My oldest granddaughter and I recently drove past the house I moved out of three years ago. She said it didnâ€™t look right with a different paint color, missing trees, missing lilac bushes, the enclosed porch now open, and no deck in back. She visited that house often during a period of ten years and remembers it well.
A few weeks ago I was invited to tour the remodeled house. They wanted to know about the houseâ€™s history, the past residents, and about what changes had been made. It was a nice tour. Some aspects were quite different, while some have stayed the same.
The new owner wants to compile a history of the house. I knew about a few of the families that have lived there since it was built in 1907. I am surprising him with the 1910, 1920, and 1930 census printouts from Ancestry for this address. I told him that his wife might request something the house had in 1910–a maid!
1234 Elm Street
In your own research on past family homes you may have encountered some roadblocks. Letâ€™s pretend that last year Aunt Susie sent you some older pictures of the family home back in the town where she once lived. This summer you visited the town in the pictures. The reverse side of two of the pictures said â€œ1234 Elm Street.â€ Once there you cannot find Elm Street. One of the local residents shares the news that in the early 1940s the street names in part of town were changed. Elm Street is now 7th Avenue. Perhaps there is still a 1234 Elm Street but the house doesnâ€™t resemble what you see in the picture that was taken about 1921.
Here are some situations that may cause confusion when it comes to locating an ancestral address:
- Street names may have changed.
- It may be that the house numbers were changed years ago. 1234 Elm might now be 2110 Elm.Â
- The house in which your family lived might have been one at the back of the property.
- The house at 1234 Elm may have more than one entrance and four mailboxes on the enclosed porch. It might be that the porch may have been an open one in the picture and the very large family home has been divided into several units.
- It might have once been a small house that has had multiple eclectic additions.
- The old house may have razed or burned down and a new one built on the same property.
- The house in the picture is no longer at the same address; possibly, it was sold to an individual and moved to another site. Or perhaps a business purchased the land for a new building and moved the house. Some clues might appear in land records for the area.
- A home on a rural route may now have a house number and street name. Changes of this type as well as city changes may have been instigated by the Post Office.Â
- Like my childhood home and the two homes where my own children were raised, it might have been totally remodeled.Â
- That open porch with the swing and the wicker rockers may now be an enclosed three-season porch.
- The porch may have been added to or torn off what you see in the picture.
- A garage may have been added or enlarged. The original attached garage may now be a family room.
There are a number of ways to clear up this type of confusion:
- City directories and newspapers may have clues about changes in street names and numbering. A topical index to a newspaper might also yield such topics.Â
- A building permit may have been obtained for the changes. These may be at the county courthouse or city offices or may have been transferred to an archive.
- An older neighbor may have some of the answers for you.
- A county or city historical society or public library may have knowledge of street and house number changes.
- Check reverse city directories to locate past residents. Reverse directories list properties by address rather than occupant. Available for many years, they are often found in the back of traditional city directories or may be a separate book entirely.
- Once you locate the name of an occupant, track them or their descendants down to inquire about more details and even pictures.
- During the WPA era in the late 1930s into the early 1940s, WPA workers investigated, listed, and indexed street and numbering changes for some localities. Many were not published, but may be at a historical society or archives.Â
- Municipal publications regarding street changes may also be available. One such publication is online for the city of Chicago from 1909. .
- A local researcher may know of such changes or where to find the details.
Additional Information and Indexes
- St. Paul Street Names–On the Street Where You Live, by Donald Empson (2006)
Share Your Knowledge
What do you know about street and numbering changes? Please add them to the Comments section of this blog to share with other researchers. At the beginning of your comments, please put the city and state name first to make pertinent entries easier to spot for other readers.
About the Author
Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, a Minnesota resident is a professional genealogist, consultant, writer, and lecturer who is frequently on-the-road. She coordinates the intermediate course, American Records & Research, at the annual Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. She writes for several periodicals including â€œAncestryâ€ Magazine. Comments and additions to her columns will reach her at PaulaStuartWarren@gmail.com but she regrets that she is unable to answer individual genealogical research inquiries due to the volume of requests. From time to time, comments from readers may be quoted in her writings. Your name will not be used, but your place of residence might be listed (i.e., Casa Grande, Arizona).
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