How I find and research a subject home.
Selection is a somewhat random thing but here are the most common routes.
- Historical significance. Does the house have a history that is of note? Was there a resident who was well-known?
- Local interest. Is the house well-known in the area for some reason?
- Aesthetic value. Is the house particularly attractive? This is of course totally subjective.
- Reader request. These are rare but happen and I always encourage more.
- Growth and Change. Does the house tell us about the growth and or changes in residential development in Portland?
- I’ve just driven by and wondered…
The research process normally follows the path shown below. Sometimes, if a piece of information gleaned is particularly intriguing, I may jump forward for a bit. In the end, I will still go back and cover ‘all the bases’.
- Photograph. I use my cell phone. I have fashioned a grip from a mini tripod that came with a cell phone photography accessory kit from a big box store. That kit also had a remote shutter trigger that runs on Bluetooth. This device is incredibly helpful as it removes the need to touch the phone to take the picture.
- Current ownership. The city’s tax roles will provide this data. In some occasions it takes a bit of trial and error to determine exactly what address the city has for the property. There will be a low resolution picture of the property to allow confirmation. Most important of all is the recent sales activity for the property. This will allow for starting point in deed research.
- Owner in 1924. As noted in the Resources page and Blog Roll, the City of Portland, as part of their 1924 reassessment, photographed all properties in the city. This information, including photos, is available on-line. It provides me with the photo but, more valuable for research, is the owner of record. This is a ‘marker point’ in the deed research which can help if that part gets challenging. There is also a whole picture of life in the city in the winter of 23/24. The people and activity captured can be entertaining and enlightening in and of themselves.
- Ownership history. Deed research is enjoyable, excruciating, elusive, enlightening and endless at times. The process of working through the references to ‘meets and bounds’ and ‘Book ***, Page ***’ requires a certain doggedness. Although the ‘meets and bounds’ isn’t really needed to work out the history as it deals with the physical dimensions of the property, it’s good to read them as changes happen. A reference may be made to a Right of Way granted to someone as an example. This work also carries the potential for the researcher to witness some rather depressing parts of life. Bankruptcies, divorces and death become common events noted.
Once this process is complete, I will have a timeline of ownership going back to the property being purchased by the builder of the subject. This timeline will have the book and page reference, date sale was recorded in the Registry of Deeds and notes on who bought or sold the property and other items of note.
- Historic research. This is a BIG bucket. It usually starts with city directories. These were often annuals so the data can be seen as fairly accurate. They contain information on the occupation of the resident and where they carried on said occupation. They are also helpful in allowing me to ‘track’ a person’s changing residences over time.
After reviewing the directories, I will often do an online search for relevant information for the various owners. This ranges from simple Google searches to more complex searches of census and other public records databases. Then I will move to mining local publications such as annual reports for the city and it’s various boards and committes, the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations.
At this point, I usually have a feel for the people who were residents of the subject home. Occasionally there is someone who, but for a few ‘blips on radar’, do not appear in the public record. For these I look for possible connections to people or organzations they were involved with. These connections can infer an idea of the persons beliefs or skills.
- Write the story. It all comes down to this. Taking all the information gathered and creating a compelling story is rarely easy. Some times the stories really do write themselves. Most times they don’t. It can take countless rewrites & reviews of the data, new research based on new information and sometimes just walking away for a while. If I were to create a ‘recipe’ for a story it would be something like this. Take equal parts historical data, historical knowledge and a grasp of language, add in liberal doses of pixie dust and unicorn farts, shake well and serve.