Researching Your House and Family History

  • House Histories

  • Family Histories

Researching the history of your house will include the structure as well as the people who lived in your home.

Architecture:

First, identify the style of the house. The main styles of homes in Somerville are Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate and Queen Anne.

Federal Greek Revival Italianate Queen Anne
Somerville home built in the Federal architecture style, featuring flat planes and minimal detailing Somerville home built in the Greek Revival style, featuring columns Somerville home built in the Italiante style, featuring ornate millwork Somerville home built in the Queen Anne style, featuring a turret on its roof
       

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

Photographs can show where changes have been made. Here are some sources of photographs:

Identifying Owners

City Resources

Principles

  1. Work from the known to the unknown (i.e. start with your grandparents)
  2. Be skeptical, verify information with family
  3. Be specific (names are not enough; get places, ages, names of spouses)

Whenever possible, use primary sources such as:

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.

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