Thursday, December 15, 2011

Those Places Thursday - House Histories

I am pleased to introduce Cath Madden Trindle as my Guest Blogger for the following article. Cath has considerable experience in researching house histories.  Thanks Cath!

Building a House History

Do you know who lived in your house?  Have you found all the information on the houses your ancestors lived in?  If not, you might be in for some wonderful surprises.
My first house history was done for a friend.  She paid for the records and I put in the time, with the understanding that I could use the results to put together a class.  Over the years, the class has been quite popular.  That house was in San Francisco and was built before 1906.  If you have ever looked at the age of a house in San Francisco, those built before 1900 generally say 1899.  The deeds and many other records were lost.  Even so, we managed to pinpoint the birth of this house to a small period of time. 

Using Sanborn maps (they show the footprint of the building), water tap records (the date the water line was hooked up to the property), newspapers (sales notices), the few existing Deed Registers (there are no deeds, but a few registers survived), block books (owner's names written in property outlines) and much more, it was possible to find the original owners of the land, the builders, the first owner of the house, all subsequent owners and many tenants.  The civil sword found in the wall was explained by the first owner having served in the Vermont infantry. The house was sold three times within a few months in the early 1920s.  Apartments were added during the depression. It is a wonderful house with a lot of history.

Patrick Geraghty
(Photo owned by Cath Madden Trindle)

More recently, I decided to learn more about the houses that my mother’s family lived in in St. Paul, Minnesota. My great-great grandfather Patrick Geraghty was a big burly Irishman who had trouble finding a place to rent when he arrived from County Mayo in 1884.  Silly landlords, he was the only teetotaling member of my extended Irish family.  In 1885 Patrick decided to build his own house.  It must have taken every family member working many hours to cover that expense.  He built a 16x24 brick and bracket house with a peaked roof for $500.  Just two years later in 1887 they tore the house down, added a basement and rebuilt the house 5 feet higher.  He added a new kitchen on the side and spent another $500.  All this information came from building permits that are housed in the Ramsey County Historical Society.

House on Topping Street
(Photo owned by Cath Madden Trindle)

 Unfortunately, Patrick did not have clear title to the land.  The courts stepped in and Patrick and three other homeowners on the block finally received their deeds in 1888 when it is recorded that he had paid $450 for the land.  I knew the family had lived in this house on Topping Street.  It was here that my grandmother remembers living while her widowed mother was off working in the Ryan Hotel to support the family.  It was here that she, at the age of four, would watch her two year old sister for the day.  Their Aunt was just below in the basement apartment, but they were on their own.  Patrick in the meantime moved on to a bigger and better house.....but 465 Topping stayed in the family until the 1940s. 
This is just one of many stories I’ve uncovered working on house histories.  Among the others is the shuffling address on Litchfield Street, which was confusing  enough to baffle the building department.  These two houses with three addresses were lost by bankruptcy and redeemed by family members.   Then there is the tiny lake house, down payment loaned by the Doctor who wanted my grandmother out of the city during the Spanish Influenza. From the records, the stories emerge, so much more than births, marriages and deaths.
Looking for a place to start?  There are some websites* and blogs that are devoted to house histories.  Look on the websites of libraries in the area, many are adding information on researching local houses.  Trace the deeds.  Who paid the taxes?  When was the property originally subdivided?  What was it before?  What type of architecture is it?  Most of all have fun and gather those stories about those places your ancestors and about the house that you live in!
About Cath Madden Trindle
Cath is a Certified Genealogist, serves as Special Projects Committee Chairperson for the California State Genealogical Alliance and writes for its blog, and is Treasurer for the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS).  She is the former Publications Chairperson for the San Mateo County (California) Genealogical Society, and frequently lectures for genealogical societies in northern California, the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree, the Salt Lake Institute and FGS. 

*Watch for Follow Friday tomorrow!

posted by Denise Hibsch Richmond

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