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if walls could talk
finding genealogy clues in your home

by Deborah K. Millemaci
(return to genealogy)

This article evolved while "channel-surfing" last night while I was attempting to unwind after a tedious day of genealogy research. When I want to relax I usually end up watching HG-TV (Home & Garden Televison). Now you might wonder what on earth would a show that gives ideas on remodeling, gardening, and the like have to do with family research?

"If Walls Could Talk" is definitely not your typical restoration show. Each episode gives insight to the former owners of homes that for one reason or another have been neglected over the years, and the people who become involved in the renovations and lives of their home's former tenants. Each building profiled has a history, whether it be the homes of famous notables such as Mark Twain, Paul Revere, Daniel Boone, or a resident from a small town.

Even if your home wasn't handed down through your own family, you may be surprised to find pieces of the past previosuly overlooked. Old letters, maps, clothing, diaries, shoes, hats, bottles, etc. are just a few of the treasures you may come across that will tell you something about the previous owners of your home. You may also be surprised where these "gems" are stored. Most often these items are found in a basement or attic, but don't overlook between walls, small cubbyholes, and floorboards.

When we moved back into our home 7 years ago (we purchased the same home I spent many years as a child over 30 years before), we came across an old "bud vase" that was wedged between wooden beams in our attic. We still have been unable to determine who placed the vase there. But it appears that one of the previous owners wanted to leave a "remembrance" of their stay in this home. While reviewing the title for our home we discovered that the first occupant listed transferred ownership in 1836. An "abstract of title" lists the previous owners of your home. Knowing the terminology surrounding Real Estate Law can prove helpful.

Sometimes when the task of restoring a house is undertaken, various "original" pieces such as a railing, or other decorative elements will be found within a previously unused area of the house. These remnants of the past are an important part of the home's architectural history. Another avenue you may wish to explore is the local "historian" in your area. They most likely have written several books on the area where you live and their references can give you a better idea of what the town and life was like at the time your house was built.

Further research will provide you with information on the characteristic styles of homes that were in existence years ago. (This will be my next step in my research as I'm very curious to see what our home may have looked like in the 1840's. All I know at this point is that houses that were not close to each other and separated by lots of farmland.) Also "tap" your local historical society and local newspapers for information. You may also talk to neighbors who knew your family members or occupants of the home you live in now. They can provide some valuable information on the previous residents of your home.

Most of us think of our homes as a structure that provides shelter, but it is much more than that. It has witnessed the memorable and not-so-memorable moments in our lives. My point is don't overlook your home as a genealogy resource. The knowledge you obtain may or may not pertain to your family per se, but a house has always been a vital part of a family and that particular family has a history. You can obtain more information on "If Walls Could Talk" television series at the following website:

©Deborah K. Millemaci - October 2003
No part of this article may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author.


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