Michelle Ann Kratts

How to find the history of your Niagara Falls home, Part VI: the fun stuff!

In If This House Could Talk, Niagara Falls on June 16, 2015 at 6:10 pm

outside our home

By Michelle Ann Kratts

(Please click on any photos to make larger)

We know that you are looking for the fun stuff!  We know that searching through your history…you want more than just the assessment and property values of your home.  We know that there is more.  SO much more that you would like to know…

So how do you find more?  The sky is the limit!  Use your imagination.  Pretend you are a detective.

I will tell you what I do to find the “fun stuff” and I will share some things that I have found.

First of all, like everyone else who has any knowledge of a computer and the internet, I play with Google searches.  Grab your house title, or wherever you have found the names of the people who lived in your house, and Google them.  Do various types of searches. Also check your address through a Google search.   Search everything, but also search “images,” “news” and “books.”  These will probably give you some good hits.  And put the name you are Googling in parentheses.  Also add “Niagara Falls” after the search term so you are narrowing the search to Niagara Falls.  You may get lucky or you may not, but it is always worth a try.  Sometimes a lot of old newspaper clippings from http://www.fultonhistory.com will come up when you do a Google search. What you want to “hit” is a family history website that concerns the family you are researching.

Some of the Germans who lived in my home over 100 years ago

Some of the Germans who lived in my home over 100 years ago

Researching the history of your home is not unlike genealogical searching.  We will most definitely be using the very same techniques and sources.  So why not utilize Ancestry.com?  It is free for you to use at both the Niagara Falls Public Library and the Lewiston Public Library.  Check for these people and look for Family Trees.  This is where I got lucky!  Not only did I find a family tree for two of the families who lived in my home but I was able to contact the owners of the family trees–the people who posted the information. Usually the people who posted the tree are family.  And guess where all of the pictures of the family and the family home usually end up?  With the family, of course!  People don’t usually leave them at the house.  Or give them to the local historical society.  They are passed down to their children and their grandchildren…who also have memories of time spent at your home.  Chance would have it that the niece of a woman who lived at my home would be extremely friendly and helpful to an extreme.  Not only did she share family photos over 100 years old, but she shared stories and even her memories of being in “Aunt Lola’s home” when she was just a little girl.  She sent me a photograph which is possibly the orchard that was on our property…and the happy couple sharing what may be fresh pears.  From another family that resided in my house, I printed off some photos from their family trees.  My home, today, seems so much more welcoming filled with the photos of those who shared this space with us many years ago.  I love to see their faces and to know what they were like and how they lived.

lola

Although there are some people who balk at Facebook, it is hard to not find the value of it if you are researching history.  The entire world is at our fingertips.  I have some of the best results in my searches because of connecting to people across the world through Facebook.   But how can you use it for the purpose of house research?  Search for the family names of descendants of the people who lived in your home.  Again…an incredible exchange of information is possible.  I found Lola’s grandson (who is presently a physician for the United Nations in Africa) and he also had wonderful things to share…and appreciated what I could share about the current state of things.  For when we live in a home, or our family lives in a home, it becomes attached to our lives.  In fact it is hard to separate our lives from our homes.

Laura worked for the Niagara Falls Gazette

Laura worked for the Niagara Falls Gazette

Another fun way to find the people who lived in your home is through yearbooks.  Local libraries such as the Lewiston Public Library and the Niagara Falls Public Library have local yearbooks.  I think a lot of people forget what a great source they truly are for researchers.  Figure out how old the children are who had lived in your house and look for a yearbook photograph.  A few years ago, I was asked by a woman and her very ill father to please help them find a photograph of his mother.  He had been adopted and he never was able to see a photo of his birth mother.  As he was nearing the end of his days, he wanted only one thing…to look into the face of the woman who gave him life.  Because of a Niagara Falls High School yearbook I was able to do this for him.  So you should try it, too!

photo

Make it clear–to everyone in your neighborhood–that you are on the hunt for the history of your home. There are people who live in your neighborhood –at the present time –who also lived in your neighborhood before you did.  Maybe they have pictures that include your home?  When my neighbors heard about my search, I ended up with an old postcard of another home on the corner that had actually been written FROM my home in 1914.  A young woman, who was a teacher and a boarder in our home, penned the card.  Our house is in the background.  The teacher was even kind enough to mark an X on the window in which she was boarding (which happens to be my bedroom).

postcard

Don’t forget the local cemeteries for your search, either.  My sister recently found that a little boy had died in her home from polio in the 1930’s.  Her plan is to leave flowers at his grave this summer.  He is buried at Riverdale.  The cemeteries have information, as well.  If you know a former resident of your home died in Niagara Falls, find out where they were buried.

I just want to share one more “fun” thing that I was able to discover about my own home.  When I had heard (from the woman who had an Ancestry.com family tree on a woman who lived in my home) that our Lola was a writer and had published some books, I looked up the books…and found them!  Lola (who published as “Laura Clint Lapp”) had written three books of poetry. Many of the poems were written while she lived in our home, and I was able to order them online.  What a beautiful feeling to open the box and to hold these books in my hands!  I am also a writer so this was quite a powerful moment for me, personally.  Before I did any of this research I had no idea that I had purchased a home that had belonged to a teacher, two librarians and a writer.  There must be something in the air…

books

about the author

cardinal

tryst

As you can see…finding “fun stuff” about the history of your home is possible…depending on your stretch of imagination.

Our next installment will cover the importance of using libraries, museums, archives and historical societies to assist you in your search for your house’s history.

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  1. I loved this series. Many of your steps are ones I use for my hobby, which is hunting up houses that were purchased as kits through mail order catalogs, like Sears, Roebuck. (You have Sears Houses in Niagara Falls) Maybe I will do a similar series on my blog, on how to find Sears Houses. Looking forward to seeing your future posts!

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