My paternal grandmother Mary Catherine Lahey was probably born at 308 Gloucester Street in Ottawa. Or, if she was not actually born at 308 Gloucester, certainly she lived at this address from her infancy into the second decade of her life.
And as Goad’s Insurance Plan of the City of Ottawa makes clear (click thumbnail preview, left, to see larger image), she grew up almost in the backyard of St. Patrick’s (then a church, now a basilica), at the corner of Kent and Nepean Streets.
Now, in this particular instance, I didn’t need a map to tell me that my grandmother had lived near St. Pat’s: having grown up in Ottawa, and having attended Mass at St. Patrick’s many times as a kid,2 I already knew that Gloucester between Kent and Lyon was very close to the corner of Kent and Nepean. But the fire insurance map provides a striking visual representation of the proximity of her wooden frame house at 308 Gloucester to the stone church at 281 Nepean.
And how do I know that the house at 308 Gloucester Street was made of wood? Because Goad’s fire insurance plan of Ottawa comes complete with a colour-coded key (a characteristic, indeed a defining, feature of fire insurance maps of the time): “Red are brick, blue are stone, yellow are wooden buildings, black are sheds, barns &c [etc.].” And 308 Gloucester is coloured yellow (while St. Patrick’s Church, R.C. [Roman Catholic] is coloured blue for stone, though nowadays we would call that shade a blue-green, perhaps).
Fire insurance maps can be extremely useful in genealogical research, and they’re also a lot of fun (for any value of “fun” that includes poring over the details of colour-coded street plans, that is: well, I think it’s fun, but as they say on the internets, YMMV).
For the US, the big name in fire insurance maps is that of Sanborn. Unfortunately, when the Sanborn maps were scanned for digitization in the late 1990s, they were done in black and white, not in colour (a pretty significant omission of crucial data: for fire insurance maps, the colour coding represents one of the main sources of information about building materials), though apparently they’re now being scanned in colour. For Canada (and the UK, and Ireland), the name of the game is Goad (see the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online for a brief biography of Charles Edward Goad).
Library and Archives Canada has an online, digitized copy of Goad’s Insurance Plan of the City of Ottawa (1888; revised 1901).
A note on 308 Gloucester: my great-grandmother Bridget Loretto Killeen can be found at this address from 1892-93,3 first as “Miss Bridget Killeen, dressmaker,” and then (after her marriage to John James Lahey, 12 July 1893) as “Mrs B.L. Leahy [Lahey], dressmaker.” Also at 308 Gloucester in 1892-93: Henrietta Moran, the great aunt of my paternal grandfather Allan Jerome Moran, who would marry Mary Catherine Lahey (daughter of John James Lahey and Bridget Loretto Killeen) in 1932.
- Insurance plan of the city of Ottawa, Canada, and adjoining suburbs and lumber districts, January 1888, revised January 1901 (Chas. E. Goad: Toronto; Montreal: 1901). ↩
- St. Patrick’s was not our parish, but my father liked to take us there from time to time when we were kids. ↩
- In Ottawa city directories. City directories can be an important supplement to, and sometimes substitute for, the census returns. ↩