House Histories by Sally Light: Guide to Tracing Your Home Genealogy

by DerdriuMarriner

House Histories by Sally Light is a helpful guide to tracing the genealogy of your home and to operating a home-based house histories business.

House histories are biographies of our living spaces

House Histories by Sally Light, an Austerlitz-born town historian and New York-based house histories businesswoman and magazine and newspaper writer, acts as a user-friendly guide to tracing the genealogy of your home and to operating a home-based house histories business. The 1988-released publication brings graphic and written record search, in-person interview, on-site inspection, research analysis, and story-writing skills to the curious, imaginative, observant, outgoing, and persistent among:
• architectural, cultural, family, house, social, and town historians;
• genealogists;
• historic register applicants, historical society staff-persons;
• home builders, occupants, and owners;
• interior designers;
• preservationists;
• realtors;
• scrap-bookers.

It contains a five-page introduction to the triangular interactions of building style, technology, and use which determine the genesis, maintenance, and sustainability of all houses.

A house may have an obvious history, such as author Ernest Hemingway's home in the Florida Keys, or an obscure history: all houses have histories.

907 Whitehead Street, Key West, Monroe County, Florida Keys, Florida; Saturday, June 3, 2006, 23:23
907 Whitehead Street, Key West, Monroe County, Florida Keys, Florida; Saturday, June 3, 2006, 23:23

House histories become ways of knowing residences inside-out

 

The text divides into six sections preceded by acknowledgments and introductions and succeeded by bibliography, glossary, and index.

The 97-page first section explains on-site inspections of:

  • boundary markers (including fences, vegetation, walls);
  • grounds (including gardens, vegetation, water features);
  • house exteriors (including balconies, chimneys, doors, eaves, foundations, gutters, porches, roofs, verandas, walls, windows);
  • house interiors (including ceiling heights, fastenings, flooring, room sizes, wall coverings and thicknesses);
  • outbuildings.

Inspectors find that everything can be accomplished with just camera, flashlight, notebook, pen, and 25-foot (7.62-meter) measuring tape as equipment.

Door and woodwork fasteners, exterior and interior colors, and window pane sizes give insights into the age of the house, the identity of the builder, and the socio-economics of the owner/occupant. 

 

Diaries provide information about houses in which they are written and also about the writers and other dwellers.

Monday, June 26, 1937, diary entry by English novelist and poet Emily Brontë includes sketch of herself and Anne writing at the drawing room table.
"A bit past 4 o'clock . . . . Anne and I writing in the drawing room -- Anne a poem beginning "Fair was the Evening and brightly the Sun . . . ."
"A bit past 4 o'clock . . . . Anne and I writing in the drawing room -- Anne a poem beginning "Fair was the Evening and brightl...

House histories collect what is recorded about dwellings

 

The 61-page second section gathers such written records as:

  • correspondence;
  • diaries;
  • letters of administration for estate settlement executors;
  • mortgages, movable (chattel) and real property deeds, personal property hereditaments, real property leases;
  • public auction records;
  • wills.  

Record-searching hones skills at deciphering pre-twentieth-century handwriting and drawing online maps from survey descriptions. It includes such secondary sources as:

  • birth/death certificates, burial/marriage records;
  • church, city, county, Masonic lodge, oral, telephone company, town histories;
  • civil servant lists;
  • fire company records, fire insurance company blotters;
  • general store ledgers;
  • newspapers;
  • organizational rosters;
  • school records.

The 31-page third section handles such graphic records as:

  • aerial photos, architectural plans;
  • city, county, town atlases/directories;
  • county, federal, state censuses;
  • insurance/urban assessment/permit/utility maps;
  • road, tax lists;
  • surveyor’s plats, surveys. 

 

Census records offer helpful information for crafting home histories.

Pitcher commemorates the first United States census, ca. 1790, made in England.
National Museum of American History, Washington, DC
National Museum of American History, Washington, DC

House histories describe residences for albums, narratives, preservation

 

The 23-page fourth section identifies such research takeaways as:

  • pursuing historic registry;  
  • writing annotated chronologies for albums and scrapbooks and publishable narratives (including abstract, family genealogy, house history, references, vocabulary).

The 20-page fifth section judges the house history-writing business organizational merits of:

  • corporations;
  • partnerships;
  • sole proprietorships.

The 29-page sixth section keeps examples of on-site inspections and survey descriptions; explanations of court indexing systems and independent urban areas; lists of national archives and records center, historic preservation organization, park service, and state historical archive/society contact information.

 

House Histories leaves home genealogists culturally enriched, educationally entertained, geo-historically enthralled by:

  • Margaret Eberle, illustrator;
  • Golden Hill Press, Inc., publisher;
  • Catherine Hopkins, designer;
  • Ari Iacovini, Just Your Type-setter;
  • Sarah B. Light, author. 

 

House histories may reveal their qualification for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), the United States federal government's official list of historically significant and/or artistically valuable properties.

The NRHP is administered by the National Park Service (NPS), an agency of the Department of the Interior.
typical plaque acknowledging NRHP-listed property; Monday, June 21, 2010, 19:10
typical plaque acknowledging NRHP-listed property; Monday, June 21, 2010, 19:10

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.

 

Image Credits

 

A house may have an obvious history, such as author Ernest Hemingway's home in the Florida Keys, or an obscure history: all houses have histories.
907 Whitehead Street, Key West, Monroe County, Florida Keys, Florida; Saturday, June 3, 2006, 23:23: Andreas Lamecker, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hemingwayhouse.jpg

Diaries provide information about houses in which they are written and also about the writers and other dwellers.
Monday, June 26, 1937, diary entry by English novelist and poet Emily Brontë includes sketch of herself and Anne writing at the drawing room table.
"A bit past 4 o'clock . . . . Anne and I writing in the drawing room -- Anne a poem beginning "Fair was the Evening and brightly the Sun . . . .": Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sketch_by_Emily_Brontë_sgowing_herself_and_Anne_at_work_in_the_dining_room_of_the_parsonage..jpg

Census records offer helpful information for crafting home histories.
Pitcher commemorates the first United States census, ca. 1790, made in England.
National Museum of American History, Washington, DC: Daderot, Public Domain (CC0 1.0), via Wikimedia Commons @ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pitcher_commemorating_the_first_United_States_census,_c._1790,_made_in_England_-_National_Museum_of_American_History_-_DSC06150.JPG

House histories may reveal their qualification for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), the United States federal government's official list of historically significant and/or artistically valuable properties.
The NRHP is administered by the National Park Service (NPS), an agency of the Department of the Interior.
typical plaque acknowledging NRHP-listed property; Monday, June 21, 2010, 19:10: Jonathunder, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HistoricPlacesNationalRegisterPlaque.JPG

House histories may reveal their qualification for listing as a National Historic Landmark (NHL), a place of outstanding historical significance.
F.F. Tomek House (Ferdinand Frederick and Emily Tomek House), known as Ship House; 1904 design by Frank Lloyd Wright (June 8, 1867-April 9, 1959); NHL and NRHP, Jan. 20, 1999; owned by Dutch-American artist Maya Moran Manny (born Aug. 31, 1934) since 1974
F.F. Tomek House, 150 Nuttall Road, Riverside, Cook County, northeastern Illinois; Monday, June 7, 2010, 12:12: Teemu08, CC BY SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TomekHouse.JPG

 

Sources Consulted

 

Light, Sally. 1989. House Histories: A Guide to Tracing the Genealogy of Your Home. Including Chapters on How to Operate a Homebased “House Histories” Business. Spencertown, NY, U.S.A.: Golden Hill Press. 

 

House histories may reveal their qualification for listing as a National Historic Landmark (NHL), a place of outstanding historical significance.

F.F. Tomek House (Ferdinand Frederick and Emily Tomek House), known as Ship House; 1904 design by Frank Lloyd Wright (June 8, 1867-April 9, 1959); NHL and NRHP, Jan. 20, 1999; owned by Dutch-American artist Maya Moran Manny (born Aug. 31, 1934) since 1974
F.F. Tomek House, 150 Nuttall Road, Riverside, Cook County, northeastern Illinois; Monday, June 7, 2010, 12:12
F.F. Tomek House, 150 Nuttall Road, Riverside, Cook County, northeastern Illinois; Monday, June 7, 2010, 12:12
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

House Histories: A Guide to Tracing the Genealogy of Your Home by Sally Light ~ Available now via Amazon

Helpful guide through the fun of finding out about house history.
house history guides

Stanley 33-725 25-Feet FatMax Tape Measure ~ Available now via Amazon ~ Amazon best seller rank: #1 in Tape Measures

BladeArmor™ coating on the first 3" maximizes durability of the blade ~ Special True-Zero hook allows use of nail as pivot to draw circles and arches
house history equipment/tools

LED flashlight by Brightex

Tactical Flashlight, Specifically Designed for Tough Conditions! Super Bright LED in a Small, Lightweight, Aircraft Grade Aluminum Body. Waterproof, Easy One-Hand-Operation, 5 Modes, Incredible Zoom
house history equipment/tools

digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera by Nikon

4 frames per second continuous shooting ~ 18-55mm and 55-200mm VR DX Zoom Lenses Bundle
house history equipment/tools

Old English House, Moonlight After Rain ~ Available as Giclée Print and as Premium Giclée Print ~ Available now via AllPosters

Every house has a story to share ~ print of 1883 oil on canvas painting by John Atkinson Grimshaw (September 6, 1836 – October 13, 1893)
Old English House, Moonlight After Rain, 1883

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 10/03/2022, DerdriuMarriner
 
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DerdriuMarriner on 05/07/2021

WriterArtist, Thank you for coming by and pondering the wider context of residences, sometimes as bad and as good as, sometimes worse and better than, their guests, hosts and residents.

WriterArtist on 05/06/2021

Dear DerdriuMarriner,
You have brought an interesting topic in the article. Houses like people can exhibit some charm and persona. A house speaks a lots - it tells us about the personal likings, style and arrangements of the families who dwelled in it. I totally agree, houses may have exciting history and also vibes. Good houses have positive vibes whereas haunted ones do not.

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