Thursday, November 2, 2023

HistoryForge Mapping Project for Schenectady County

An exciting new project is underway at the Grems-Doolittle Library! As many of our researchers and members know, the library’s collections include an impressive number of maps, photographs, deeds, and survey documents from around the county. These materials and the information they contain are vital to a variety of research topics, but many researchers struggle to use them effectively. One of the most frequent questions we receive is “where is this place today?” Reading maps and matching textual or photographic data to geographic data can be difficult, and researchers often ask for assistance in deciphering the information. Trying to match a historic document to a physical place in our modern world can be frustrating! The SCHS librarian and library volunteers are working on a new tool that will greatly improve this kind of research: HistoryForge! 


1892 Schenectady City atlas map showing part of the Stockade neighborhood (Grems-Doolitle Library Map Collection)

HistoryForge is an open-source platform that integrates the historic demographic data in census records, directories, and other sources, allowing for its visual representation on historic maps layered over a Google Map. The result is a powerful tool for any community in the United States to explore its past. It was first designed by Bob Kibbee, the former Map and Geospatial Librarian at Cornell University, and David Furber, a software engineer. The project was launched by The History Center in Tompkins County, New York, in 2016. After several years of refining the software, the project is now an open-source, online environment available to any community to adopt and adapt to engage with their local historic maps, censuses, and documents. Last year, the HistoryForge project received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. As a part of the NEH's "A More Perfect Union" initiative, the grant allows The History Center in Tompkins County to continue to improve the open-source software, add more data, and engage more partners. The SCHS Library was invited to partner with the HistoryForge team to test new features, refine user manuals, and suggest improvements to the project. We’re joining partners from around the country to help build a full-featured web environment that will provide a new way of exploring local history!

HistoryForge layers historic maps, photos, census data, and directory data onto a live Google Map. This allows users to see the geographic connections between people, buildings, and historic materials. HistoryForge users can review records connected to individual people, buildings, and businesses to see detailed information, documents, and photos. Searching the census and directory data, researchers can create map visualizations which will help them discover patterns, track how neighborhoods and demographics changed over time, and explore unfamiliar locations.


State Street, Schenectady, NY (Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection)

To bring this valuable tool to life, we need your help! HistoryForge is powered by volunteers. Community members build the project by transcribing census records, entering building information, connecting digitized documents and photos to people and building records, and constructing historic map layers. Volunteers can work on this project in person at the SCHS Library or at home on their own computer. Volunteers need patience, attention to detail, a commitment to accuracy, and experience typing. We’ll provide all of the training and instructions volunteers need to successfully build the database and connect records to the map. If you’re interested in volunteering, please complete our HistoryForge Volunteer Interest Form or contact Marietta Carr, SCHS Librarian, at

As we add information, data, and maps to the HistoryForge, researchers will be able to see our progress at

1905 City of Schenectady and Village of Scotia Atlas (Grems-Doolittle Library Map Collection)


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