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!