Researching with Maps
Added November 13, 2022
Old maps are a useful source of information for property-level and neighborhood research. While a single map provides a snapshot of a place at a specific time in history, a series of maps can help tell the story of how a place changed over time. They reveal changes in street names, the subdivision or merging of parcels for development, and the evolution of transportation networks. Today’s interactive maps are powerful tools that can be used to project historical information geographically in a way that helps us understand places in context.
As the sampling of maps noted below demonstrates, maps are produced for a variety of reasons and share all kinds of information.
Baist Real Estate Maps
Baist Real Estate atlases of Seattle were published in 1905, 1908, and 1912. The atlases show property ownership (for large tracts), plats, block and lot numbers, streets, buildings, sewers, water mains, electric railways, and steam railroads.
City of Seattle Side Sewer Maps
The City’s sewer records are flush with information! A side sewer includes all the piping located outside the footprint of a building, and the City kept great records of when these systems were initially installed. A database on the City’s website is searchable by address and brings up scanned images of the records and maps. They can be a great source for leads on the names of original owners, property developers, and builders.
A plat map, also known as a plat, records how a tract of land is divided into lots. It is drawn to scale and records the land’s size, boundary locations, and nearby streets. Much of Wallingford was platted between 1880 and 1930, but there are exceptions. We’ve collected many older plat maps from Wallingford and made them available here. They note the name of the property owner(s) who platted the land and note old street names.
Mapping Racial Restrictive Covenants in King County
This interactive map is a work in progress and the result of years of research primarily done by UW students and volunteers. Using property records from King County Archives, the map is a neighborhood by neighborhood look of at racial restrictive covenants covering more than 30,000 properties. This important work is ongoing.
King County iMap
Begin Your Research with Property Record Cards
Added August 20, 2022
Property Record Cards (PRCs) are a wonderful resource for local historians and property owners. These records were created by the King County Assessor’s Office to capture information through time necessary to value land and buildings for the assessment and collection of real property taxes by the County. They were first created through a survey funded by the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA). The survey began in 1937 and was completed in 1940.
The PRCs were updated by the Assessor’s Office through 1972, when they were replaced by an automated database and folios that served as field reference files. The PRCs contain information on individual parcels of property, including legal descriptions, building types, building uses, number of rooms, construction details, and at least one photograph of each building on the parcel. If significant exterior changes were made to the buildings, additional photographs were taken.
The original PRCs are filed at the Archives’ WA State Archives Puget Sound Regional Branch, Bellevue College (by appointment only). Call or email the archives staff with the parcel number to make an appointment. Some PRCs have been digitized and may be accessed via the State Archives website. Search the Real Property Record Card collection as shown in the screenshot below.
Protip: Look for names of owners and occupants on the cards and try to find them in the 1940 and 1950 censuses.
Discovering the History of Your Home: 1940 Census
By Kim England, Posted November 4, 2018
Who lived in your home in 1940? Who were their neighbors?
If your home was built before 1940 there is a good chance you can successfully search for it in the 1940 Census records (these are the most recent original census forms that are available). Be warned this can get a bit fiddly and you may reach a dead-end. We’ve found we got the best results using Chrome search engine or newer versions of Firefox. It is certainly a fascinating look at what Wallingford was like at the end of the Depression – who lived here, where they migrated from and what sorts of jobs people did. For those of you that enjoy this micro-level history of neighborhoods, whether in Seattle or elsewhere, it is a great resource.
A step-by-step guide to finding your address in the 1940 Census follows:
1. Go to: https://stevemorse.org/census/unified.html.
2. Follow the instructions on the webpage. Once the information is entered you will notice a long sequence of numbers in blue at the bottom of the page – these are EDs (enumeration districts) that fit the location criteria. As you enter more information, the list gets shorter.
3. Write down the string of numbers that results, it is helpful to have on hand.
4. In the box at the bottom check “1940 Census Pages” and click “more details.”
5. In the blue and white box that appears – go to “view” on the right. On the page that comes up you can reduce the size in the top right hand corner. Look for your block. Write down the block number (notice the 1940 ED number is the same as the one you wrote down earlier).
6. Go back to the page with the blue and white box. This time click on the number under “ED.”
7. A new page will appear. Under “Select the viewer you want to use,” click on NARA viewer (National Archives and Records Administration) – or if you are a member of FamilySearch.org or Ancestry.org – you can click on those viewers and this will usually get you the results faster.
8. Assuming you use the NARA option, this will take you to the first page of addresses that were in the particular ED that you selected. Now comes the very slow, tedious part – you have to go through the pages to find the right address (and for most EDs there are 25-30 pages)!
9. This means toggling back and forth between the “Universal 1940 Census Image Viewer” page and the resulting “National Archives” page. You will be clicking though the Image box on the “Universal 1940 Census Image Viewer,” but having the block number speeds this up a little. The block number is at the top of the Census sheet.
10. Once you get to the page with the correct block – on the left look for your street name and next to it the house number (these are under the column “location”).
11. Once you find the address you can find out who lived there, their age and several other things such as whether they owned or rented, where they were born, their occupation and income. If the columns are difficult for you to read, you can zoom in.
Discovering the History of Your Home: King Co. Parcel Viewer
By Kim England, Posted July 3, 2018
This is the first in a series of guidelines Historic Wallingford will offer to help you find out about the history of your house or apartment building and, if you live in an older home, the people who lived there before you. We are going to start with a resource that might already be familiar to you for different purposes: the King County Parcel Viewer. Most often people would go here to figure out appraised value, square footage and the like. However, if you live in an older building (1930s or older) you might also find old photographs of the property and use those to begin building the history of your home.
Parcel Viewer: Interactive map for finding parcel-related information
2. Under the description of the website, there is a blue button that says “Start Parcel Viewer”. Click it.
3. In the top left-hand box (on the beige background) there is a blank box with “by Address” and “search” next to it (make sure “Address” is visible in the pull-down menu – this is the default). Enter the address and click search.
4. On the page that results, you will be given the property’s parcel number (in a box on the left) and in the white overlay box. Write this down for future reference.
5. In the white overlay box, about three-quarters of the ways down is a link to “Property Report” (on the left) – click on this.
6. On the next page you will see six boxes across the top. Click on the one on the far right “Property Detail”.
7. On the next page scroll to the bottom and with some luck you will see black and white photos of the property.
8. Usually there is also an icon of a blue camera. Click the camera to see more pictures. Hopefully you can see what the building looked like decades ago!
NOTE: If you find black and white photos that have the address in white handwriting on them, they are usually the Works Progress Administration photographs from the New Deal era.
For the more tenacious among you:
If your home was built before 1940 there is a good chance you can successfully search for it in the 1940 Census records (these are the most recent original census forms that are available). We will write more about this in the future, but if you have patience and are somewhat tech savvy you might want to delve into a great website resource:
Follow the directions to find out what the enumeration district (E.D.) of the address was and then search the report for the address (each ED report is about 25-30 pages). You can find out who lived at the address, their age and several other things such as where they were born, their occupation and income, and the same again for the neighbors.
Be warned this can get a bit fiddly and you may reach a dead-end. We have found we got the best results using Chrome or newer versions of Firefox (Safari was too glitchy). It is certainly a fascinating look at what Wallingford was like at the end of the Depression – who lived here, where they migrated from and what sorts of jobs people did. For those of you that enjoy this micro-level history of neighborhoods, whether in Seattle or elsewhere it is a great resource.