Searching the Historic American Buildings Survey

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Searching the Historic American Buildings Survey

Searching the Historic American Buildings Survey

HABS team in 1934 measuring the Kentucky School for the Blind. (Courtesy HABS, Library of Congress)

Interested in searching the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) to find a connection between an ancestor and a specific place?

HABS was established in 1933 when Charles E. Peterson, a young landscape architect proposed the project. It was initially founded as a “constructive make-work program for architects, draftsmen and photographers left jobless by the Great Depression. By creating an archive of historic architecture, HABS provided a database of primary source material and documentation for the then-fledgling historic preservation movement.”

Today, a division of the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) administers HABS, the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), and the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS). Records include “556,900 measured drawings, large-format photographs, and written histories for more than 38,600 historic structures and sites dating from Pre-Columbian times to the twentieth century.” The collection is managed by the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress.

When I searched HABS for churches in Cook County, Illinois, I got 149 hits for multiple buildings. Several hits were for churches where my relatives worshipped.

Searching the Historic American Buildings Survey

HABS, the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), and the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) document historic places in the “United States and its territories through a comprehensive range of building types, engineering technologies, and landscapes, including examples as diverse as the Pueblo of Acoma, houses, windmills, one-room schools, the Golden Gate Bridge, and buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.”

The Library of Congress notes:

The HABS and HAER collections are among the “largest and most heavily used in the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress. Since 2000, documentation from the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) has been added to the holdings.” The collections document “America’s built environment in multi-format surveys comprising more than 556,900 measured drawings, large-format photographs, and written histories for more than 38,600 historic structures and sites dating from Pre-Columbian times to the twentieth century. This online presentation of the HABS/HAER/HALS collections includes digitized images of measured drawings, black-and-white photographs, color transparencies, photo captions, written history pages, and supplemental materials. Since the National Park Service’s HABS, HAER and HALS programs create new documentation each year, documentation will continue to be added to the online collections.

 Searching the Historic American Buildings Survey can help your genealogy research, too.

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2 Comments

  1. Michael 5 February 2017 at 4:35 PM

    I’m always struck by the amazing projects that came out of the Great Depression and the WPA-esque initiatives. Never knew about this particular survey. Thank you for sharing.

    • Sassy Jane Genealogy 5 February 2017 at 5:54 PM

      Yes, so much wonderful history and culture saved with FDR’s alphabet soup New Deal programs!

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