Thursday, December 17, 2015

Historic Home Research

Thank you Lisa for hosting the blog last week. You did an outstanding job! Let me know anytime you want to host it again!

One of the challenging questions we regularly receive at the Medina Library is how to track down the history of a house. Sometimes a member just wants to know more about the home they have fallen in love with. Sometimes people are searching in order to renovate the home. Sometimes they want to track down the spirit that is haunting their home. Whatever the reason, the research methodology is the same.

All houses have a history. But without documentation, we may never know
what that history was. Doesn't this house look like it had an interesting history? 
 I came across this home while doing family research in southern Ohio.

First some disclaimers!

  1. Not every house or building has historical significance. Once, a young man asked for help in researching the history of his home. When questioned for more details, he revealed that his house was only 15 years old. Not much history to be uncovered there!
  2. If a house was built during a building boom (like right after WWII) or is part of a development, there probably isn't a lot of history to be uncovered. My own home was built in 1953, soon after WWII. Although I know all the owners from over the years and I know that it was renovated in 1983, there are no other written records to reveal any of the house's history.
You might be able to find out that an area like the one above was
a hay field or an orchard before the development, but not much more.

    3. Most often, there is NOT a collection of photos of homes, whether they are old
       or not. This is the saddest request. Certainly, homeowners took pictures of 
       family activities with the home in the background and may have taken 
       pictures just of the home. But those photos follow the  family and hardly ever 
      get passed on to the new owners. There are exceptions:

This is an aerial photograph of the farm where I grew up. It was popular
to have such photos edited, colorized and framed. The framed copy had the
outhouse and several other unsightly buildings removed. The white dot to the
right of the driveway is me!

Years after our family had left the farm, I gave the current owners the framed copy.
They were thrilled!

    4. If your home is a notable historic home, you might be able to find more 
        information, but remember, this is the exception, NOT the rule! 

Because the Library receives this request fairly often, we have developed a finding aid that will help you do Historic Home Research and you can access it from the Library's web site or click on the following link:  Historic Home Research 

The brochure will guide you in doing the research and will refer you to the best resources and web sites.

Two useful resources not mentioned in the brochure are aerial photographs and county atlases. 
  1. The Medina County Soil and Water Conservation Office conducted aerial surveys of Medina County for every decade from the 1930's to the 1970's. They can help pinpoint how a piece of land has been used over the years. If the scale is large enough, you might be able to make out any buildings.
  2. There have been several county atlases published over the years. Buildings on the land are indicated by little squares.  If you suspect that your home might have been built in the 1800's, the 1874 or 1897 atlases might give you a better idea of when the house was built.
While this blog and the brochure focus on doing historic home research in Medina County, the process would be similar elsewhere.


Anonymous said...

Were you waving to the plane in the photo?

Sue said...

Great information, Kathy. So interesting!

Kat said...

Yes, I was waving at the plane. Our parents told us to stay indoors because they knew the plane would be taking a picture that day. When we heard the plane I ran outside to watch it take the picture!! I was six years old!