Monday, October 21, 2013

House History Research in Massachusetts just got Easier!

A terrific event has made house history research on historic Massachusetts houses even easier!

It used to be that you could do research online on the county Registry of Deeds sites until you hit the wall - that point where they stopped indexing the deeds. For Norfolk County that means the year 1900. For Middlesex County South that means only as far back as 1974. In Franklin County you can go back to 1958.

While it's great to have any deeds online, if you have a house built in the 1700s you are not going to
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be able to research very far back until you have to go the Registry in person to find the rest of the deeds.

Help has come in the form of, the site created by the Mormon Church.  The Mormons are very committed to family history research and have become a major provider of online records for free to help people in their research.

Earlier this year add a database called "Massachusetts, Land Records, 1620-1986" which provides images and indexes for all counties in Massachusetts.  The images of the deeds and indexes are not themselves indexed but you can use the images of the index books to find the book and page numbers of the deeds you need. While this may be a bit cumbersome it certainly does save a drive in person to the Registry and if you are researching from outside of New England it is an absolute blessing previously not available.

The images contained in the database are scans of the actual index and deed books from each Massachusetts Registry of Deeds. These images have been available in their original form, on microfilm, for quite a long time through the Family History Library based in Salt Lake City, Utah. With the advance of technology, FamilySearch is now digitizing many of these microfilms and we were lucky enough that this particular record group was selected. There is detailed information about the record group, including known issues, available from FamilySearch.

The deeds available will vary county by county and there is some variation in the years that are available for deeds vs. deed indexes. For instance, Hampden County has Grantee and Grantor Indexes from 1636-1909 while the Deeds themselves only cover 1638-1901. Hampshire County on the other hand covers Grantee and Grantor Indexes from 1787-1986 and Deeds are available from 1789-1900.  You will have to check your county to see what years are available.

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While having these deed resources online is a major advantage, there is still a bit of an online gap for certain counties, especially those that are not indexed back to 1900.  For instance, the Middlesex County South Registry of Deeds site mentioned above is indexed back to 1974.  On the FamilySearch site deed indexes are available from 1699-1950.  That still leaves a 24 year gap for indexes. And the actual deed images are only available on FamilySearch up to 1899 which provides a 75 year gap for viewing the deeds themselves. 

For genealogists, micro historians and local historians the new deed images are going to provide an extraordinary research opportunity online for the very first time. For house historians who are researching their house from the present and working backwards it still provides a gap and does not prevent a trip to the Registry (with the exception of certain counties) but it will save an immense amount of time once you have gotten back to 1900 in your research.

Another advantage is that you can view and save copies of the images to your computer for FREE. The option of saving deeds images for free is not always available from all the Registry of Deeds sites. A number of them charge per page if you wish to save or print them.

Go explore this tremendous new resource and then let me know how it helps improve your research!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Please Help Save One of the Earliest Brick Houses in America

The Peter Tufts House, Medford, Massachusetts (1677-1680)
The Peter Tufts House, Medford, Massachusetts
I received an email from Ryan Hayward of The Preservation Collaborative. He is seeking help getting word out to help save the Peter Tufts house in Medford, Massachusetts. This is one of the earliest brick houses in America (1677-1680). Please volunteer to help in any way if you can.

Here's the information from Ryan:

Dear Friends,

The Peter Tufts House needs your help! For many of you who don't know me personally, my name is Ryan Hayward, a historic preservation consultant (from The Preservation Collaborative, Inc.) who lives and works in Medford, Massachusetts. I have a number of preservation projects underway, but nearest to my heart is my volunteer effort to help the Medford Historical Society, a non-profit organization, raise awareness for one of the oldest brick houses in America (1677-1680). They have allowed me to spread the word that they are looking for volunteers to form a committee which will take charge of preserving this National Historic Landmark for future generations. This is where you come in!

I am asking you to review the enclosed press release (below) from the Society and distribute anyone you think would be interested in assisting this organization. They are seeking a number of professional skills and I know there are individuals out there with these expertise's. We need your years of experience! The preservation community has been challenged; united, lets show that we have strength and can provide the support the Society needs towards realization of their goal.

For those unfamiliar with the Peter Tufts House, it was constructed in the last quarter of the seventeenth century. It is well known architecturally for a number of features: one of the earliest gambrel roofs, the circular port windows and its beautiful colonial revival interior. It has been saved in the past by a number of caring individuals including Medford's first mayor, Samuel Crocker Lawrence, and later by William Sumner Appleton. For many years, the house was known as the Old Fort or the Cradock House, for its supposed association with Massachusetts's Bay's first Governor and original grantor of Medford settlement.

Since acquisition in 1982 (from SPNEA, now Historic New England), the building has been occasionally open for tours and was home to a full time caretaker. Deferred maintenance has finally caught up with the building, and it is in need of significant amounts of work. The committee will be charged with drawing up a work plan, then seeking out grants and funding to make rehabilitation possible within the next few years. The Society, to the best of its ability, is trying to keep the building in public hands. It honors the intent of the many donors who provided the original money to purchase the building. Although appearing daunting, the work before this board is managable and can be done! A number of organizations have faced (and conquered this very same issue); now it's our turn.

I look forward to hearing positive response from this and, of course, if you have questions/comments and suggestions, please feel free to send them along to either myself, or to the Society's President below!

Thank you for ALL your support and everything you do to help ensure New England's rich heritage stays alive for the next generation!

Ryan D. Hayward
The Preservation Collaborative, Inc.
40 Sheridan Avenue Medford, MA 02155
781 241 7253

Begin Press Release:


From: The Board of Directors of the Medford Historical Society, John Anderson, President

Date: 6/5/2013

The Peter Tufts House at 350 Riverside Avenue, Medford was built around 1678. It is one of the oldest brick houses in America. Peter Tufts, Sr., the first owner, emigrated from England around 1640. A descendant, Charles Tufts, provided 200 acres and a large sum of money to found Tufts University in 1852.

The house was purchased by William Sumner Appleton, the founder of SPNEA, in 1929 and subsequently gifted to SPNEA. Eventually, faced with the cost of maintaining so many historic houses, SPNEA decided to dispose of some of their properties. In 1982, the Medford Historical Society purchased the house from SPNEA (now known as Historic New England), with the purpose of keeping the house in the hands of a non-profit organization that would operate it for the benefit of the community.

During the last 30 years, the house has been open for tours from time to time and also used on occasion for academic research. A long term tenant is in the process of moving out.

Now, the Medford Historical Society finds itself in the same predicament that SPNEA faced 30 years ago. We do not have sufficient resources to maintain the house and are considering putting the property on the market for sale to a private party. Fortunately, SPNEA placed a number of conservation restrictions on the property 30 years ago so that regardless of who owns the property, it cannot be torn down, built onto, or have its historic features altered by any owner.

We believe that grant money could be secured to improve the property. Then we could rent to new tenants and generate the income necessary to sustain the house for a number of years. But the Society does not have the volunteer resources to manage this effort.

We will keep the house if a committee of five to seven qualified volunteers comes forward and is willing to take responsibility for managing the house. "Qualified" means:

Expertise: The committee must include people with the following skills:
- Property Management (relations with tenants, routine maintenance)
- Historic Preservation (knowledge of available resources, best practices, etc.)
- Construction Management (how to administer and oversee relatively complicated projects)
- Fund Raising (Grants, donations, etc.)

Personal Commitment:
- The committee members commit to staying on the committee for at least three years.
- They will be unpaid volunteers.
- The committee chairperson attends the regular monthly board meetings of the Historical Society.

Results Oriented:
- The committee will be responsible for drawing up and executing a plan for stabilizing and maintaining the property. The plan will be subject to approval by the Society board.
- The committee will commit to a timeline for fund raising and repair projects. While the dollar amount is not yet determined, it will be in the $50,000 to $100,000 range, not counting funds from the Society treasury.

- The Board needs to be up and running by July 31, 2013 and work with the Society Board to establish a timeline for subsequent activities.

This message is being sent to:
- Medford Historical Society Members
- Medford public at large through Medfordmass Listserv
-The Medford Historical Commission and Historical District Commission
- Historic New England
- Tufts Kinsmen Association
- Mass Historic Preservation email list

 If you are interested in this exciting opportunity to conserve this important property and maintain public access, please contact John Anderson, President, for more information. Please include a summary of your relevant experience. John can be reached at or 781-395-5138.