Get Started with HistoryForge


Since HistoryForge is an open-source project, you can either install and run it yourself, or let us do it for you. This process takes a certain level of technical expertise, if you are interested in HistoryForge but do not have the technical expertise to install it yourself, please contact us.


Let us help you

The History Center in Tompkins County will gladly install, host, and maintain your HistoryForge website.

To find out more, please contact us.

Experts only

Do It Yourself

HistoryForge is an open source project hosted on GitHub at historyforge/historyforge.

The README contains installation instructions.


Before you get started, compile a list of available resources and their locations such as maps, city directories, and resources that help locate buildings and people.

Census Records

Census records for your community are available for free on FamilySearch (

We recommend using FamilySearch for HistoryForge because it allows users to adjust the census image directly from the site making it easier to view.

Determine which census year you will start with. HistoryForge currently covers the US Census from 1880 to 1940. We will be adding the 1850-1880 and 1950 Census in the future. We started with the 1910 Census because the 1910 Sanborn Fire Insurance Atlas was the latest and most comprehensive that the Library of Congress had made available at the time. You might decide to start with a specific census year based on the available resources, local history interests, or for other reasons.

Note that the 1880 Census was the first to include columns for street name and house number, however, some communities did not have standard addresses included in the census until much later.


Many Sanborn Fire Insurance Atlases have already been digitized by the Library of Congress as well as a few other libraries and are available to download for free.

Check local archives and repositories as well as nearby college and university libraries for other historical map sets.

Census Enumeration District Maps for the 1900-1940 US Censuses can be found on FamilySearch.

City Directories

Check local archives and repositories as well as nearby college and university libraries for city or farm directories. If your institution digitizes city directories for this project, make sure they include OCR (Optical Character Recognition) so your volunteers can easily search them.

Not all communities had directories printed at regular intervals. Knowing the historic resources available for your community can help determine which censuses to focus on initially and whether you can find alternative resources that will help you locate people.

We are currently developing workflows for communities that did not historically have standard street addresses. If you are interested in learning more, contact us.

Alphabetical list of street names and spreadsheet of street name changes

Creating a list of street names from the closest city directory to the census year you will be transcribing is a good quick reference for transcribers. As your project grows, we also recommend creating a spreadsheet of street names for the different census years if one doesn’t exist. That will help to determine which street names changed and when.


We have compiled manuals for each of the census years, which each have their own challenges. Here are some examples:

1880 HistoryForge Census Manual

1940 HistoryForge Census Manual


Volunteers bring expertise and enthusiasm to many different aspects of the project. Reach out to people in your community and to those with family ties to your community.

  • Hosting group transcription sessions are a good way to train new transcribers and create community.
  • Invite classes or clubs from local high schools and colleges to a transcription session.
  • Hold open training sessions for map layer construction.