26    Oct 20102 comments

House History: Document yours!

A house on Rennweg (Zurich, Switzerland), c1880

 Imagine going down to the cellar of your house and seeing "1423" carved in an original beam.

Our daughter once lived in Zurich, Switzerland. Her fascinating house on a historic street - Rennweg - in the center of town was on all the medieval maps at the city museum. 

In the Middle Ages, it was the main street of the city's upper town and ran along the 12th century city wall from a fortified gate to the town hall. During street renovations, a Roman-era well was discovered.

Except for that carved date in an ancient wooden beam, a casual visitor would not have known the nearly 600-year-old building's history. Of course, other clues were the very steep steps, sloping floors and oddly-shaped rooms, but everything else was  modern.

Wouldn't you love to know the history of your home? When it was built and by whom? Who lived in it through the years? How they were connected to the community in which they lived?

Unless preserved, this type of information is often lost.

In Ithaca, New York,  a group of people have come up with a local project to preserve house history - one which could easily be replicated in places around the world.

With the hope that others might be interested in collecting the genealogy of their own homes, the Municipal Historians of Tompkins County in collaboration with Historic Ithaca hope to encourage you to discover who lived in your house. Or to be more precise, we hope to be able to help you find and record the history of your house. We have called this the House History project and we invite you to join with us. Workshops will be held around the county by town and village and city historian and forms -- both long and short -- will be offered for your use.

A restored home in Brooktondale, NY

Read more about the project which was detailed in Tompkins County historian and author Carol Kammen's Pieces of the Past column here.

Imagine if each home came with a "house tag," kept near a fuse box or in a front closet? Each subsequent owner would add information, and new owners would understand more about their home and their neighborhood.

The group has also created a detailed two-page form for homeowners, making it easy to record changes to a property (adding of a room, a new roof or major renovation) and the surrounding neighborhood. Copies of the completed forms will also be archived at Historic Ithaca, available to all those interested.

In line with the project, the Lansing town historian held a library workshop where documents available to homeowners were discussed, including property deeds, maps and directories.

She told the attendees that one did not need to live in an older home - or an historic house - to participate. One person had built a new house - extensively documented - so that the next occupant will know  its history.

The event raised questions as attendees tried to date their houses or identify the architectural style. They shared stories about area houses, including those restored and those that had been abandoned.

The long form guides homeowners through a series of questions about the history of area lands. Ithaca's history began with land claimed by the Iroquois native Americans. After the Revolutionary War, northern Tompkins County was part of the Military Tract, lands given to the war veterans.  The original lots were each 600 acres. Only a few of the original lots remain; most have been subdivided over the past two centuries.  

The southern county was called the Watkins and Flint Purchase, and various size lots were sold by agents at a price of $2-3 an acre.

The house history asks owners about the architecture style, its builder, architect and/or developer, along with questions about neighborhood history. Historic and current pictures are appreciated.  Find the forms on the Historic Ithaca website www.historicithaca.org. They will also be provided at area workshops from November, conducted by the county's municipal historians.  The data collected should be of  interest to owners, to buyers, and added to the Historic Ithaca resource library, which is open to the public. 

The website provides information about upcoming workshops or how to request a "house tag" so homeowners can begin genealogy projects for their home.

You don't have to live in Ithaca or its environs to  begin to document your home, regardless of where it is located.

Do you know the history of your home? We look forward to reading your comments about your personal house history.

Search for your ancestors:

Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. We have been researching "house history" in Washington, DC for over 20 years, with over 1,500 histories to date! We are now posting most history online so others can share and enjoy. http://househistoryman.blogspot.com/
  2. I researched the history of our Queen Anne style home in Webster Groves, MO (outside of St. Louis) back to the original owner who had the house built in 1902. I actually used a lot of genealogical resources, ultimately locating the great-granddaughter in Chicago. She provided me with not only information about the family but also photos of the house and the family from 1902 forward. It was an amazing journey!

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