Imagine going down to the cellar of your house and seeing "1423" carved in an original beam.
Our daughter once lived in Zurich, Switzerland. Her fascinating house on a historic street - Rennweg - in the center of town was on all the medieval maps at the city museum.
In the Middle Ages, it was the main street of the city's upper town and ran along the 12th century city wall from a fortified gate to the town hall. During street renovations, a Roman-era well was discovered.
Except for that carved date in an ancient wooden beam, a casual visitor would not have known the nearly 600-year-old building's history. Of course, other clues were the very steep steps, sloping floors and oddly-shaped rooms, but everything else was modern.
Wouldn't you love to know the history of your home? When it was built and by whom? Who lived in it through the years? How they were connected to the community in which they lived?
Unless preserved, this type of information is often lost.
In Ithaca, New York, a group of people have come up with a local project to preserve house history - one which could easily be replicated in places around the world.
Students in a free genealogy class at a Sacramento, California library used historic fire insurance maps to walk through their community's 19th-century history without leaving the classroom, according to this story in the Sacramento Bee.
Instructor Melinda Kashuba said these maps are "obscure resource that can let a person's mind wander down the streets of their forebears," and that researchers can learn a lot about the lives of their ancestors.
Here's an example, above left; for the larger image, see below.
These maps indicate schools, churches, businesses and more. All provide additional leads for researchers, according to Kashuba.
An 1898 map of North Bloomfield shows that the area between Main Street and a nearby creek was where Chinese workers lived.
A map of Truckee from the late 19th century said the area between a hillside and West Main Street was lined with "female boarding houses," or brothels, Kashuba said.
Mapmakers had noted that a brewery in Mokelumne Hill was lit by candles and had no night watchman, making it a poor insurance risk, she said.
What makes me even happier - in addition to teaching beginners how to use these maps - is that the class was part of the library's free genealogy program. Future classes will focus on finding New England ancestors and researching church records
The fire insurance maps - a main publisher was the Sanborn Map Co. (Pelham, New York) - were printed 1860-1940, and provided insurance companies data to determine fire risks of buildings and neighborhoods, without having to send an underwriter on a personal visit. The maps were the equivalent of today's Google views.