Friday, November 12, 2010

What Can You Find in Assessors Tax Records?

Assessors tax records can give you a surprising amount of information about the people who used to live in your home. Tax records provide information about houses, other buildings, land and in this particular case, bank stock.

These examples are from Medway, Norfolk County, Massachusetts.  Medway printed the tax assessor's records in the town reports every five years from the mid-1800s to likely the early 1900s.  Even though they were only printed ever 5 years, the records were created on an annual basis.  Some towns actually printed the records in their town reports each year.

Example 1: Addison P. Thayer, 1856 Medway Town Report


Addison P. Thayer lived in what is now 2B Oak Street in Medway.  From the tax record you can see that he owns 3 houses.  He is also a factory owner and has other buildings.  In addition to his manufacturing work he still has tillage, meadow and sprout land.  The total value of his bank stock is also included.  Thayer was assessed a total tax of $41.63 for the year 1856.  From this information you can surmise a lot of about him, his occupation, and his quality of life.  Listed above Addison is his father, Cephas, who also had considerable holdings but was more heavily involved in agriculture and livestock.

Example 2: Francis Darling (and other misc Boston residents), 1856 Medway Town Report


I provided this example to demonstrate that the owner of your house might not have lived in it or only lived in it part of the time that they owned it.  The partial list above shows tax assessments for non-residents of Medway, MA.  The people above lived in Boston but still owned property in Medway.  Many of them, based on their last names, likely had strong family connections to Medway.  They perhaps had moved looking for work or better opportunities.

Note that Francis Darling owns 2/3 of a house.  He likely inherited that from a relative.  It is probable that since he didn't live in the house, but he still owned 2/3 of it that another relative lived there.  That relative may also have been tending the agricultural land for him.

Most assessor's tax records are listed alphabetically so you will need to know who owned your home during a particular year.  The easiest way to find that out is to chain the deeds to your house.

Stop back and let me know what great things you found in the tax records for your house.

Friday, November 5, 2010

House History Research in Rhode Island

Are you the home owner of a historic house in Rhode Island?  Are you ready to start researching the history of your house?


The Rhode Island Historical Society has made the process a lot easier for you. On their website they have provided (in pdf format) a six page House History Resources Guide.  The document provides a bibliography of Rhode Island specific resources, a list of Rhode Island resource contacts and a dirctory of land and probate records in Rhode Island.

This document provides everything you need to get started.  When you get stuck, come back to this blog and post your questions.  We'll get you through all the bumps of researching your house.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What is a House History?

What is a House History?

Believe it or not this is not an easy question to answer. It all depends on who you ask. But I'll take a stab at it.

A house history is a compilation of information that relates to the history of a house. At the very minimum a house history can be a collection of old photographs showing a house at various times through the years. Perhaps is a scrap book that contains photos and newspapers clippings of neighborhood events or mentions of the people who lived in the house.

Others might interpret a house history as an architectural or structural history where the style of the house is described and physical changes of the house are noted.

Still to others, a house history is the story of the lives of the people who lived in the house over the years.

A house history can encompass some of these things or all of these things. It's really up to the individuals who live in an older house.

For me, a house history starts with the deeds. I like to have a copy of all the deeds to the house (or at least a list specifically referencing the deeds). I also like to have census records for all the the years the house existed. I like to write a summary of the history of a house to tell the story of the folks who lived there. The summary is drawn from a myriad of information such as tax records, census records, newspaper articles, various primary source documents, town histories and on and on. I also like to include two kinds of photographs. The first set of photos are what I call the baseline photos. They are images of the house at the time the house history was created (ie present day). The other type of photo I like to include are historical photos - as many as possible. To that, add a smattering of historical maps and plans. Pull that all together and you have yourself a house history.

The Finer Details

I find that people often have specific questions about their house such as why is there a gravestone in the basement or was the house moved.  Another important aspect of a house history is trying to answer those questions that people are specifically interested in.  Part of the fun is the journey to discover the answer.

What is a house history to you?

Does a house history mean something completely different to you?  What would you like to know about your house?  I'm sure I've left out many possibilities.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

CT State Library Adds Architectural Survey for 7 New Towns

The Connecticut State Library announced recently that they have added seven new towns to their online collection of historic homes.  The towns include Lebanon, Ledyard, Lisbon, Litchfield, Lyme, Madison and Manchester, Connecticut.  The information is from the WPA Architectural Surveys done between 1934 and 1937.  You can read the full announcement here.

The collection provides mostly old photographs which will be of great interest to home owners, preservationists and historians.  The building profiles do also contain varying amount of text with architectural and other details.

For instance, the Thomas Hunt House (Lebanon historic building 009) provides quite a bit of exterior, doorway and interior architectural description.  It also notes that the home was built in 1722, remodeled circa 1760 and that the rear ell and porch were added circa 1822.  This is great information for a home owner who might not have found that information before.


Unfortunately, most of the photos are titled numerically by town name (example: Litchfield Historic Building 001).  To get around this be sure to look in the far right hand column for the name of the original owner.  That will provide easier recognition of the house.


Also note where it says Current Owner, it is referring to the owner of the house during the 1935-1937 time frame and not the owner at present.


The Connecticut State Library wants your help!  If you know more information about the historic houses featured on the website, their history, or their address they ask that you email them with the information.  A contact link is provided within each historic house profile.


Photo credit: The Thomas Hunt House, Lebanon, CT, from the Connecticut State Library Collection.