Understanding the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (Videos)


By Michael S Sheaffer

Since I posted about the Sanborn Maps on Friday (The Value of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps), I have had quite the reaction to them. Many people have heard of them but have never used them in their research. I myself just recently used them with great success in my own research. Rather than use a lengthy post trying to explain the Sanborn Maps in detail,  I have found three Youtube videos which explain in greater depth and in much greater detail than I could do so. Hope you Enjoy!

These videos will discuss

1 The story of  the Sanborn Mapping Company

2  Learn how to use the Sanborn Maps

3  Show how to use the Sanborn Maps with your ancestry research

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Danny Dyer’s Cockney and Royal Roots

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

Danny Dyer’s Cockney and Royal Roots – Who Do You Think You Are?

From a one time inmate of the workhouse to one of the most controversial figures in Tudor England…

Shared from the Genealogist website

21st November 2016

The actor that everyone knows as the landlord of the Old Vic is cockney through and through. His ancestors, the Dyer family, have deep roots in the Poplar area of London that stretch back for generations. Danny himself was born in the East End on 24 July 1977 in the Newham district. His father Antony, a painter and decorator, had married Christine two years earlier.

Danny Dyer’s birth record at TheGenealogist.co.uk

Danny Dyer has said he hopes that he will “freak a few people out” with his family history. Looking at what we discover, this is quite possible. His ancestral story takes us from a tough working class family in the East End of London, to an unexpected lineage leading to the heart of the Tudor court, and then a most extraordinary royal ancestry.

The Dyer family have had long association working in the tough manual industries that are connected to the River Thames. Danny’s grandfather, John D Dyer, was born in 1931 in West Ham as the youngest son of dock worker George Dyer and his wife Ethel neé Aldridge. George (Danny Dyer’s great grandfather) went into the Royal Navy serving for three years between 1916 and 1919 as a stoker in home waters. He was based in nearby Chatham in Kent.

On leaving the Navy, George returned to working in the London docks as a labourer and he would probably have been earning a basic living throughout the 1920s and 1930s. George and Ethel May Aldridge had married in 1920 in St Paul’s Church, Old Ford, Poplar. They then moved across the River Lee to Custom House, an area in West Ham, Essex where their four children are born in the ten year period between 1921 and 1931.

We can find George in the 1911 census living under the same roof as his father Edward, a boilermaker’s labourer aged 60, and his 58 year old mother Jacoba, from Holland. Although the census reveals that they occupied just three rooms, there were five of them crammed in together in this household. The parents had their eighteen year old daughter and two teenage sons, sixteen year old Francis and thirteen year old George living with them. But this census also reveals that all in all their thirty-five year marriage had seen 16 children brought into the world, nine of which had died by 1911. We can also gather that Jacoba at some time went by the name Ann, as looking back to the 1901 census she is recorded as Ann, born in Poplar (probably an enumerator error), and in 1891 as Ann born in Holland.

The Genealogist – UK census, BMDs and more online

1911 Census at TheGenealogist.co.uk It is most likely that the Dyer family would, like many of their neighbours, have been struggling with poverty at this time. Danny’s 2x great grandfather Edward Thomas James Dyer was born in 1850 in Poplar according to the birth indexes on TheGenealogist, the son of Edward William and Jane Maria Dyer. The younger Edward had not always been a ‘boilermaker’s labourer’. In 1901 he was recorded by the enumerator as a ‘shipyard labourer’; while in 1881 he is listed as a ‘labourer in an ironworks’ and living at number 11 Elizabeth Place, Poplar – right next door to the rest of the Dyers at number 10.

By the time of the 1871 census unemployment had hit Edward Dyer Jnr. and his father, Edward William. They were both recorded in this census as ‘Ship Builder, Unemployed’ and this change in status and jobs in the coming years illustrates just how industrialisation was hitting skilled men such as them with less positions being available for them. The dockyards at the time would have been introducing heavy presses and machine tools to replace the numerous skilled manual labourers that had previously been required. The more fortunate men in the iron works at the docks would learn how to operate the new machines, while some would have tried to carry on their forefathers trade, only to find that the work was becoming deskilled and, naturally, the rate of pay fell to reflect this.

The 1881 census is very confusing for family history researchers. At number 10 Elizabeth Place there is listed a 31 year old married son called Edward Dyer in the household of Edward and Jane Dyer. This son is noted down as a ‘riveter for a railway company’. There is no sign of his wife. We have already traced back to find that Edward Thomas James Dyer was the son of Edward W and Jane Maria Dyer, neé Sparks, who had married at St George in the East in the second quarter of 1850 and so we would think that this son was Danny’s 2x great grandfather. Yet we also know from the marriage records of Jacoba Dyer neé Heester that her spouse was also called Edward Thomas James Dyer and therefore must have been the Edward living at number 11 Elizabeth Place and listed as a Labourer in an Iron Works! This shows that information recorded by enumerators can get confused.

Two listings in the Census at The Genealogist – UK census, BMDs and more online for Danny’s great grandfather at 10 and 11 Elizabeth Place, Poplar.

Returning to Danny’s paternal grandparents, John and Joyce Dyer we are able to find that Joyce had been born as Joyce M L Rudd in 1931 Poplar. Joyce’s mother’s mother (Mary A Buttivant) was the daughter of a cigar maker from Mile End who had seen such hard times that at the age of 31 had been forced to go into the most feared of institutions for the Victorian poor, the workhouse.

Along with his wife Ann, we find them as inmates in the 1881 census at the Old Town Workhouse in Bancroft Road. By the next census he was now recorded as a ‘China picker’ while Ann was a ‘Washerwoman’ – though at least they were out of the workhouse. If we trace Albert back to 1861 when he was a 9 year old in his parents’ house, we find that they lived in Whitechapel as neighbours of the Royal Mint. Albert’s father, Charles Buttivant, was a ‘Cargo Clerk’ who, having been born in Norwich, Norfolk in around 1805. Charles was employed in the Victualling Office that provided food to keep the Royal Navy fed.

Using the Norfolk Parish records on TheGenealogist we are able to find a baptism in September 1804 for Charles at St Michael At Plea, Norwich. His father was James and his mother was Ann. Ann Buttivant’s maiden name, as we can see from the Norfolk parish registers on TheGenealogist, was Gosnold, a surname that gives us the first clue that Danny’s tree may be heading towards the landed gentry.

Parish Records for Norwich St Michael At Plea, Norfolk 1804 at TheGenealogist.co.uk

It appears that Danny’s 5x great grandfather, James, was the Norwich manufacturer that was declared bankrupt in 1799, as found using the 1786-1806 List of Bankrupts with Their Dividends on TheGenealogist. Misfortune never being far from this family.

1786-1806 List of Bankrupts with Their Dividends at TheGenealogist.co.uk

(L-R) Mary Ann (Danny Dyer’s 2x great grandmother) & Sylvie (Mary Ann’s Daughter)

(L-R) Ann and Albert Buttivant, Danny Dyer’s 3x great grandparents.

Researching further up Ann Buttivant neé Gosnold’s tree we find links to a English Civil War Cavalier colonel and a present-day peer of the realm, Lord Tim Tollemache. On screen we will see Danny invited to his castle where their connection will be revealed. Ann was the daughter of Charles Gosnold (1727-1788) and tracing up this line to Danny’s 10x great grandfather, we find Robert Gosnold (1587-1633), a member of the landed gentry with a coat of arms who married Ann Tollemarche. It is the Gosnold family connection that gives Danny a gateway ancestor into blue blooded ancestors.

Robert Gosnold fought in the English Civil War and was a fervent supporter of the Royalist cause. He fought a losing battle for King Charles I all the way up to the siege of Oxford. Robert’s mother Ann (Danny’s 11x great grandmother) had, however, married into the Tollemache family. It is here that Danny and Lord Tollemache share an ancestor, Ann’s father Lionel Tollemache was married to Katherine Cromwell, the great granddaughter of Thomas Cromwell.

Helmingham Hall

We can use the Peerage, Gentry & Royalty records on TheGenealogist to confirm Ann Talmache was married to Robert Gosnold of Otley in Suffolk.

Talmache of Helmingham in The Visitations of Suffolk at TheGenealogist.co.uk

Like Danny, who was born in the back streets of Newham and has risen to national prominence as an actor, Cromwell had been born in the back streets of Putney. Danny’s 15x great grandfather had risen up to be the trusted adviser of King Henry VIII, raised to be the Earl of Essex, accused of treason, condemned to death without trial, and was eventually beheaded on Tower Hill on the 28th July 1540. Before his ignominious death, however, Cromwell had married off his son Gregory to Queen Jane’s sister, Elizabeth Seymour (Danny’s 14x great grandmother). With this link to the Seymours, and John Seymour’s marriage to Margery Wentworth (mother of Jane and Elizabeth) who claimed descent from the blood royal, Danny’s royal heritage is revealed. The Seymours, through the ages, have asserted a line stretching back to Edward III and from him to William the Conqueror.

This is a fascinating ancestry that goes directly back through a one time inmate of the workhouse to one of the most controversial figures in Tudor England and then, from Thomas Cromwell’s daughter-in-law, the bloodline takes Danny Dyer all the way back to the Conqueror.

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The Value of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

From Michael S Sheaffer

Not long ago did I stumble upon the value of the Sanborn Fire Insurance. I had known about them but never thought to seriously look at them from a genealogical point of view. Once I did I realized quickly the value they had. I had a 3rd Great Grandfather that I had found many documents on and went through many census records but never could I find an Address for him written on any document. I never even realized he had lived in the township rather than the town. After looking at the Sanborn Maps I was able to find actual street and location along with an image of the house (Not a photo image) which allowed me to take my research in a whole other direction!. After going through the Library of Congress website the last few days I have found they carry 2,600 actual Sanborn maps that explain what the maps are for and how to use them. They have ll 50 states and many cities and towns included. I urge any of my readers to go through this site and hopefully find a map that will help out in your research. Fire Insurance Maps in the Library of Congress

(The Following is a shared from the Library of Congress Website)


About this Collection
Collection Items
Articles and Essays

About this Collection

The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps Online Checklist provides a searchable database of the fire insurance maps published by the Sanborn Map Company housed in the collections of the Geography and Map Division. The online checklist is based upon the Library’s 1981 publication Fire Insurance Maps in the Library of Congress and will be continually updated to reflect new acquisitions.

Fire Insurance Maps
in the Library of
Congress. 1981

The online checklist also contains links to existing digital images from our collection and will be updated as new images are added. If you have any questions, comments, or are interested in obtaining reproductions from the collection, please Ask A Librarian.

To date, over 6000 sheets are online in the following states: AK, AL, AZ, CA, CT, DC, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MO, MS, NC, NE, NH, NJ, NV, OH, PA, TX, VA, VT, WY and Canada, Mexico, Cuba sugar warehouses, and U.S. whiskey warehouses.

Sanborn Keys & Colors

Fire insurance maps are distinctive because of the sophisticated set of symbols that allows complex information to be conveyed clearly. In working with insurance maps, it is important to remember that they were made for a very specific use, and that although they are now valuable for a variety of purposes, the insurance industry dictated the selection of information to be mapped and the way that information was portrayed. Knowledge of the keys and colors is essential to proper interpretation of the information found in fire insurance maps.


Example 1

Color plays an important role in Sanborn map reading. In Example 1, we see that brick and tile are represented with a reddish/pink color. Several advantages demonstrate themselves when using color: a) the mapmaker can easily and quickly convey information; b) space formerly used to convey this information can now be used to convey more detailed information; and c) uniformity across all the maps is achieved and maintained.

Example 2

The use of yellow indicates frame, or wood, structures. Example 2 shows the use of framing on the inside as well as outside of buildings. Along with the color indicators, the map uses basic abbreviations to convey other information. S = store, D = dwelling, and ASB. CL. = asbestos clapboards.

Example 3

Other colors employed by Sanborn mapmakers included an olive green to demark fire resistive construction and gray for adobe construction material. Blue denotes concrete and cinder block construction. Gray is also used to indicate metal or iron building materials. The tenant indicator “loft” is shown in color to indicate that it can be seen in any of the construction color indicators.

Example 4

To print an image with many of the colors and symbols, click here.

Sanborn Keys, Legends, and Symbol Sheets

Fire insurance maps are distinctive because of the sophisticated set of symbols that allows complex information to be conveyed clearly. In working with insurance maps, it is important to remember that they were made for a very specific use, and that although they are now valuable for a variety of purposes, the initial selection of information to be mapped and the way that information was portrayed was dictated by the needs of the insurance industry.

Key for interpreting Sanborn fire insurance maps

The prefatory material found at the beginning of atlases and on the first sheet of smaller editions usually included a legend or “key” to symbols. Knowledge of these is essential to proper interpretation of the information found in fire insurance maps. The use of these symbols on fire insurance maps, especially those done by the Sanborn Map Company, was prescribed by company manuals and can usually be interpreted with a considerable degree of confidence. However, the symbols, abbreviations, and annotations are not always easily interpreted. Therefore, it is important for researchers to consult the keys to symbols. It is also important to remember that over time new symbols were added and that there were variations in the way in which symbols were applied.

Title Pages

Most editions of fire insurance maps contained prefatory material that is useful or necessary for interpreting the maps and which now has historic value in its own right. In particular, the map indexes and the descriptions of a city’s fire protection services of a city provide insights into various aspects of the development of urban America. The amount and nature of such introductory material varies widely from city to city and over time, reflecting changes in mapping policies of the Sanborn Map Company, the size of the city, and the rate of change within the city. The following discussion highlights major features of the prefatory material, but not all elements will necessarily be found in the fire insurance maps for a given city or town.

Small-town maps that comprised only a few map sheets were generally issued in loose-leaf format and did not have separate title pages. The first page of such editions, however, would include the names of the city, county, and state. The county name was important for differentiating towns of the same name within a state. It is important to note that because of divisions of counties or changes in county boundaries, a city may now be part of a county different from that in which it was originally mapped.

For large-city maps issued in one or more volumes, the title page often presents a visual delight of ornate typography and design. As cities became denser and larger over time, the Sanborn Map Company occasionally altered the presentation of the coverage of a city. A single volume could be divided: for instance, volume 1 from an edition in the late 1800s might become volume 1, North and volume 1, South in the 1920s. Also, the coverage of the suburban portions of a city could be shifted from volume to volume. Researchers need to be aware of such changes reflected in the titles to insure that they are using the volume that covers the portion of the city in which they are interested.

An important component of title pages for large city atlases is the listing of incorporated and unincorporated places covered in the volume. This is particularly common on the fringe areas of towns from the 1920s onward, where suburban developments and new additions to the territory of a city were frequently given their own names in local usage. Such place names have been listed in the index of Fire Insurance Maps in the Library of Congress. These names can also be searched through the search engine available on the Library of Congress Web site.

Reports on Fire Protection, Services and Infrastructure

Example of a fire report from Honolulu

To the insurance industry, a valuable component of the prefatory material was a description of the fire-fighting equipment and water system of a city or town. The description could be a simple statement of a line or two in the coverage of a small town, or an elaborate report of many paragraphs for the larger cities. Reports would address such issues as the number and types of fire-fighting equipment and the number and training background of firefighters. The size, extent, and pressure of water mains was a critical factor that was often addressed in such reports. The predominant wind patterns were usually noted as well.

Interpreting Scale

The vast majority of fire insurance maps were drawn at a scale of one inch to fifty feet (1:600) when expressed as a representative fraction. A smaller or less detailed scale of mapping was employed for suburban areas or large industrial sites. For these areas, scales of one inch to one hundred feet (1:1,200) or one inch to two hundred feet (1:4,800) were used. In rare instances, even smaller scales were used. Most map sheets contain a bar scale that facilitates the measurement of features or distances, and the scale is usually given in the title of the map as well.

Interpreting Sheet Numbers

Considering that there were more than fifty thousand editions of fire insurance maps of more than ten thousand communities, it is not surprising to find inconsistencies in the way sheets in a given edition were numbered. In early atlases, numbering was often sequential across coverage for the whole city. In other cases, especially in later editions, numbering was sequential within each volume. In some early editions also, double-page plates were given a single number, but the most common pattern was to have a separate number for each page. Prefatory material was not given page numbers, however.

In the list of maps, Fire Insurance Maps in the Library of Congress, the figure in the column that indicates the number of pages does not reflect the page numbering. The figure that is given includes any unpaginated prefatory material, even the inside of atlas covers to which indexes have been pasted. Where applicable, the comments column in Fire Insurance Maps in the Library of Congress indicates special numbering sequences, such as double-page plates.

Interpreting Sanborn Indexes

Graphic Index (or Key Map)

For researchers, an important part of the prefatory material is the graphic index that portrays the areas of the city covered by each sheet in the edition. In the case of multi-volume editions, there is often a “Graphic Map of Volumes” that shows the portions of the city covered by each volume.

The graphic index is frequently referred to as a “key map.” When a researcher wishes to examine the coverage for a portion of a city, the graphic index is more useful than the street or other indexes. Key maps serve two purposes: they show the areas encompassed by individual sheets and indicate the portions of a city or town that were mapped. Coloring was generally used on key maps to indicate the area covered by an individual sheet in the edition or atlas. There are usually compas roses, often highly decorative, to orient the user, but not always scales.

Street Indexes

A street index from a small town

One important component of a fire insurance map or atlas is the street index. In theory, street indexes are rather simple. Street names are listed alphabetically, including numbered streets and avenues, which are spelled out in full. Subheadings under the name of a street frequently indicate address ranges covered by individual sheets in the edition or volume. For some large editions and atlases, however, this index may also contain a separate listing for a special component of the city, such as wharves and piers. In using these indexes, it must be remembered that street names and building numbering systems could change several times in a given city during the century and a half in which these maps were prepared. Trying to find the historical equivalent of a current address can be rather difficult if researchers try to rely strictly on the street indexes. In many cases, it will be necessary to relate an address on a current map to the key map described in the previous section. On the other hand, when working only with a written record of an address, street indexes are essential for locating buildings for which the street or number has changed.

Special Indexes

Example of a Special Index

An interesting look at the life of a city can be found in an index of specific properties that sometimes appears separately but may also be a continuation of the street index. The name of this index usually includes the word “Specials.” It identified major businesses, public buildings, factories, or other large structures. Such indexes were prepared to facilitate quick location of these major features. For current researchers, however, the list of “specials” is the equivalent of an abridged city directory that provides insight into the economic and social landscape of a community. From one edition of a city to another, entries in these indexes will come and go, and a particular business or institution will change its name to reflect new owners, a new function, or a modernized sense of propriety.

Line Style, Abbreviations & Modern Symbols

Line Style

Much information could be conveyed through line types. A solid line indicated a solid wall. A break in a line showed doorways and other passages. Additionally, dashed lines could indicate some aspect of wall construction or the presence of a mansard roof. Extending solid lines beyond the edge of a building was a technique for indicating how high above the roof fire walls were built. When interpreting any fire insurance map, researchers should take care to consult the legend for that particular edition to ensure the correct interpretation of line symbology.


Fire insurance maps often relied on abbreviations to convey the type of activity that took place in a structure, since that information had some bearing on the likelihood of fires. The most common abbreviations are as follows: “D” or “Dwg” for a dwelling, “F” for a flat or apartment, “S” for a store, “Sal” for a saloon. Other abbreviations added more information about a structure: numerals were used to indicate the number of stories in a building, and the letter “B” indicated the presence of a basement. These could be combined, so that “2B,” for instance, indicates that a building has two stories and a basement. Multiple symbols for a single structure could reflect the use or nature of different parts of a building; hence a two-story building with a basement might be marked “2B” for the main portion of the structure while an addition on the front had the number “1” by itself to indicate a single story.

In some instances, symbols and abbreviations were combined with text to describe a specific use. These can be frequently difficult to interpret because they are run together; the symbols for store and basement, for instance, can be combined in the form SinB, representing the phrase “store in basement.”

Modern Symbols for Fire Insurance Maps

The symbolization used on fire insurance maps evolved over time as a result of such factors as the consolidation of the industry under the control of the Sanborn Map Company, the development and improvements of building codes, the development of larger and taller buildings that required notation of special features, and the maturation of this form of cartographic endeavor. To aid researchers in using these maps, a series of keys or legends have been reproduced from reference manuals that the Sanborn Map Company produced for its employees. Researchers, should not rely solely on the extensive legends reproduced here, however, the legends published in the atlases and on the small editions issued as loose sheets represent the use of symbols at the time the map was made.

Interpreting Congested District or Business District Maps

A valuable feature in the prefatory material of editions for large cities is the map of the “congested” or “business” district. This kind of map was drawn at scales intermediate between the large scale of a single sheet and the small scale of the key map for a volume. A typical map of this type might cover an area twenty blocks by thirty blocks in size. Generally, such maps served as a frame of reference for understanding the relationship of buildings and places in the heavily developed portions of towns. In some cases, they were annotated to show the limits of coverage by fire departments (in the early years of fire protection, fire company service was not provided to all parts of a town or city) or some other salient feature of the city.

Interpreting Dates

Publication Dates

For the first half century of fire insurance mapping, the dating of editions is generally straightforward. For small-town maps issued in loose-leaf format, the first page and generally each subsequent page carried the month and year of publication quite prominently in an upper corner of the map. The year of publication was usually repeated as part of the copyright notice that appeared as part of or adjacent to the title.

The dating of multi-volume editions of large-city maps is somewhat more complicated. The date on the first volume may be valid only for that particular volume, as the subsequent volumes may have been issued over a period of years. In several cases, a single volume within a multi-volume set was revised and reissued with a new date even before the whole edition was completed. In Fire Insurance Maps in the Library of Congress, therefore, date ranges are given for the coverage of multi-volume editions.

Corrected Editions

Beginning around 1920, the dating of an edition becomes rather complicated. In response to various economic factors around that time, the Sanborn Map Company began updating maps for its customers by issuing paste-on correction slips. These were generally applied by a company employee, who then annotated a chart, usually entitled “Correction Record,” attached to the title page, recording the dates on which corrections had been applied. Such correction slips were intended to keep the map coverages current. Over the years, however, more and more correction slips were added, and it is impossible to determine which correction slips were applied in which years. For many cities, as many as fifty or sixty series of correction slips were applied over the course of thirty or forty years. In Fire Insurance Maps in the Library of Congress, the dates for such editions are the date of the original printed edition of the map and the latest date for which corrections were applied.

The latest date, however, is not always found in the “Correction Record.” In many cases, additions to indexes pasted into an atlas are later than the last correction slip annotation indicates. In Fire Insurance Maps in the Library of Congress, the latest date of an edition or volume reflects the latest date found on any material pasted into that volume or edition.

The vast majority of examples of paste-on correction sheets in the collections of the Library of Congress come from the maps produced by the Sanborn Map Company from the late 1920s. This technique, however, appeared very early in the history of fire insurance mapping. When significant changes took place in a city, it was important to update the fire insurance plans. In some cases, the amount of change did not warrant mapping the entire city again. In other cases, it may have been prudent to update certain key changes even before the whole city could be re-mapped. To accomplish this, fire insurance map producers printed a correction sheet that was pasted over the incorrect information. Charles Rascher, for example, in his 1891 atlas of Chicago, includes seven different updates printed on a single sheet. Where a map producer had inventory in stock, the corrections could be applied before the volume was sold. At least some companies offered the service of sending employees to customers’ offices, where the correction sheets could be applied on site.

Interpreting Water System Maps

Example of a portion of a water system map

In many editions of fire insurance atlases of large towns or cities, there was a separate map, frequently an inset but sometimes rather substantial in size, showing the water distribution system. Such a map might be accompanied by a description of pumping station equipment, pressure, sizes of mains and water lines, the types and distribution of fire hydrants, and so forth.

Discounted Newspapers


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Pilgrim Hall Museum

Discover you family history through historical newspapers at Newspapers.com

Americas Museum of Pilgrim Possessions


Pilgrim Hall Museum

I have personally wanted to visit this museum for many years after knowing a friend who had visited there a few years ago. Billed as the oldest continuing operated museum in America being built in 1824. I have visited their website and found it to be a very useful website with many features that can help a researcher gain ideas and understanding if descendants of Pilgrims. On Thursday why not kick back after eating some Turkey and visit this wonderful website and see what they may have and maybe plan a visit there with your Society?

Sharing a page from the About Us page at: Pilgrim Hall Museum

Give the Gift of History

“The mission of the Pilgrim Society and Pilgrim Hall Museum is to achieve worldwide awareness of the Pilgrims’ significance as an enduring narrative of America’s founding.”

Welcome to Pilgrim Hall Museum! The Pilgrim Society was founded in 1820 to preserve Plymouth’s unique history, and in 1824, opened the doors of Pilgrim Hall Museum to the public. It is the oldest continuously operating public museum in the country and America’s museum of Pilgrim possessions. Pilgrim Hall’s extraordinary collection of 17th century artifacts, some of which actually came on the Mayflower, illuminates the story of early Plymouth Colony. It’s an intimate story of families, of differing cultures, and of struggle, sacrifice, courage, and perseverance. In many ways, it’s the story of the founding of America.

I invite you to explore our website, learn about our exhibits and programs, and investigate the truly fascinating, complex, and even surprising history of the Pilgrims. I hope you will be inspired to visit Plymouth and Pilgrim Hall Museum for yourself – there’s no better way to experience this remarkable episode of America’s beginnings.

Donna D. Curtin, PhD Executive Director

Learn more about us:

Organization and Structure

History of the Hall

Feel free to Contact Us

If you would like to enjoy the benefits of membership in Pilgrim Hall Museum, please Join.

If you would like to support the ongoing work of preservation and education, please Donate.

Want to learn more about events at the museum? Share your e-mail address with us for informational mailings. We never give or sell our list and you may opt out on every communication

When’s the “Big Day?”

Thanksgiving is the 4th Thursday in November. This year, Thanksgiving will be celebrated on Thursday, November 24, 2016.

From the Thanksgiving of 1621 to the Thanksgiving of today, learn all about our favorite holiday:

Love Thanksgiving? Spend it in the town where it all began!
Pilgrim Hall Museum is open on Thanksgiving Day!

Please take time to visit the website Pilgrim Hall Museum

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

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Know Your Family Health History

By: Michael S Sheaffer                                                                                                                                                   

Know Your Family Health History

When managing your own health, it helps to know your history, or more specifically your family health history.

You don’t just inherit your good looks from your parents or those who came before you. Sometimes, serious health conditions are passed down through the generations. Both common and rare diseases often run in families, sometimes skipping a generation or two. It helps to document some of the diseases faced by relatives in your family tree, so you can understand your own health risks.

While most people know that this information can be critical to their health, many people either do not know or have never tried to document this information. A little more than a decade ago, the U.S. Surgeon General kicked off an effort to change that by instituting National Family History Day. Because Thanksgiving is such a family-centric holiday, each year since 2004, the national holiday has doubled as a day not just to eat turkey and pie, but to talk to family and attempt to document health history.

To make it easier for families, the surgeon general even set up a simple and sharable tool for families to document their own health history called My Family Health Portrait. It allows you and your family members to create a family tree, write down health conditions and together create a powerful document to help you all manage your health.

Read more at https://blog.23andme.com/health-traits/know-your-family-health-history/#sfe7qS9O3Ks1MPBw.99

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Learn how to read prints and photographs-Library of Congress

Museum Replicas

Sheaffer Genealogy                                                                                                                                                     –By: Michael S Sheaffer

Looking at photographs is a simple task many family researchers do every day. We all love looking at them but are we really SEEING them? Learn some tricks to better understand photographs from the website Library of Congress Researchers Tool Box. I have shared this page in the hopes of all researchers to better understand our photographs.

Prints and Photographs Reading Room (Prints and Photographs Division)

Researcher’s Toolbox

The resources below provide information and methods for exploring image history, processes, content, and meaning. Information about searching and using the Prints and Photographs Division collections can be found in the general documents: “Information for Researchers” and “Top Tips for Successful Research in the Prints & Photographs Division.”

G. M. (George Moutard) Woodward, engraver, Caricature curiosity
G. M. (George Moutard) Woodward, engraver, Caricature curiosity, 1806.

Identifying and Interpreting Images

  • Every Photo is a Story – A five part video series in which reference librarian Kristi Finefield and architecture and landscape historian Sam Watters lay out ways to uncover the story in a photograph, using examples from Frances Benjamin Johnston garden and architecture photographs. “Try It Yourself” exercises accompany each part, giving viewers a chance to apply skills learned during the video.
  • Visual Literacy Exercise (PDF document / 165 kb /) – A method for looking systematically at an image and determining what you see, what knowledge you bring to what you see, and what you would like to investigate further.
  • “Reading and Researching Photographs” by Helena Zinkham. In Archival Outlook (Jan./Feb. 2007): 6-7, 28. Available online [pdf] External link
  • Solving a Civil War Photograph Mystery – Describes clues and resources used to identify a Civil War Photograph reputed to be of Ulysses S. Grant.
  • What Do You See? (via Library of Congress Teachers site) – Asks questions about sections of a Civil War photograph and, on a second page, supplies the answers.
  • Looking at Pictures: An Invitation to the Prints and Photographs Collections at the Library of Congress – Webcast that provides an overview of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division holdings and tips for exploring the collections
  • Popular Photographic Print Processes Represented in the Prints and Photographs Division – Provides brief descriptions and chronology of processes popularly used to make photographic prints since the beginning of photography.
  • Dating Photographs:
    • The Costume Detective: How to Date Old Photographs by the Costume External link – Provides information on fashion trends of various eras that can be used to help date photographs, as well as examples showing how fashion details visible in a photograph can be used to narrow down the date of the image.
    • Family Chronicle: Dating Old Photographs External link – Provides dated photographs (including several from Prints & Photographs Division Collections), of people 1840s-1900s, as a tool to match clothing styles and styles of portraiture for purposes of dating undated photographs.

Staff member researching stereograph photos in the Prints & Photographs Reading Room
Staff member researching stereograph photos in the Prints & Photographs Reading Room.Photograph by Cyndi A. Wood, 2008.

 Discounted Newspapers

Researching Specific Prints and Photographs Division Collections

Resources for Learning More About Researching Images

From the American Social History Project / Center for Media and Learning, Graduate Center, CUNY and the Center for History and New Media (George Mason University):

  • Making Sense of Evidence External link – Provides strategies for analyzing online primary materials, with interactive exercises and a guide to traditional and online sources. “Scholars in Action” segments show how scholars puzzle out the meaning of different kinds of primary sources, allowing you to try to make sense of a document yourself. Includes segments on photographs and political cartoons.
  • Picturing U.S. History: An Interactive Resource for Teaching with Visual Evidence External link – Provides online “Lessons in Looking,” a guide to Web resources, forums, essays, reviews, and classroom activities to help teachers incorporate visual evidence into their classrooms.

  • Best Buy Co, Inc.                 Wal-Mart.com USA, LLC

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Gettysburg Address

Search Military Records - Fold3

(Shared from Library of Congress This Day in History)

-Michael S Sheaffer

Gettysburg Address

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered a short speech at the close of ceremonies dedicating the battlefield cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Honoring a request to offer a few remarks, Lincoln memorialized the Union dead and highlighted the redemptive power of their sacrifice. Placing the common soldier at the center of the struggle for equality, Lincoln reminded his listeners of the higher purpose for which blood was shed.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Gettysburg. [1863, printed later]. Prints & Photographs Division

…we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863.

In composing the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln must have been reminded of the words of David Wills, a prominent citizen of Gettysburg charged with cleaning up after the grisly battle of July 1-3, 1863. Wills asked the president to attend the ceremony and make a “few appropriate remarks,” stating in his letter of invitation that Lincoln’s presence would

Dedication ceremonies at the Soldiers’ National cemetery, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Alexander Gardner, photographer, November 19, 1863. Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints. Prints & Photographs Division

Discounted Newspapers

kindle anew in the breasts of the Comrades of those brave dead, who are now in the tented field or nobly meeting the foe in the field, a confidence that they who sleep in death on the Battle Field are not forgotten by those highest in Authority; and they will feel that, should their fate be the same, their remains will not be uncared for.

Letter, Judge David Wills to President Lincoln, Invitation to speak at the consecration of a Civil War cemetery at Gettysburg, Pa., November 2, 1863. The Gettysburg Address. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers. Manuscript Division

Edward Everett, perhaps the most popular orator of the day, spoke for two hours at the ceremony. Yet, Everett admitted to Lincoln, “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” In spite of Lincoln’s disclaimer that “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here,” his brief speech continues to resonate in the American memory.

National Cemetery, Gettysburg, Pa. Simon & Murnane, c1913. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

Learn More

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