Thursday, January 6, 2011

Don't know much about history

What a wonderful world this could be ... if everybody had a rocking main library like ours :o)

Like every Thursday we trekked out to our main library downtown right after school yesterday, and while the munchkin enjoyed the awesome afternoon program in the children's department I sneaked ...snuck ... well, hurried upstairs into the Florida collection for some geeky house history research fun. And this time I brought my point and shoot camera along!

So here's the lovely view of the shelves that hold the city directories (think "phone directory/ white pages" even if in the beginning there weren't any or many phone numbers) - your first stop for quick and easy research of the who is who in your house's past:

Their covers might look different (ranging from green Naga hide to faded red hardcover and everything in between) and their individual parts can be arranged slightly different but it all boils down to
  1. street directory (usually found in the front in the early publications and in the back of the more recent ones and printed on colored paper)
  2. name directory
  3. glossary, etc.
Meet city directory 1967

(Don't be fooled - this book weighs almost as much as your firstborn)

So, armed with your address you want to look up you find those colored pages with the street directory. Note that if your street doesn't have a name but is an actual number like say, 3rd St, you will discover that at the beginning of the 19th century these were spelled out so you'll have to look under "T" for Third St. In more recent years, numbered streets are listed by number in order before "A".

Word to the wise: You don't want to start nilly-willy looking up years. Tracking past owners/occupants of the Ugly Duckling was very straightforward and easy and the biggest 'problem' are simply missing years of city directories. When I tried the same for the Triplex (remember this one here), picking a random date sometime between the year it was built and today I couldn't find the house number in the street directory anymore! It had vanished! When I finally backtracked year by year I discovered that at some point the entire street had been re-numbered and that what is today house number 1832 was house number 2032 50 years earlier. So while sometimes you might be able to look up the first occupant/owner right off the bat, if you can't, start at the beginning and track back year by year toward the year it was built to solve the mystery :o)

Anyways, back to our city directory. Find the colored pages for the street directory and hunt down your address

(Don't forget to enjoy the ads in the margins!)

Woot! You found a name! Easy, peasy! Before running off to run it through the Census, however, you can squeeze just a teeny tiny bit more information from those city directories. Go into reverse and look up the name in the name directory part of the book.

(A glimpse into life in 1967: a clerk, a retiree, a saleswoman, a waitress at
Lee's & Eddie;s Restaurant, a clerk at Blue Cross-Blue Shield, a maid, a widow ...)

If you're lucky you'll find the name of the spouse or whether the spouse passed away (and what his name was). You can also occasionally find information about the profession or even the place of work - little bits of information that help you piece together the history of just who your house was home to in past years.

There you have it! That wasn't so bad, was it? I have to admit I was sneaky. I spent all of 10 minutes with the city directories this time because I was busy with some humongous maps - I'll tell you all about it in my next blog entry!


  1. That is so neat! We were lucky that the seller of our current house left us a story written by the previous owner of all of the people who had lived in the home. We treasure it!


  2. How cool is that, you can go research the people who used to live in that house? It's like doing family history for the house! Wouldn't it be cool if you could trace it back to the people who first built, and try to understand their story somehow? AWESOME!

    - Brandt @ NewHouseOnTheBlog

  3. Brandt - It's loads of fun! you can read up on everything I've found so far on that page "house history" up on top.

  4. Isn't it fun to learn about your house? I'm surprised those directories give that much detail about people. And I love the retro look of the book.

    I just had a plumber give me an estimate, and when he stepped through the door, he said he knew the house. Twenty years ago, when he was in high school, he would come hang out with the kids who lived here. It was a crazy coincidence.

    Maybe I'll find more clues as I demolish the rooms. One can hope.

  5. Irina - Isn't it neat? I was surprised too when I got more than just a family name (I feared I would have to dig into real genealogy research much earlier) :o)
    What a crazy coincidence! We're keeping our fingers crossed that you'll find a time capsule somewhere in the house! Wouldn't that be great?