Researching Your House and Family History
Researching the history of your house will include the structure as well as the people who lived in your home.
First, identify the style of the house. The main styles of homes in Somerville are Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate and Queen Anne.
Many houses used mass produced millwork that can be identified with millwork catalogs.
Buildings are frequently altered to meet the current fashion, look for building permits and physical evidence for changes.
- Use Architectural Style Books and Catalogs
- Late Victorian Plans and Details by William T. Comstock
- Bicknell’s Victorian Buildings by A.J. Bicknell and Co.
- Sears Modern Homes, by Sears Roebuck and Co.
- Roberts’ Illustrated Millwork Catalog by E.L. Roberts and Co.
- Universal Millwork Catalog by the Universal Catalog Bureau
- Fences Gates & Garden Houses; A Book of Designs with Measured Drawings by Carl F. Schmidt
- Examine the house for physical evidence of changes
- Look for building permits that document changes
- Find photographic evidence
Researching the owners and architecture together:
- Maps can indicate location, size, shape, and material of building
- Evaluate each map for accuracy
- Changes over time can be followed by looking at a series of maps
- Many maps indicate the owners of properties
- Plot Plans are available for some properties at the Registry of Deeds
Key Somerville Maps
- John G Hales – 1830 (Charlestown)
- Draper Maps – 1846-1852
- Walling – 1857-1869
- Hopkins Atlases – 1874 – 1884
- Bromley Atlas – 1895
- Stadley Atlas – 1900
- Sanborn Atlases - 1900, 1933-1934, 1958
Maps Available Online at:
Photographs can show where changes have been made. Here are some sources of photographs:
- The Registry of Deeds
- Probate Court Records
- City Directories – Available in the local history room at the Somerville Public Library
- Genealogical sites - ancestry.com and HeritageQuest are available in library databases.
- Directories of business men and politicians
- Commemorative histories of the City
- Sources available in the library via the database collection
- Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
- Historical Newspapers
- Architectural Resources
- Preservation Briefs
- Work from the known to the unknown (i.e. start with your grandparents)
- Be skeptical, verify information with family
- Be specific (names are not enough; get places, ages, names of spouses)
Whenever possible, use primary sources such as:
- Military Records
- Local primary sources
- City directories in the Local History Room
- Marriage, birth and death certificates (contact the City Clerk's Office)
- Deeds – Registry of Deeds
- Obituaries – Available through historical newspaper databases
Secondary sources can lead you to additional primary sources
- Town histories
- Handwritten copies of original documents
- Published family histories
- Compilations of birth death and marriage records.