A series of TV commercials runs these days asking “What’s in your wallet?” The advertiser wants it to be their credit card. But I want it to be library cards. A lot of them!
As I tell people in my genealogy presentations, “If you only have one library card, you’re not doing it right.” I’m not advocating getting library cards you’re not legally entitled to, but often libraries have reciprocal agreements with other library systems. It has something to do with the way tax dollars are allocated.
But why do you need several library cards? Many libraries provide databases for their patrons to use, often for free, from home. Most have an Ancestry.com Library Edition subscription patrons can use when they are in the library, but many offer other resources including Heritage Quest, an Ancestry subsidiary which has a full collection of US Federal census records as well as some city directories, the social security death index and more. Other offerings for library patrons at home include newspaper websites such as “America’s Genealogybank,” “Newspaper Archives” and “19th Century Newspapers.”
A great database I’ve been using at home today is the Digital Sanborn Maps. Many libraries only provide this for their own state, or perhaps their own and the adjacent states, but I’m fortunate that Seattle Public Library provides the Digital Sanborn Maps for the entire country. These maps were produced by the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company to help them assess risk when they were considering whether to insure a parcel of property. But today we can use them to see what our ancestor’s neighborhood looked like “back in the day.”
Using FamilySearch today, I found a deed for the purchase by my great-great grandfather, John Springer in 1856 of a quarter acre parcel located in Liverpool, Onondaga County, New York. The deed tells me the lot was located in Block Number 40, gives me the boundaries “Beginning at the north west corner of said block and running southwesterly along Tamarack street five rods thence easterly on a line at right angles with Tamarack street eight rods, thence westerly on a line parallel with the line of Tamarack street five rods to Fourth street thence northerly along Fourth street eight rods to the place of beginning.”[i]
While the earliest Sanborn map I can find online in the Seattle Public Library database is from March 1911, the plots of land are still laid out in the same way, and I can see on sheet 6 in the upper left hand corner Block 40 and see just where John Springer’s property was, on the corner of Fourth and Tamarack streets. Jacob and Nicholas Springer purchased the adjacent property later that same year.[ii] The houses may be in different locations but the property boundaries are just the same on this map as they were when John and Jacob and Nicholas bought the parcels.
I love that I can sit in my home in Seattle and get a bird’s-eye view of a lot my great-great grandfather purchased over 160 years ago. All because of my library card! What’s in your wallet?
[i] Onondaga County New York Deeds, Vol. 123, p. 341, Hatch to Springer, 11 February 1856, (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9WL-CWPV?mode=g&i=211&wc=M7C8-RPJ%3A358132901%2C360397201&cc=2078654 : accessed 23 May 2016)
[ii] Onondaga County New York Deeds, Vol. 127, p. 21, Paddock to Springer and Springer, 15 December 1856
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.