Fleshing Out an Ancestral Home

An essential aspect of a professional client report is going beyond what is found online – beyond Ancestry.com.

In error do beginning family historians believe that everything they need to know about a family can be found online.  Not so.  It is estimated that only about 10% of all available documents and information is currently available on sites like Ancestry.com.  While the larger databases they hold in their vast arsenal are beneficial to research, there is so much more to the picture than simple names and dates.

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When I create a client report I like to flesh out the individual lives as much as possible.  This means digging deep into their work lives, their family lifestyles, and where they worked and worshiped.  

Where do I turn for this information?  To the local archives.

When working with where a family lived it is not only possible to supply the addresses based on published or unpublished city directories, but to also locate snapshot glimpses of that home over time.

A city will periodically photograph a home in order to determine or update property tax information.  This information may be stored at your local city archives.  Or it may be stored at your city tax office.  You will need to call to determine where these photos (if available) may be found.  

What follows are four separate photos of a family home taken by the City of Grand Rapids (photos courtesy Grand Rapids Archives).  The dates of the photos are 1936, 1978, 1989, and 2015.

How can you find information concerning a family home: the home’s ancestry?

You can visit your local city property tax office or visit their online tax search database.  As this is public information it is freely available.  

For instance in the home pictured above I was able to determine that the original home that sat on the property was built in 1900, that it had 1 full bath, and that the property was sold to Habitat for Humanity for a sale price of $15,400 at which time the ancestral home was razed.

I can see that the main floor had 1,916 square feet of living space of which 1,396 of that was on the main floor.  The home had 4 rooms on the main floor with an additional 3 rooms on the upper level.  The home also had a basement encompassing 1,120 square feet.

An outside garage was added in 1923 – 380 square feet.

All this information was taken from the public city tax database.

The online database does have its limitations.  The sale history only goes back a few decades.  To research further back would require a visit to the tax office where I can examine the tax books.

But think how interesting it would be to find a pictorial history of your ancestral home or place of worship!  Using the above steps you can determine your own history.  From experience I know how important it is to include visuals in my client reports.  It fleshes out the given details.

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