Unless we have been living out of suitcases in hotels for all of our lives, the places that we have lived in have an effect on the way we grow up, live our lives, and eventually look at the world.
Those who have always lived in the high-rise apartments in a large city have a different viewpoint than someone who grew up in a one-family house and lived there for many years. An example is a lady I recently met who lives in an 1830's farmhouse in rural, upstate New York. That old date is noteworthy in itself, but her neighbors live in houses that are not only old, but were the original houses of some of the early settlers of Oregon before they moved West from New York State. There is history in the walls that surround her, as well as in the people that live there.
So, how does one go about doing the genealogy, as it were, of a house? First thing - do you have a property abstract? This is the history or chain-of-title to a piece of property; it is compiled when a bank lends money for the purchase, when a title insurance company insures the ownership, etc. Often only 50 years are required for a valid chain to be established, but it is not unusual, in the Eastern section of the US, to be able to go back 150, 200 years, or more. Of course the house on the property may be younger. These abstracts are compiled using data in your county clerk or recorder's office, where all sorts of documents affecting people and their property are filed. You can usually find buyer, seller (grantee and grantor), and miscellaneous indexes, together with mortgagor and mortgagee.
Property can also be mentioned and valued in wills. I once wrote a local history pamphlet which had an inventory of a farmhouse, made in 1892. It showed what the man owned at the time of his passing; among other items, he had broken dishes, a few utensils, and so on. He was a modest farmer and not a squire of the land.
Ask your local librarians and historians for help. They can help you identify who lived in a house, using directories; find what kind of architecture it was; or when it may have been built, using old plat maps and the like. Where the house is located may have an interesting connection, and why it was built might be useful--was it a residence that became a private hospital, as one researcher whom I recently helped found?
Are there newspaper clippings in the house? Are these significant because of who lived there or who owned the property in bygone days, when nothing or another building stood on it? Does the local landmark or architecture society have any blueprints--those are the house's baby pictures. If a tax assessor has records, that may also show date of building. Governmental maps and survey offices may be helpful; and water bureau or gas and electric companies may have records of when service was started, or when the property blew up or burned down and was replaced!
For more on this subject, you may wish to consult the following:
About.com - http://genealogy.about.com/cs/househistories/
Cyndi's List - House & Building Histories
University of Delaware - http://www2.lib.udel.edu/subj/hist/resguide/house-bib.htm
House Histories: A Guide to Tracing the Genealogy of Your Home, by Sally Light
Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2004.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.
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