Friday, December 16, 2011

WikiHomePages.com - A New Site for Finding and Sharing Old Home Photos

I recently discovered a fun new website called WikiHomePages.com.  This site provides a location for people to find or share old photos of their homes.  This is a relatively new site so there isn't tons of content yet but I think it has great potential.

Share the Past

The site is very simple and easy to use. You can either browse homes that are already included or you can add photos and descriptions about homes you have lived in.

Browsing House Photos

To browse all you need to do is click on the map and select one of the pushpins for houses that have already been added. You may need to zoom in if there are many homes located in one area. WikiHomePages displays a photo of the house and the time period that the contributor lived there.  There is also a brief description about the home. Contributors have the opportunity to upload other photos of the house which show the house with former residents.  These are the most fun.  Photos can show the house during snow storms or holidays.  The retro clothing is an instant trip through time.

Adding Photos to the Site

I wanted to see how the process worked so I added a photo to the site. It wasn't actually a house that I've lived in but it was the ancestral homestead of my Edwards family for over 100 years.  The photo I contributed was taken during the 1960s when my parents went to visit cousin Lucy Dillenbeck, then owner of the house.  Interestingly enough, my father and I visited the home two years ago and met with the current owners. I'm sure current and future owners will be happy to find the photo.

Creating an Entry

Uploading a photo was also a simple process.  WikiHomePages asked me to provide the address of the house, the years I lived there and then include a small description.  Since I didn't live there myself I put the dates that my ancestors owned the property. I added quite a bit of information about when the house was bought and who owned it through the years.

Detail of a house entry
WikiHomePages asked me to agree to their terms of service and then the entry was uploaded.  New entries are not uploaded automatically which is what I was expecting.  If the site becomes very popular this could turn into a bottleneck. The house I added was 238 Dillenbeck Road in Fultonville, NY.

Changes for the Future

As the site grows and develops I would like to see some guidelines and an FAQ to help people with common sense.  For instance, is the website accepting photos of currently owned houses or not?  Also, are there any liabilities that people should be aware of when posting old photos of their homes?  I can't imagine that would really be the case for photos that are 10 or more years old.  It could, however, be an issue in the case of a last homeowner posting something that the current owner wasn't aware of, such as flood photos.

Summary

This is a fun, new site that has great potential to help people share the history of their homes as well as old house photos.  I hope that it catches on and many people contribute.  What a treasure trove of old house information we could accumulate!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Get Ready for the Holiday House Tour Season


December, with holiday decorations and festive atmosphere, makes for a popular time to have historic house tours.

Be on the lookout for tours in your area that will allow you the chance to see private historic homes that would otherwise be off limits unless you know the owners.

One tour that is coming up soon is the annual holiday house tour in Medway, Massachusetts.  This tour will be held on Sunday, December 11, 2011 from 3:00 to 6:00pm. Six Medway homes will be featured including the one see you above. The cost is $20 for tickets ($15 for seniors) purchased ahead of time at the Town Clerk's Office (155 Village Street, Medway) and $25 on the day of the tour.

Other towns with upcoming December house tours include Rockport, Abington, New Bedford, Beacon Hill, North Attleborough, Falmouth, Norwood and Sandwich, Massachusetts.  See the entire house tour listing on the Centers & Squares website for further information.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Using General Land Indexes

Historic Home in Windsor, CT
Last week I was researching a house in Windsor, Connecticut that will be used as an example in an upcoming talk for the Windsor Historical Society.  I went to the Windsor Town Hall with Bev Garvan, a Director and the society's unofficial house historian, to trace the deeds to the house.

While there I encountered a General Land Index for the first time.  I  thought I would share this with you in case you ever run into an index like this.

The General Land Index covers the years up to 1799 for land transactions in Windsor.  What makes it a General Land Index is that both the grantor and grantee indexes are in the same volume. 

Typically when at a town hall or registry of deeds you will find a series of grantor indexes and another series for the grantees.  In this particular volume you will find the grantor indexes on the left hand side of the page and the grantee indexes on the right.  Otherwise it appears as a normal index with the grantors and grantees listed alphabetically within the index.

If you happen to be researching deeds in Windsor, Connecticut you will soon discover that only one Index is a General Land Index.  All the rest follow the standard grantor and grantee series.  Please note that the Windsor Town Hall is digitizing the indexes so some of them are off-site.  Be sure to call ahead to see if the indexes for the years you need are available before driving in.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Taking a Stroll Along Palisado Avenue

Palisado Avenue is located in one of the Historic Districts of Windsor, Connecticut. Not far from the Farmington River, this picturesque district contains mostly 18th century buildings including homes and a church.  A beautiful common provides a spacious green anchor for the district. The avenue is also home to the Windsor Historical Society.













For detailed information about the historic district please see the Palisado Avenue Historic District National Register Nomination Form.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Discounted Admission to Historic New England Properties

I love to visit old houses and to support the organizations that protect them.  Admittedly, I like it even better when I can save a little money on admission.

Well, right now (and for the next six days) you can save up to 75% off admission to any one of Historic New England's 36 properties.

The offer is being extended through a program called BuyWithMe which I can only imagine is something similar in concept to Groupon.

From what I understand, if you buy your coupon through this promotion you pay $5 for two admission tickets instead of $20.  You have the next six days to purchase admission tickets through the coupon but you have until October 15, 2011 to actually visit the property of your choice.

You can read the fine details for yourself. Take advantage of this great deal and get out their and see some beautiful houses.  The best thing you can do to ensure the future of the properties is to visit them.


Disclosure: I have no affiliation with BuyWithMe (never even heard of them before) or with Historic New England. Though I do strongly support the mission and purpose of Historic New England.

Monday, June 20, 2011

How Long Does it Take to Do Deed Research?

How long it takes to research the deeds to your house can depend on a number of factors.  The most obvious being the age of your house.  The older your house the more deeds there are likely to be.

Here are some of the other things that will impact your deed research:

1) Number of Owners

You can have a very old house with only a few owners and you can have a young house with three times as many owners.  I researched an 1840 house that had only five owners.  That is relatively few for a house that age.  It only took me a few hours to research all the deeds because there were so few owners.  Likewise, I have researched houses that were built in 1900 or later that have had thirty or more owners.  Some houses seem to change hands more frequently.  The more owners there are the longer the deed research will take.

2) Reference to a Previous Deed

Most deeds today make reference within the document to the previous sale by listing the former seller and the previous book and page number.  Finding this kind of deed reference is ideal for smooth sailing through deed research.  Unfortunately, at a certain point in time older deeds stop offering previous deed references.  This various by county and state.  Some counties, like Norfolk, Massachusetts are very good about providing the reference even in the 1800s.  Other counties, like Middlesex South and Essex Counties in Massachusetts are far less likely to have deed references even for early 1900 deeds.

When deed references are missing, the researcher in New England is forced to use the grantor and grantee index to chain their way back through historical deeds.  This is a much slower process, requiring you to first refer to the index books and then to seek out the deed books.  This can be further complicated by the names of the owners as you see in our next item.

3) How Common Are the Owners Names?

 If you are forced into chaining a deed through index research, a big component of your search will be how common the owner's name is.  The indexes are sorted alphabetically by surname within each county (within groups of years).  If one of the owners of your house is named John Adams and he lived in Norfolk County, Massachusetts then you will likely find hundreds of possibilities.  Finding your property amidst all the Johns Adamses can be a very slow process.  Further compounding the problem, some deed books will list the town the property is located in and some won't.  Without the additional help of the name of the town you could spend an hour or two sorting through deeds just to find your property.  In this case you must be very careful to read the land descriptions within the deeds to make sure you have the right property.

4) Speculators and Investors

Around the year 2005 we saw a lot of talk on tv and in books about flipping properties.  People were buying properties, fixing them up slightly and then turning around and selling them for a profit.  Flippers, or speculators as they have long been known, have been around since the early days of colonial land grants.  You can find a speculator in 1900, 1800 or 1700.  You'll know when you bump into one.  You'll search the deed index and find them buying and selling many, many properties.  My heart always sinks when I run into a speculator because it can mean a major slow down to my search process if the properties are not clearly identified in the index.  Likewise, wealthy investors or land owners have also bought quite a bit of property, though they tend to hold onto it longer than speculators.  Either way, if you bump into the speculators or investors hope that they have a unique name or you'll find yourself spending a few extra hours of research just on those one or two transfers.

As you can see, deed research has many variables that can impact the amount of time that your research will take.  The only thing that will help speed up the process is experience.  So jump right in and get familiar with how it is done.  The more you know the easier it will become.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

American Heritage Contest offers summer prize package for Old Home owners

Old House Journal online is sponsoring an American Heritage Contest where you can win $800 worth of prizes inlcluding a hammock with a stand, an American Flag kit and a premium gas grill.

In order to win you need to submit an essay on "What 'America' says to you."  The fun thing is you can answer the question in one of two ways - either with a 2-minute video or a written essay. They want to know how your old home embodies the American Spirit.  You can find more details on their website.

This sounds like fun!  Get the kids involved and you'll have a video in no time.  The contest ends July 15, 2011 so don't wait around thinking about it.

Disclosure: I have no connection to Old House Journal. I receive their emails and thought it would be a fun thing to share.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ghosts and House History Research

Today, as I was finishing up project work at the Registry of Deeds, a woman stopped me and asked for help. She was researching her own house.  After I got her back on track, she shared with me that she was researching her house to try to identify the ghosts that were providing some activity in her home.  She said there was a little girl and an older gentleman.  The older gentleman was not as sweet tempered as the little girl.

I'm a big fan of ghost stories.  I love reading them every fall.  I particularly love the "true" ghosts stories just for the potential that they might be true.

I'm intrigued by the concept of ghosts and old houses.  I want to believe in ghosts but at the same time I'm not so sure that I want to come face to face with them.

I love the idea of independently researching the history of a house and seeing if the information matches up to the ghosts that dwell within.  I know that there are paranormal groups that do this sort of thing. I don't really want to get that involved but I would love to try it once or twice.

If you have a house with ghostly activity in Norfolk County, Massachusetts then contact me and let me know! I'd be willing to research the history of your house to see if we can figure out who the ghosts are.

If you don't live in Norfolk County I still want to hear your ghost stories! How often do ghosts and old houses go together?  And have you ever tried to research the history of your house to figure out who the ghost is?

You can email me privately (rambles (at) fieldstonehistoricresearch.com) if you don't want to write a  public comment.

I hope someone takes me up on my offer!


Photo Credit: Photo by glenngould used under the creative commons license.

Friday, June 10, 2011

19th Century Homestead Photos

Maureen Taylor is internationally known as the Photo Detective.  She analyses old photos using various clues from within to try to determine who is in the photos and when they were taken.  In a recent column for Family Tree Magazine Taylor looks at 19th Century Homestead photos. Historic house lovers will enjoy reading this article and learning how Taylor gently pries the secrets from these old photos.

How many of you have homestead photos, either of the historic houses you live in now or that have been passed down through the family?

I don't have any myself but one of my distant cousins has one that is displayed on the family website.   It's an absolutely gorgeous photo with a beautiful Victorian home located in Avoca, Steuben County, New York.


Photo Credit: Photo by  Don O'Brien (dok1) used under the Creative Commons License

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The House with Nobody in It

This poem follows up nicely to my post yesterday, "Capturing the Past Before it's Gone."  Thanks to Jane for bringing it to my attention.  This is a really lovely poem and exactly how I feel about empty, old houses.

The House with Nobody in It

 by Joyce Kilmer

Whenever I walk to Suffern along the Erie track
I go by a poor old farmhouse with its shingles broken and black.
I suppose I've passed it a hundred times, but I always stop for a minute
And look at the house, the tragic house, the house with nobody in it.

I never have seen a haunted house, but I hear there are such things;
That they hold the talk of spirits, their mirth and sorrowings.
I know this house isn't haunted, and I wish it were, I do;
For it wouldn't be so lonely if it had a ghost or two.

This house on the road to Suffern needs a dozen panes of glass,
And somebody ought to weed the walk and take a scythe to the grass.
It needs new paint and shingles, and the vines should be trimmed and tied;
But what it needs the most of all is some people living inside.

If I had a lot of money and all my debts were paid
I'd put a gang of men to work with brush and saw and spade.
I'd buy that place and fix it up the way it used to be
And I'd find some people who wanted a home and give it to them free.

Now, a new house standing empty, with staring window and door,
Looks idle, perhaps, and foolish, like a hat on its block in the store.
But there's nothing mournful about it; it cannot be sad and lone
For the lack of something within it that it has never known.

But a house that has done what a house should do,
a house that has sheltered life,
That has put its loving wooden arms around a man and his wife,
A house that has echoed a baby's laugh and held up his stumbling feet,
Is the saddest sight, when it's left alone, that ever your eyes could meet.

So whenever I go to Suffern along the Erie track
I never go by the empty house without stopping and looking back,
Yet it hurts me to look at the crumbling roof and the shutters fallen apart,
For I can't help thinking the poor old house is a house with a broken heart.
Joyce Kilmer
http://www.poemhunter.com/

Since this poem was written in 1913 I presume that it is in the public domain and that is why I am reproducing it in full here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Capturing the Past Before it's Gone

Do you have any regrets about not saying or doing something before someone you loved passed?  I feel that way about old houses.  I'll see an old house that is in danger of being demolished.  I think to myself "next time I'll stop."  Inevitably the next time I pass by the beautiful old house is gone.

To prevent any further sense of regret I carry a camera with me everywhere I go.  No longer will I pass an old house that is a testament to history and not stop to record its existence.  No longer will I say "If only I had stopped..."

The truth is many historic homes are in danger of demolition.  We pass by them all the time in our communities.  Perhaps we can't do anything to stop their decay or inevitable demolition but we can stop to preserve their existence for posterity.

Here are a few snapshots of dying houses that I have captured recently in Norfolk County, Massachusetts.  They may not be beautiful to you now but once upon a time they were new and elegant. At least these few won't be forgotten.



Monday, May 23, 2011

Historical Societies: An Easy Way to Strike Gold

Need a little motivation to re-energize your house history research? Visit your local historical society.

If you are lucky, your local society will have file cabinets that contain surnames files or street files.  These are files that are organized alphabetically by either last name or street name.  These files can contain a treasure trove of information but be prepared for a little work (if you are lucky enough to find the files).

Street Files

Street files you can dig into right away, even if you haven't started your house history research yet.  Select the file that contains your street's name and take a peek.  Keep in mind that the file will contain information regarding every person or building on the street not just your house.  Or perhaps it will just refer the street in general. You may have to do some digging before you find something specific to your house.

Surname Files

Surname files will contain everything about people with a certain last name.  In order to make use of this file you need to have already done your deed research and discovered the names of the people who used to live in your home.

The files will be alphabetical by last names such as Blake or  Smith.  Over the years, society staff will insert any information they find relevant to that surname.  If there are multiple families in town with the same last name you will have to do some work to figure out who belongs to which family.  Then you can determine if they are connected to your house or not.

The Down Side

There is a down side to using surname and street files.  Often these clippings are made hastily and the publication names and dates are clipped away from the articles.  If you are lucky, someone may have handwritten the date or the publication name.  But more often than not you are left with a helpful article and no way to source it except perhaps by the content that it contains.

This is a great reminder for researchers that when you photocopy or save something to your computer be sure to save the date and name of the publication so that you or someone else can find the original source again in the future.

A Nugget of Gold

I recently visited the Natick Historical Society in Natick, Massachusetts where I was very happy to discover both surname files and street files.  Here's one nugget of gold that I found during my trip:


Jonathan Perry of Dover has a cow
twenty-four years old in March, hale and
hearty, giving a fair mess of milk, and it
is about seven years since she has had a
calf. Mr. Perry says that he shall keep
her till she dies a natural death and bury
her as she dies. Mr. Perry also has some
bottled cider fifty-two years old.

There was a handwritten note that this article was dated 1877.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Find Your House in Historic Newspaper Advertisements

A fun way to learn about your house is to find historic newspaper advertisements. It wasn't unusual for 19th century and earlier homes to be sold after a homeowner died. Sometimes the proceeds of the sale were used to settle the estate. This is one reason we can find advertisements of homes for sale in historic newspapers.

Elihu Fuller, a wheelwright, bought his home in East Medway (now Millis), Massachusetts in 1822. He died unexpectedly  from typhoid fever in 1852. His house was put up for sale to pay the debts of his estate. An advertisement in a local newspaper gives a very descriptive look at what the house and property was like in 1852.


The advertisement describes a two story home large enough for two families located on thirty-five acres with a two story shop, barn, other out buildings and an orchard of fruit trees.  It also describes its location near two churches, a post office and "good" schools.

This advertisement provides a rare look into an earlier time period.  Shortly after this advertisement was run the property was divided into smaller pieces and sold off.

Where to Find Newspaper Advertisements

You can search for newspaper advertisements if you have already done your deed research and know the names of the previous owners of your house.  Armed with those names you can search online historical newspaper databases such as those found online at Ancestry.com (subscription site), The New England Historic Genealogical Society (subscription site), the Boston Public Library's database "America's Historical Newspapers (1690-1922)" and Genealogybank.com (subscription site).

Free access to Ancestry.com is available from many libraries so be sure to check with your local library to see if they have it.  Also, the Boston Public Library offers eCards to residents of Massachusetts.  You can apply online (no need to visit the library).  This will give you access to the Boston Public Library electronic databases.

Of course, you can also search newspapers on microfilm which can often be found at your local library.

Searching for newspaper advertisements with just a name can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. An easier way to find historical advertisements specific to your house is to look in probate records.

Advertisements from Probate Records

When a house was sold as part of the settlement of an estate, often a copy of the advertisement (like the one above) was included in the probate packet.  Advertisements aren't found in every case.  You will, however, find a document that lists the newspaper that the advertisement was placed in.  The document will also list the dates that the advertisement was published.  With this information you should be able to locate a copy of the historical newspaper, perhaps in your local library or a nearby larger library.  If not found there, try the Boston Public library which maintains a large collection of New England newspapers on microfilm.

Have fun searching for historic advertisements of your house and let me know if you have any questions.

Photo Captions:


1. 1853 advertisement listing for sale the house and farm of Elihu Fuller of Medway, Massachusetts
2. The house of Elihu Fuller, now located in the town of Millis, Massachusetts, as it appeared in 2010

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

5 Ways Homeowners Can Help Save Historic Houses

Economic downturns are not just difficult times for people looking to make ends meet, it also creates a challenging time for historic houses. When money is tight people are under too much stress to maintain or preserve historic houses.  This is the time that many beautiful, historically important old houses are lost to demolition.

You may love your historic home and take great care of it.  But two owners down the road, there could be a different situation and the preservation of your house might come under threat.

Here are five simple and inexpensive things homeowners can do now that can help save your house down the road.

  1. Take photos of the exterior of your house and the property.  The ideal time is when you buy the house.  But if you have been living there for awhile and haven't done it yet, do it now.  This will create documentary evidence of what your house looked like now.  Do it again when you sell the house.

  2. Document and photograph any original architectural details in your home.  If you're not sure if something is original, document it anyway.  Later an expert can make the determination if necessary.  Some items may include exposed posts and beams in the attic, stair rails, paneling around fireplaces and original windows.  These items all have potential to be hidden or removed by future owners.

  3. Do Deed research.  Document the previous owners of your house. If your house comes under threat of demolition someday in the future, it will save the historical commission or other interested parties a great deal of time in determining historical significance if the deed research has already been done.

  4. Create a binder that contains all the information about your house.  A simple binder, perhaps with sheet protectors, can help preserve your house by having everything you know in one location.  Include local maps, your photos, your deed research and any information you have culled from books or your own research.

  5. Share what you know.  It's not enough to research your house.  To truly protect your house you need to share what you've learned about it.  That way, someday in the future, if your house needs protecting, preservation advocates will have the information they need to demonstrate the historical significance of your house.  Consider sharing your deed research, photos or other items with the local historical society or historical commission.
Take the time now to help safeguard your house for the future.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Eye Candy: Milford Town Hall


Milford Town Hall, Milford, Massachusetts
Built c. 1855
(click on the photos to enlarge)



Friday, February 25, 2011

Can Social Media Save This House?

A Beautiful Federal period house in Massachusetts is under severe threat of being demolished if it can't be moved to a different location.  The owner is willing to sell it for $1 but it needs to be moved.  Times of economic hardship are the worst for trying to save our heritage.  Will we lose yet another old house?

The circa 1780s 
structure “was once 
one of the most magnificent dwellings in Federalist era Dudley,” the Historical Commission reported.

We are hoping that through the use of social media that perhaps we can reach enough people to find that one right person who is willing and capable of taking on this project and rescue the house.

History in Brief

Year Built: c. 1780
Location: Dudley, Massachusetts
Significant/Original Owner: The Reverend Abiel Williams, minister in Dudley for 32 years

You can see more photos of this house in the Preservation Massachusetts photostream on Flickr.

The Preservation Massachusetts website contains an article entitled "The End is Near for  Rev. Williams House" which it considers "as one of the state’s Most Endangered Resource."

The Historical Commission in the Town of Dudley has worked hard to find someone willing to take the house but so far no one has stepped forward to take on the project.  The 12-month demolition delay expired in November 2010 but as of right now the house is still standing.  If a benefactor is not soon found the house will surely be demolished.

More information about the house appeared in an article in TelegramTowns.

A plea to help this house also appears on the Evolving Critic blog. If you have a blog and feel strongly enough about trying to help save this house, please consider writing a blog post to help get the word out.

If you or someone you know can step in and help save this house please contact the Town of Dudley, MA, Historical Commission.

Photo Caption: The Abiel Williams House, Dudley, MA. Copyright: Preservation Massachusetts

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Finding Historic Maps of Belmont, MA

Finding maps of your town is one of the most helpful activities when researching the history of your house.  Maps can help fill in the gaps when you run into trouble with your deed research.  Many old maps contain the names of the resident or property owner on them.  This could be just what you need to break through an obstacle in your research.

Belmont, Massachusetts

Belmont is not really a very old town as far as Massachusetts towns go.  Belmont was incorporated in 1859 from the much older towns of West Cambridge, Watertown and Waltham. That means that maps of Belmont are available from 1859 to the present.  For earlier maps of what is now Belmont you will have to identify which town your house was originally located in and then seek out historical maps of that town.

Ancestry.com

Ancestry has 4 maps (in multiple files) of Belmont in its Historic Land Ownership and Reference Atlases, 1507-2000 collection.  Ancestry.com is a paid subscription site but you can access the maps for free by using the computers at the Belmont Public Library.

Belmont Assessor Plans, 1931
Belmont, 1875 from a Collection of Middlesex County Maps
Belmont, 1889 from a Collection of Middlesex County Maps
Belmont, 1900 from a Collection of Middlesex County Maps

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps were created by insurance companies to be able to calculate fire risk.  They never intended for them to be used by historical researchers.  But the Sanborn maps are some of the most helpful in learning about houses over a period of time. These maps are available both in print form and in a database.  The Waltham Public Library is the closest library in the Minuteman Library Network that still maintains this database.

The years available for the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for Belmont are 1905, 1910, 1915, 1922, 1931, 1931-1949 (incomplete).

Other Options

You can even find maps embedded in history slide presentations, like this one about Belmont by Jane Sherwin (2009).  The map on slide two shows a Belmont Soil Map from the US Deptartment of Agriculture. I'm sure you could find the map in another location but the audio interpretation presented here is very helpful in understanding Belmont.

The Town of Belmont has an online Zoning Map from 1944 that displays the usage of town land.

Unfortunately I didn't find any maps of Belmont in the Panoramic Maps Collection on the Library of Congress site, nor in the BPL online Map Collection, The Massachusetts Historical Society Map Collection or the Old Maps of New England website.

Belmont maps are also in numerous historical books about the town.  You can find a complete list of Belmont books on the Belmont Library website.

Photo Caption: Detail of 1875 Belmont Map, Ancestry.com, Historic Land Ownership and Reference Atlases, 1507-2000 Collection.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Next Stop - The Belmont Public Library

The New England House Historian is on the road again - this time to Belmont, Massachusetts.  Learn how to research your Middlesex County historic home.  Discover how to do research using an archival trail of records such as deeds, maps and censuses.    It is free and open to the public.

"Researching The History of Your House"


Presented by the
BELMONT PUBLIC LIBRARY

Time: 7:00 pm EST
Date: Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Location: The Belmont Public Library, 336 Concord Avenue, Belmont, Massachusetts

See my website for my complete lecture schedule.

I hope to see you there!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Capture History as it Happens

You many think that the history of your house is something that happened in the past. In fact, the history of your old house continues to grow with every passing year and you are becoming a part of it.

Why not try to capture historic moments as they happen? Record them with your digital camera so that you (and future owners) will have a permanent record of the event.

This winter parts of New England have been pounded with record snowfall. Many towns are struggling to find a place to put all the snow. Historic homes are completely surrounded by white fluffy stuff. Many have picturesque yet dangerous icicles hanging from the eaves.

Get outside and photograph the snow just after the storms hit. But be careful! Walkways and driveways can be slippery.

Historic House Photo Project

After capturing the historic snowfall consider taking three more photos of your house this year in the height of spring, summer and fall. Then purchase a four-photo frame and display the seasons of your house proudly on your wall all year long.




Monday, January 24, 2011

Blogging About Your Old House

Do you live in an old or historic house? Are you thinking of researching its history? Perhaps you are starting to renovate your home. Why not blog about it and let the world in on your discoveries?!!

What is a blog?

A blog is an online format similar to writing a daily journal that allow people to share their thoughts and photos. Because the writing is chronological, the blog posts are often brief and quick to read. What you are reading right now is a sample of a blog and blog post.

Where do I get a blog?

Blogging is free and there are two main sites to get started blogging.  One is Blogger.com and the other is Wordpress.com. Blogger is easier to use but Wordpress has nicer templates.  If you are an average computer user stick with Blogger.com.  If you are more advanced and want more control then try Wordpress.

How do I get started?

Getting started is really easy.  Go to Blogger.com and press the button orange "Get Started" button.  If you have a Google or Gmail account already then just login.  If you don't, Blogger will create one for you and ask you a series of questions.  These include your email, asking you to create a password and some other minor stuff like accepting the terms of service.

Next, blogger will ask you to name your blog. In the last step you will choose a template for your blog.

Ok Now What Do I Do?

Now you are all done creating your blog. The only thing left to do is press the New Post button.  You will need to give your post a title.  In the main box write what you would like to share.  For a first post, people often write an introduction describing what their blog will be about and why they are writing it.  Include a photo if you have one.

Tips on Writing Blog Posts

Blog posts are best when they focus on specific pieces of information.  For example one post might be about a trip to the registry of deeds, another might be about fixing the old windows in your house.  The possibilities are endless.

Blogging Inspiration

Sometimes viewing other examples is the best way to get inspired before you get started on your own.

Here are some Old House Blogs to help you get going:

This Old House: restoring a 17th century townhouse is Gloucestershire

The Grange House - follows the restoration of an historic house in Connecticut

The 'Iolani Palace Insider 

Restoring Our 1900 Bungalow - A bungalow in Iowa

Two Cats in the Yard - About restoring a house in Portland, Maine

A Coastal New England Dutch Colonial Home - Restoration of a home in Tiverton, Rhode Island

Have fun getting started and, as always, let me know if you have any questions or encounter bumps along the way.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

3 Tips for a Successful Research Trip to the Cambridge Registry

I recently made another trip to the Middlesex South Registry of Deeds in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  This registry can be one of the more challenging to get to and to research in.  Here are a few tips to make your trip more successful.

1) If at all possible, take public transportation

Being located in a city, the Cambridge registry is more challenging to drive to.  If at all possible take public transportation.  The registry is a very short walk from the Lechmere MBTA subway station (Green Line).  Either park at one of the outer lying subway stops or take the commuter rail in and the switch to the subway.

If you do drive in (I admit I always drive), be prepared to circle like a hawk to find on-street parking.  The streets around the registry have parking meters, however, it is a very busy area and spots can be hard to find. If I can't find a spot close by I will park as far away as Charles Street and walk the 4 or 5 blocks.  Have lots of quarters handy.  It will take 8 quarters to park for two hours.  The down side of metered parking is that you have to interrupt your research every two hours to move your car or add more quarters.

There is a parking garage available nearby.  I don't know the cost (probably in the $10-$20 range) or the exact address (I believe it's on 2nd Street).  There is also the mall parking garage a bit further away on First Street. I prefer the game of feeding the meeting to paying loads of money.  

2) Don't Wear Your Finest

Most of the deeds books are located in the basement (aka the dungeon) of the courthouse.  There aren't any staff down there to impress or to help you, so you will be on your own to find what you need.  The shelves are tall and generally a mess.  The books are dusty, musty, large and some are falling apart.  It is best to wear comfortable, durable clothes that won't tear or otherwise get damaged by handling big books.  You will use a lot of exertion to get the books so if you have any physical limitations bring a "volunteer book shelver" along on your trip.

In the wintertime it feels like they keep the heat at a tropical 75F.  This poses a challenge if you are dressed for a blizzard.  If you park close enough, leave your heavy coat in the car and wear just a single layer of clothes with a light jacket.  If you park further away you'll have to measure your tolerance for the long cold walk versus the hot house temperatures of the courthouse and find a balance somehow.

3) Take Very Careful Notes

If you need to use the indexes in your research be sure to take very careful notes!  The indexes, both bound books and computerized indexes, are located on the 4th floor.  Most of the deed books are located on the first floor.  If you make a typo and write down the wrong book and page number, you will find that you have to make a lot of time consuming trips up and down the elevator.

The Middlesex South Registry of Deeds is located at:

208 Cambridge Street
Cambridge MA 02141
Tel. (617) 679-6310
Fax (617) 494-9083

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Find Old Photos of Your House on eBay

Looking for old photos of your house?  eBay is a great place to start.  There is an active old photo market with thousands of photos on eBay.

At the turn of the 20th it was popular to find photos of houses on both stereographic photos and "real photo" postcards. You might find your house on either type.

Here is an example of an old stereographic photo on eBay from Medway, Massachusetts. Click on the photo to enlarge it (you can still see the photo even though it says "Ended").  Also, click on the 2nd photo which shows a larger view of the house.  This is the same house as the current photo to the right --->.

Notice how the house has changed.  In the original photo there were shutters on the windows and a fence which are now gone.  Also, the recessed doorway has been covered with an outer door. But otherwise the house looks remarkably similar.

[Please note that eBay auction items are available for a limited time only.  At some point that link above to the old photo will no longer work.]

Searching for Your Own House

To find photos of your house go to the Photographic Images section of eBay.  Then search under the name of your town, state.  Better yet, set up an eBay alert to send you emails whenever a photo from your town is for sale on eBay.  To set up an eBay alert you will have to have an eBay account.

Good luck! I hope you have great success finding old photos of your house!