Posted in Library of Congress, Photos, Websites

Little-known database is a treasure of early photos and drawings


The Library of Congress houses a collection of early American photos and drawings of historic buildings you will want to explore (the photos—not the buildings, that is).

The Historic American Buildings Survey has “more than 556,900 measured drawings, large-format photographs, and written histories for more than 38,600 historic structures and sites dating from Pre-Columbian times to the twentieth century.” This collection is part of the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, and I plan to highlight a few other awesome collections in the future.

The collection is key word searchable, so try inputting the name of an ancestor’s hometown or a notable landmark. You might be surprised to find some pretty cool pictures or drawings that give you a glimpse into your ancestor’s life. And they are downloadable and free to use!

Posted in Forts, Indian Wars, Library of Congress, Maps, Military, National Archives

Hold the Fort! …or at least stick around and learn a little more about it

Out West, early on, it was lawless and rugged and full of guys who wanted land, gold, and water rights, and sometimes did not get along with the Native Americans who came first.  So Out West is also where forts and the United States Army Cavalry could be found.  Maybe your ancestor lived near a fort, or maybe he lived in one as a soldier.

Fort Laramie, Wyoming
Fort Laramie, Wyoming

Walters Art Museum {{Commons:File:Alfred Jacob Miller – Fort Laramie – Walters 37194049.jpg}} at Wikimedia Commons

You will probably be surprised to know how many forts actually existed in the 19th century Out West.  I don’t have an exact number, but I have some resources that will help you track them down, and also find the records created by the U.S. Army at those forts. Continue reading “Hold the Fort! …or at least stick around and learn a little more about it”

Posted in Archives and Libraries, Library of Congress, Memory Project, Research tips, Websites

Memory Projects and More…Digital Collections to Remember

The first thing that comes to mind when I mention “Memory Projects” is something I am fond of saying:  “I have a mind like a steel sieve.”  Yes, we could all use a good Memory Project, and today I’d like to share with you a great resource for western states research on the Library of Congress website.   Continue reading “Memory Projects and More…Digital Collections to Remember”

Posted in Archives and Libraries, Library of Congress, Maps, Nevada State Historical Society, Websites

Friday Finds: Nevada in Maps – topographical, mining, historical, and Sanborn fire insurance maps

Those of you researching in Nevada will be excited to discover “Nevada in Maps” online, through the University of Nevada, Reno.  This database is available on the Nevada Historical Society‘s website under “digital collections.”

Take your pick from topographical, Sanborn fire insurance, mining, historical, highway, and state land plats:

If you have never seen a Sanborn fire insurance map you are in for a treat.  You can see the details of every block in a city, like this 1885 map of downtown Carson City:

Notice the Opera house, wagon shop, millinery, candy store, tailor, and barber, among other shops.  In residential areas the homes and outbuildings can be seen, and you can see every nook and cranny of your ancestor’s neighborhood.

Sanborn fire insurance maps are available for other states and cities, but can sometimes be hard to access online.  This Nevada collection is a real find!

Check out the Library of Congress  Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps Online Checklist .  The L.O.C. has over 675,000 sheets of Sanborn maps!  Those that are out of copyright (printed before January 1st, 1923) are scanned and available online via links in the checklist.

To find a Sanborn map for a town or city that is not available online at the Library of Congress, just Google it.  You may have access through a state library or university collection, or through a terrific website like “Nevada in Maps.”

Posted in Archives and Libraries, Friday Finds, Library of Congress, National atlases, Railroad maps, Research tips, Websites

Friday Finds: Library of Congress resources for genealogists

Library of CongressToday heralds a new feature on “On Granny’s Trail” — Friday Finds. This will be a weekly post about a library or archive I have found especially useful in Western States research, and a few of their collections or website features I am sure you won’t want to miss! Isn’t this exciting?  Yes, I am making fun of myself.  I really do find libraries and archives exciting, and I’m sure you will too once you know of the thrilling things they have hiding there (or have in plain view on their websites.)

Today’s inaugural post features the colossal, prodigious, brobdingnagian, Titanic (having fun with and giving a little nod to history) literal Mother-of-All Libraries—the Library of Congress.  Their website can be found at or just by Googling “loc”.

By the way, for links to many other excellent archives and libraries just mouse over “Archives and Libraries” in the menu at the top of the blog, then click on any of the states in the drop-down list.

Last night I gave a presentation to the Monterey County (California) Genealogical Society  and here are a few of the things they learned to do on the LOC website:

1.  Search the vast holdings for a book, manuscript, or microfilm about a person or place at and then submit a request for Inter-library loan (ILL) at your public or university library.  They only lend things not available elsewhere, but either way you may be in luck once your librarian is on the prowl.

2.  See which newspapers existed and have been microfilmed in a given locality by clicking and then order them through ILL.  Better yet, find digitized newspapers at and search them by keyword.

3. On the homepage click on American Memory or go to and click on Immigration, American Expansion for a variety of links to first-person narratives for western pioneers, along with maps and photographs.

4.  Check out the amazing map collections, including the Railroad Maps Collection 1828-1900, Civil War Maps, Indian Land Cessions 1784-1894, Panoramic Maps 1847-1929, Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps checklist, early National Atlases, and oh, so many more.  Just click on

5.  Looking for a picture of an old church or courthouse, or need a photo of life in a certain locality or era?  Search the photographic collection and print or download images at

6.  Are you the custodian of your ancestor’s military records, photos, letters, and journals?  Learn how to contribute them to the Veterans History Project to have them preserved and made available to other researchers at

These are just a few of the gems available on the Library of Congress website.  Once you venture into their collections this site may become one of your favorites for more than just Western States research.  Happy Trails!