Monday, November 15, 2010

An Article in Waiting

I finished up a house history article today for my local newspaper.

At the outset it looked like it would be a fairly straight forward project. I did my own deed research and there was also some other information from previous researchers.

But this project proved to be troublesome. Two researchers had done some previous deed research on this house. One was a valiant effort by an inexperienced researcher that contained a number of gaps. The other research was very good and I recognized that it was done by a friend of mine. But unfortunately it only addressed the very early deeds.

My own research had a similar gap that I found frustrating. Why couldn't this one deed transfer be reconciled?

I could have written the article without resolving the conflict but it was nagging me too much. I felt uncomfortable writing an article that I didn't feel 100% concrete about. I felt I needed to know that my research was solid before I could see it printed in the paper.

So I headed over to town hall and went through the original tax valuations year by year. That told me definitively who owned the property and when. That made it easier to head back to the deeds. Problem one solved.

To deal with the other issue with the same house history, I scoured maps until I was satisfied I understood who was in the property and when. But it turns out that I really resolved all my lingering doubts my broadening my scope and turning the project into a genealogical project focusing on the whole family. When I understood the dynamics of the greater family relationship I was able to finally understand the history of the house.

In this particular case, the father owned and lived the family homestead. He also owned a smaller property that is the target of my research. He sold the property I'm researching to his oldest son in 1862. I discovered that he sold his homestead property to his other younger son the same year. Knowing that the oldest son was a boot maker while the younger son was a farmer like his father made all the difference. Suddenly, the division of these properties made sense.

I feel slightly crazy for being so stubborn about not writing the article until I really felt I had resolved the problem and understood the answer. I made my deadline but I spent hours more than I should have. It's just that I'm uncomfortable putting something into print that I can't absolutely stand behind.

Hopefully at least one of you out there will be able to relate to what I'm trying to say.


  1. I think you did the right thing - research until you get the answer - not being a house historian, yet (your recent talk gave me the house history bug) I think I would have to fill in the gaps before putting it in black and white. Give us the link when it is published.

  2. I like how you "worked the problem" and utilized the different resources to build your discovery.

  3. I'm sure I would have a hard time holding back from doing the same thing every time!

  4. Not a bit crazy - exactly the right thing to do, I think. I once researched the history of a house we lived in in Boston - we rented the top floor and our very odd landlords lived on the main floor (the wife was the original owner). I couldn't publish it though, of course!

  5. Love your blog...just found it tonight. I'm researching a house for pay as I type this. Been working on it for over 2 months now. I could use the info I've gathered so far and make it work but when you know there's more to learn you do a great disservice to yourself and those who are interested. As a historian you commit a big fat sin by not going the distance conclusively. Nice to read that you felt the same.