map above shows Pittsburgh in 1891 during this population boom. Note the “Pittsburg” label, the result of officials removing the H from the city’s name in 1890. (They restored the city’s name to the current spelling in 1911.) The detailed map features each street name, plus the names of the railways that ran through the Pittsburgh area. The numbered list indicates where on the map prominent buildings (including city hall and the Carnegie Library) are located.
Street maps like this one give you a glimpse of your ancestor’s neighborhood during his lifetime. You can use city directories from the University of Pittsburgh’s collection (or from the site Historic Pittsburgh) with maps like this one to determine where your ancestor lived. Since fire and flood destroyed most of the 1890 federal census, this map-directory combo can be especially crucial to documenting your ancestors’ whereabouts between 1880 and 1900.
Learn more about your Pittsburgh ancestors using our city guide. Or find more old maps of Pittsburgh (and other American cities) in The Family Tree Historical Atlas of American Cities.