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) 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

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.