I have a lot of links for you today, with just a little background, and a little diatribe.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps were drawn up for many cities and towns in the late 1800's and early to mid-1900's. They are wonderful sources of insight and detail on how and where your ancestors lived and worked.
The maps list almost all buildings, streets, places of work, parks, schools, many residences, and town/city layouts. Maps from different years show changing street names, boundaries, and land use. You even get to find out if a factory had sprinkler systems, elevators, and was made of brick, wood, or stone...the maps are that detailed.
A fair number of Sanborn maps have been digitized, and are available in free online collections. That's the good. The collections are sometimes infuriatingly difficult to browse, with very large maps being made available a small window at a time, with limited panning and zoom tools; that's the bad. The maps are never ugly, however...quite the opposite (I just wanted to throw ugly in the title). So without further ado, here are some links to online, free collections of Sanborn insurance maps (and maps from a few other sources, as well).
- California (San Francisco)
- California (Santa Cruz County)
- Hawaii (Dakin Insurance Maps)
- Illinois (Aurora)
- Indiana (Indianapolis)
- Kentucky (along with ME and NY)
- Louisiana (New Orleans)
- Maine (along with NY and KY)
- Massachusetts (Boston)
- Nebraska (Town of Blair)
- Nebraska (Town of McCook)
- New Jersey (Princeton)
- New York (along with KY and ME)
- New York City
- North Carolina
- Ohio (Cincinnati)
- Oregon (Oregon City)
- South Carolina
- Virginia (Charlottesville)
- Assorted maps from the Library of Congress
(including the OK Corral in Tombstone, AZ)
There are many more such maps in hardcopy and microfilm collections; check with your community library or town/county historical society for local resources.
Don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.