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 (subscription site), The New England Historic Genealogical Society (subscription site), the Boston Public Library's database "America's Historical Newspapers (1690-1922)" and (subscription site).

Free access to 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)