Using maps for house & neighborhood history

You can find lots of detailed information about your neighborhood, your street, or even your house from maps.  The maps below have historical information about property ownership, building footprints, old out-of-date addresses, and more! 

Digital Sanborn Maps. Library resource containing digital versions of Sanborn fire insurance maps for Oregon, Washington, and California, for various dates. Compiled for insurance companies, these maps show the location and composition of buildings.  They also note potential fire hazards like gas stations, lumber mills, movie theaters, bakeries, and show the location of steep slopes, water mains, and other infrastructure details.   Maps for Gresham, Troutdale, and Portland are in this collection, as are maps for the former cities of St. Johns, Albina, and Multnomah (now all part of the city of Portland).  Be ready to enter your library card number and PIN; this is a special library resource! (If this collection doesn't have what you need, take a look at the Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability's list of Sanborn Insurance Maps Covering Portland, Oregon that are owned by other libraries and archives.)

The Portland Block Book. Two-volume book of maps of the city of Portland, circa 1907, showing ownership of residential property and other real estate information.  You'll need to know a property's legal description -- the name of the addition/subdivision and the block and lot numbers to use this book.  You can usually get the legal description of a property from PortlandMaps (see below).  Visit Central Library to use this two-volume set in person.

Metsker's Atlas of Multnomah County, Oregon. Atlases showing the names of property owners (for larger lots), lot lines and street names. The library has Metsker atlases from 1927, 1936, and 1944, as well as atlases for Clackamas, Washington and most other Oregon counties.  Visit Central Library to use the Metsker atlases in person.

Historic Resource, Reference, and Historical Maps. Digital images of historic maps from Portland's Planning & Sustainability Bureau. Includes the General Land Office cadastral (survey) maps of Portland from 1852, an 1894 map showing the methods of pavement in use throughout the city (detail at left), a 1955 aerial photo of the central city, a 1943 streetcar map, and many more.

PortlandMaps. Maps and current property information for Portland and much of the surrounding area, including maps, tax information, crime data, school and park information and more.


  Questions? Ask the Librarian.


I am interested in finding out a little information/history on the previous owners of my father's home. I grew up in this home and my father still lives at [removed]. We moved into the home some time I think in 1971 and afterward my parents bought the home. Since around the time we moved into the house there have been many strange happenings on and off for many years. We of course believe there are possibly a couple of spirits in the home. It is only recently that I have decided to check into it. I wasn't sure where to start, but thought possibly I might be able to find out previous occupants of the home. Can you direct me in the right direction. Thank you. Shannon Cabrales
Hello Shannon, and thanks for your question! I have some suggestions for how you might get started research the people who lived in your childhood home, which I'll get into in a sec. . . . . . . . . . First, though, I want to make sure you and all our other readers know that librarians are always happy to help you with your house history questions (and questions on any other topic!). The best way to get personalized help is to email, text, or call (all our contact information is on the Contact A Librarian page, – or of course, ask when you are at a library in person! . . . . . . . . . . Okay, back to your question, Shannon! Usually the first place I go to find out who lived in a Portland house is the old issues of the Portland city directories (they're in the library catalog at: These are like phone books, but they have even more information! The first Portland city directory that had a cross-reference listing by address was the one published in 1930. . . . . . . . . . . Now I have to digress a bit: Portland went through a citywide address system revision in the early 1930s, and most address numbers and some street names and designations changed. The library has a really great cross-reference to old and new addresses (it's called the Directory of Street and Name Changes, by the Crane Directory and Mail Service, and it's in the library catalog here: I used this directory to find out the original address of your dad's house: . . . . . . . . . . It used to be 2017 E Pine St. . . . . . . . . . . Armed with this knowledge, I looked in the 1930 Portland city directory to see who lived at 2017 E Pine St. Here's the listing I found: . . . . . . . . . . Potter Roy V (Viola) carmn PEPCo h2017 E Pine. . . . . . . . . . As you can see, this listing is chock-full of abbreviations! Here's what it means: Roy V. Potter lived, with his wife Viola at 2017 E Pine St. Roy was a carman, meaning he worked on the streetcars, and his employer was the Portland Electric Power Co. (which ran, among other things, a streetcar line). . . . . . . . . . . I hope this helps you get started, Shannon! If you have more questions, give us a shout using Contact a Librarian (, or ask the next time you're visiting a library. We'd be glad to help you do more to research the history of your childhood home! . . . . . . . . . . . Thanks again, Emily-Jane, reference librarian
Would like to find info on owner of this house built in 1908. Christmas present for my son and his wife.
Thanks for your question! We've just posted a new series of blog posts on finding out who lived in your house called "Who lived in my house?" which should give you a good grounding in how to research past owners. The first post in the series is at: . . . . . . AND: any time you have a detailed question it's best to direct it to the library's Contact a Librarian service (, where you can get a personalized reply -- or of course you can ask the librarian on duty when you are at the library in person. Thanks again! --Emily-Jane, reference librarian
Our house is at 8130 SE Madison Street in Portland, Oregon 97215, and was built in 1912. I only know the owner's name from 1995 to 1998. Property tax records in Portland Online do not show its previous owners. I am sure it was a farmhouse, because the garage looks like a barn. Also, we are surrounded by newer homes, interspersed with older ones like ours. Thank you.
Thanks for your question! Actually I recently wrote a whole series of blog posts about finding out who lived in your house (the first one is at: Take a look and see if that helps you get started with your research! . . . . And, like I said to a previous commenter, any time you have a detailed question it's best to direct it to the library's Contact a Librarian service (, where you can get a personalized reply -- or of course you can ask the librarian on duty when you are at the library in person. Thanks again! --Emily-Jane, reference librarian

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