Monday, March 4, 2013

House History Resources in the Grems-Doolittle Library

Members of the Kokernak family on the porch of their home at 780-782 Bailey Street in Schenectady.
From the Wadsworth S. Kokernak Photograph Collection.

The Grems-Doolittle Library offers a number of research tools that can help to enrich your understanding of the origins of your house, neighborhood, and community, and how their histories have unfolded over time. Resources in our library can provide strategies for researching house histories, help to identify your home's architectural style/details, trace the history of your neighborhood or community, trace the owners/residents of your home and approximate a construction date, and discover biographical information about the people who lived in or owned your home.

Two of the key resources that can help to trace the history of a home or neighborhood in the city of Schenectady are city directories and maps/atlases (particularly Sanborn Maps). These resources are "snapshots" that document the city at a particular period of time. By using these resources in conjunction with each other, you can identify changes in street names and numbers, identify residents, find for what purposes a building was used (i.e. apartments, store, saloon), and chart the development of various neighborhoods in the city.

Image of a portion of Centre Street (now Broadway) from the 1884 Sanborn Map.  These maps provide a great deal of information, including building structure and composition, street numbers, stories, outbuildings, and building use.

Like the Sanborn Maps, city and county atlases offer information about street numbers and building construction. They offer slightly less detail about the specifics of buildings themselves, but they do offer information that Sanborn Maps do not include -- the names of owners or residents of property. Other detailed maps in our collections, such as the 1850 Dripps city map and 1856 Fagan county map, offer similar information. Simple city street maps do not show individual houses or ownership, but they do show the development of the city's streets and neighborhoods.

Portion of map of Rotterdam in Schenectady County atlas, 1866. The maps of the the county's towns in this atlas provide a great deal on information about roads, businesses, and the owners/residents of farms and homes. 

Aside from maps and directories, our collections of personal papers, business records, and other collections of original documents can also prove to be useful. Our Historic Manuscripts Collection includes a number of resources that may be helpful, including deeds, wills, legal matters documents, and correspondence. Vault Book 79, from our Historic Manuscripts Collection, offers descriptions of properties that were offered for sale through the local real estate firm, Fitch and Griffes, from 1870 through 1880. Nineteenth-century historian Jonathan Pearson extracted information from assorted deeds, mortgages, wills, legal disputes, and other documents to create land ownership chains and sketch maps of the city's oldest streets (our library volunteers are currently working on indexing Pearson's work, referred to as the Jonathan Pearson Street Books). The Godfrey Family Papers feature information about Clark Godfrey's work in developing the Rosendale Estates in Niskayuna. The James Frost Papers provide survey notes, maps, and other information about a number of properties, including many in the area of Duanesburg and Princetown.

Representative page from one of the Jonathan Pearson Street Books. This page shows Pearson's notes and a sketch map for certain properties on Union Street in Schenectady. 

Books in our collections can also help to conduct research about the history of your house -- for example, how to "read" your home for architectural clues and how to create a chain of ownership using deeds. We have several books that can help to identify architectural styles and features, including resources that focus on architecture regionally and locally. Local histories, histories of particular neighborhoods, and genealogies may provide information about a local home or farm or illuminate the history of a community's settlement or development.

Other resources in our library, including clipping and surname files, newspapers, local government information, building/structure inventory forms, photographs, census records, wills, tax lists, and assessment rolls, can be valuable resources of information as well. A research guide to house history sources in our library can be found here.

Above all, always be willing to ask our library staff and volunteers for help in brainstorming about what resources might be of use to you -- we're here to help!

No comments:

Post a Comment