Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sanborn Insurance Maps - an overlooked genealogical resource

The Sanborn Company began making fire insurance maps in 1867 when founded by Daniel Alfred Sanborn, a surveyor from Somerville, Massachusetts. From 1867 to 2007, the company mapped about 12,000 populated urban areas in the United States. These maps show the location of all the major buildings and are color coded for type of construction. The maps are valuable for establishing the location and identity of older buildings in the communities covered by the maps. Surprisingly, the maps show many of the smaller communities, such as the map of American Fork, Utah made in 1890 partially shown above. 

Here is a larger view of the same map shown above:

Many of these maps have been digitized and are available in different mapping programs. You may have to search a little to find a digitized map of the area where your ancestors lived. In many cases, the maps can help identify old buildings shown in photographs and may give valuable clues as to the churches and businesses in the area where you are searching for your ancestors. 

Author Kim Keister describes the legacy of Sanborn maps: "Stated simply, the Sanborn maps survive as a guide to American urbanization that is unrivaled by other cartography and, for that matter, by few documentary resources of any kind."[1] They are a highly useful resource for historical research, planning, preservation, genealogical research, sociological studies and research of urban geography.


  1. I love maps! Thank you for this post. Your posts are always positive and informative! Carry on.

  2. Nice. Good to know. Where can you find them? Does the Library of Congress have them digitized? Or David Rumsey?

    1. There are various digitized copies online. The University of Utah has a digitized collection of the maps of Utah and here are a few more places

      They are also available from ProQuest see but you need to access this from a library that has an account.