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.