Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Old House History: How to be your own "History Detective"

You may have seen the PBS show "History Detective" you hand over some artifact and "magically" they find the answers. In real life it is not that easy but Sometimes it is.

We just "lucked out" on a key piece of the history of our house which I would have eventually found but it would have taken a lot of time to do and well we are in the middle of a restoration.

As you all know, the article was in Mondays Enquirer about our House restoration and our efforts to turn around the neighborhood. By sheer luck, someone with a link to the history of our house came forward with this intriguing piece of history about our house, stopping by after the article came out and passing along this card to our neighbor who keeps and eye out on the neighborhood and watches our place like a hawk.

We knew from our elderly neighbor across the street who has lived in the neighborhood since the 1950's, that our house was build by someone who was in the stone business. A fact we were able to confirm by large amounts of stone in the landscaping and our Peculiar stone columns, Only one of which remains and obviously was an architectural piece "adapted' to use as a columns. We found pieces of tombstones used as fill behind some stone steps. Our 24 inch thick foundation wall was clue that someone "overbuilt" this house. Now we know the who and why. The back side of this calling card has a Bid form on the back. No long drawn out contracts, no legalese, just a simple this is what i will do and this is what it will cost.
As it turns out this descendant of the original owner has family photos showing the house. I can hardly wait! So where do you go? How do you research the ownership of your house?

Well the first place to start is the county auditors office, in Cincinnati: and use the property search icon.
Simply search by address and go to the transfer tab. This will show real estate transfers on your house . Now how far back this goes will vary . In our case it went back to 1982. In other cases it will go back further I've found some back to the 1950's. If a previous owner of your house still lives in the county you can search records by name and see if they still own a house in Hamilton County. That will give you a start. Now normally these records are not going back 130 years so what are other options?
One place to start is the Hamilton County Genealogical Society: for a fee they can find records .

Other resources: National Archives:

Census Records: Both and Heritage have digitized census records.
City directories: Often city directories are by address and you can locate owners that way.

Sanborn Fire Maps" Sanborn maps can often show important addition to your house as well as narrow down year of build.

Google Searches: Try search by address, by neighborhood (if appropriate) or names if known. Tip: always search for addresses on either side of yours. Sometimes you can track down people who may have photos showing your house in the background.

Immigrants: Many immigrated and you can search the Ellis Island immigration records.

Library of Congress , Habs/Haer: has over 5000 digitized records and photos related to Cincinnati . (You might luck out!)

Researching your house history can be a rewarding, and time consuming project, but well worth the effort if you are considering a National Registry Nomination. As for us? I'll keep you posted if we get to see any original family photos showing our old house.


Todd McFarland said...

I just recently discovered the heritagequest link on the library's website. What a tremendous resource. It links you to the original census documents. In my case, I found out the name of the domestic servant living in my house in its early years. So cool.

Quim said...

You didn't mention the local historical society. have you had any luck with them ?
Frankly, I have not in the past.
Some of the neighborhoods, like College Hill, have historical societies, too.