Step 4: People History of Your House
Knowing the history of the people who lived in your house can shed light on the building use and social heritage. Some of the questions to ask are: Who was the original owner? What role did he (usually) play in the community? Did any historical events take place within the walls of your house or on the grounds? Often the changes made to a house indicate changing family needs, usually occurring at the time of a marriage, birth or death. Investigating the people associated with a property may provide clues for those breaks in the title chain. For many people the social history of a house is more important than the architectural history.
A. The Paper Chase
1. Deeds – Chaining the title of your property. Information found on a deed: grantor/owner; grantee/purchaser; cost; description of property; how it changed hands (inheritance, sale, gift, foreclosure); date of transaction; number of acres sold; book and page.
2. The Process:
– Locate deed and (preferably) get photocopy for reference.
– Extract the above information.
– Record source of information (Example: Sullivan County Registry of Deeds, Newport, NH Book 165, Page 78, 5 May 1860)
– Create a timeline, tracing the owners back from your purchase.
– Critically assess your data by asking questions such as: Were the parties related? (Middle initials can indicate family names.) If an administrator or guardian is cited, is there a relevant obituary around that date? How was the property paid for? Was it purchased by a single man, but a wife’s name appears when sold? Was the property sold at public auction?
3. Glitches that may cause breaks in the title chain:
– Deeds may only be recorded when a property passes out of a family.
– Multiple deeds may be involved, as people often owned half shares.
– Boundary descriptions of early deeds can be unclear: get to know the neighbors.
B. The People Chase
1. Begin by interviewing past owners; they may also share photographs.
2. Talk to neighbors and older residents of town.
3. Wills, found at County Probate Court, may give more specific information such as names of people inheriting, a list of furniture, trade tools included. They also provide a date of death.
4. Look for other court records such as: tax records; creditor records; insolvencies; tax foreclosures; name changes; guardianships; adoptions.
5. Genealogy research provides vital statistics: birth, marriage, death records.
– Libraries and historical societies have local histories and genealogies.
– Use Federal census data (compiled every ten years since 1790) to build a family tree of all who lived in the house.
– Other information available from census records: neighbors, values of real estate, if the home was owned or rented, occupation of occupants, heritage.
– Consult special Manufacturing or Agricultural census schedules.
– The State census can provide information for years not covered by Federal.
6. Other sources to check are: county histories; town directories; business directories; telephone books; newspapers (articles, ads, obituaries); photographs; postcards; fire insurance maps; early town maps; road lists; tax lists; local building permits; cemetery records; funeral homes; church records.
7. Maps. Insurance maps and early town maps often give names of owners and may indicate the use of buildings.