Michelle Ann Kratts

Archive for the ‘If This House Could Talk’ Category

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.


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!


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).


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…


about the author



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.

How to find the history of your Niagara Falls home, Part V: city departments

In If This House Could Talk, Niagara Falls on June 15, 2015 at 10:49 pm

By Michelle Ann Kratts

Niagara Falls City Hall

Niagara Falls City Hall

Located at Niagara Falls City Hall, 745 Main Street, there are three offices that you should visit if you are researching the history of your Niagara Falls home:  the City Assessor’s Office, the Department of Code Enforcement and the City Clerk (for Vital Records).

The City Assessor’s Office carries some records of your home’s history and if you are very lucky…some old photos! Well..not very, very old, but photos, nonetheless.  When I went to inquire about my own house’s records I was brought a file that was filled with a few sheets of paper.  This file includes the Property Record, the Building Record and some photos. The Property Record has some things such as Assessment Valuations, lists of building permits and more.  The Building Record contains information such as the physical properties of your home.  The walls, basement, foundation.  It goes floor by floor.  In this folder I also received two photographs (taken at different times–easy to tell, snow in one and no snow in the other).  These were from the 1970’s and 1980’s.  I have seen other house’s photos and they are also from this time period.  It seems that there were many Niagara Falls houses photographed by the Assessor’s Office around 1978.  My photo says:  April 28, 1978.

photo (15)

You can also search property information online at:


When there was nothing more to discover, the kind staff told me that I should also check the Department of Code Enforcement for more information.  So I ran up to the fourth floor (I had never been up there!) and asked if they would have any files on my house.  And they did!  It was actually a most interesting file as it also contained a complaint leveled at a former homeowner and pages dealing with the addition of a stockade fence (1990), “shingling the sides of the house” (1939), and “installing oil burner equipment” (1948).  I was thrilled!  I photographed everything in the file with my camera and then when I told the staff how old my house was they even went so far as to search through the vault in the basement for more–where the older house information is kept.  Unfortunately I didn’t come armed with my home’s previous addresses so they were not able to find anything.  Hopefully, when I return (with the old addresses) I will have better luck.  However, the information that I was given, was very useful information regarding our home.

photo (19)

Another office that you can check out is the City Clerk’s Office.  In New York State you can obtain birth, marriage and death information on the former deceased residents of your home.  For birth records, they must have been on file for at least 75 years or the person must be deceased.  For death records, they must have been on file for at least 50 years.  For marriage records, they must have been on file for at least 50 years and both spouses must be known to be deceased.  This is all different if you are a direct descendant (if the previous owners of your home were your parents, grandparents, etc).  In that case there is no need to follow these rules.

For New York State marriages, you can also check the Family Search genealogy website for their database:

New York, County Marriages, 1847-1848; 1908-1936

This is a wonderful and free resource for Niagara Falls marriages.

This kind of information is good if you are interested in finding out where the people who lived in your house were born, information on their occupations, their parents.

photo (20)

Our next installment will involve “the fun stuff.”  We will discuss the possibility of finding much older photographs of your home, photographs of the people who lived there and much, much more!

How to find the history of your Niagara Falls home, Part IV: using old newspapers

In If This House Could Talk, Niagara Falls on June 12, 2015 at 3:08 pm

By Michelle Ann Kratts

A tragic event that took the life of a young man who lived in our home in 1913

A tragic event that took the life of a young man who lived in our home in 1913

One of my favorite sources of information about local history is the old newspapers.  I must admit that –if I am researching ANYTHING at all in Niagara Falls–you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be scouring http://www.fultonhistory.com.

I literally worship the fine gentleman who started and maintains Fulton History (Old Fulton New York Postcards), Thomas M. Tryniski.  Not only does he provide an incredible database of local western New York historical newspapers, he also has them indexed…and it is all FREE!  It is a researcher’s dream!! And it is not just New York historical newspapers anymore–he has added many other states, as well, and the list is growing.

Weddings often took place in our homes

Weddings often took place in our homes

You can also research old Niagara Falls Gazettes and other local newspapers at the Niagara Falls Public Library on microfilm.  Some people are more comfortable doing it this way.  But through Fulton History, you can research from your home computer.  I even access it through my iPhone.  Sometimes I do have to go to the microfilm at the Niagara Falls Library as Fulton History only goes up through the early 1970’s with the Niagara Falls Gazette and does not contain the other Niagara Falls newspapers of times past.

Sometimes terrible and tragic deaths took place in our homes

Sometimes terrible and tragic deaths took place in our homes

So what can old newspapers tell you about your house’s history?  A great deal of information!  As you are probably most interested in the people who lived there before you…and possibly if any sinister occurrences have taken place in your home– then the old newspapers will most definitely enlighten your research.  You will find crimes that took place at your location, marriages, photos (sometimes quite good!), celebrations, military news, events and births and deaths.  As my home was built in 1880, the piles of information that I have gleaned from old newspapers is quite incredible.  I found that my home at one point housed several teachers that boarded at our location in the early 1900’s.  There were several violent deaths that took some of our home’s residents (not in the home–put quite publicized in the local newspapers!).  Obituaries are a great source and sometimes they even mention that our former residents had been laid out in our home for viewing following their deaths.  Don’t be frightened by this…it happened in all homes.   There were also meetings held at our home for the Niagara County Farm Bureau and the County Beekeeper’s Association.  There were weddings held in our home and there were deaths that took place in our home.  Men left for war from our home.  Women’s clubs were held in our home. Many, many things happen in our houses.  We certainly must know that we are not the first ones to occupy this space.  The newspapers are a great way to find the stories.

So how do you search?  Using http://www.fultonhistory.com is very simple and rewarding.  I will give you some helpful hints.  First of all, make sure you enclose your search terms in parentheses.  You can search for people or places.  For example, when searching for a name type as follows:  “Carl Goodrich”.  Also be sure to “play around” with the search.  Try “Karl Goodrich” or other variations.  If there is a middle initial, use that in your search.  Everything you search on Fulton History uses Optical Recognition technology.  This means that the only things that will come up are what the computer recognizes.  So if there is a big inkblot over “Carl” you may be out of luck.  And you will only come up with pages that those exact words are found on the page.  So if you type in a year plus the name…even if the event took place in that year, if it was not typed onto the newspaper page, this search term will not be recognized.  It can be tricky but the more you play at it, the better you become.  You can also search for addresses:  “2201 Linden Ave”.  Again, remember that if you type “Avenue” and only “Ave” was typed on that original newspaper page, then it will not pop up for you.

If you know the date that you are interested in you can also go to the date.  I have not found an easy way to do this, yet.  I do this by first going to the Newspaper Index–page three (this is where the Niagara Falls Gazette files are located).  I click on Niagara Falls Gazette and find the date and then click on pages until I find what I am looking for.  This method shows all of the pages in order and you can go page by page.  If there is an easier way I would appreciate your knowledge.  As for now, this is how I do it.  It is a little bit time consuming, but if you are an inveterate researcher, it will be worthwhile in the end.

One very frustrating problem with the Niagara Falls Gazette is the fact that there are gaps in years.  And, as Murphy’s Law inevitably kicks in on certain more difficult days, those exact dates are the most crucial!  I believe that Mr. Tryniski took the microfilms from the Niagara Falls Public Library when he digitized these newspapers and they are also missing from the microfilm editions.

I began my house research by combing the censuses and directories first, in addition to our house search, and then taking the names mentioned and plugging them into Fulton History.  Through this I was also able to see the old addresses that my house went under–street names that do not exist today.  Then I started plugging in these addresses and they seemed to cross-reference the people.  Everything matched.

It is a wonderful discovery to “meet” the people who lived in your home and to imagine your home as it may have been many years ago.  As I have learned so much about these people, it is almost as if I am able to picture them in our rooms.  How strange it is to know for a fact that ladies with ankle-length dresses walked upon our floors!  That German was most likely spoken here…as the original owners were German immigrants.

One article I found describes how people attending a bee demonstration might get to our home.

So this is how our people moved from place to place in 1919!

So this is how our people moved from place to place in 1919!

There are so many other ways you may find the history of your home!  I hope you will keep reading our installments.  The next article will introduce you to three offices at the Niagara Falls City Hall that may also assist you in your journey to find the history of your Niagara Falls home.

How to find the history of your Niagara Falls home, Part III: the Census

In If This House Could Talk, Niagara Falls on June 10, 2015 at 2:17 pm

By Michelle Ann Kratts

1905 Census

(Please click on images to make larger)

The state and federal censuses will also help you in your house history research.  You can access the censuses on Ancestry.com (which is available for you to use at the Lewiston Public Library as well as at the Niagara Falls Public Library).  Try searching for the surnames of the families that lived in your house or go page by page.  In a way, looking through the census reports will allow you to see your home as it was on that day that the census was taken.  Census enumerators went house to house and they asked the questions that were listed on the forms and recorded the answers on the census.  For Niagara Falls we can use the following censuses:  1810-1940, 1855-1925, 1892

Information that is on the census varies from year to year.  Some of the information you may see on the censuses includes the following:  street and house number, family groups at the residence, boarders names, color, sex and age, relation of each resident to head of the family, occupations and schooling (by years) on all residents,  marriage year, how many children of this marriage (and how many survived), immigration information, birthplace, occupation, personal description, mother tongue, military information, ownership or rental of home, value of home, if the home is a farm, and the 1930 census even reveals if the home had a radio set.

photo 3

As you can see, the census is a readily available source that must be looked at if you are working on the history of your home.

We were able to follow the residents of our house’s history through many of the censuses available for Niagara Falls.  We were also able to see their neighbors and to get an idea of what the neighborhood “looked like” from a researcher’s point of view in various years.  And it was interesting to note that my husband’s family lived only a few doors away from where we now live.

Our next installment, Part IV, will discuss using vintage New York newspapers for house research–especially http://www.fultonhistory.com.



How to find the history of your Niagara Falls home, Part II: the City Directory

In If This House Could Talk on June 9, 2015 at 5:06 pm
An 85 year old Niagara Falls City Directory

An 85 year old Niagara Falls City Directory

By Michelle Ann Kratts

Now that you know a little bit about your home’s past after looking through your title abstract– you are ready to check out the Niagara Falls City directories!  I just warn you…give yourself some time for this…as you may be sucked into a time warp!  It is so fascinating looking page by page, street by street.  Seeing life as it was so many years ago through an old directory is certainly like going back in time.

Going through the city directories are also integral to researching your house history.  The Niagara Falls City directories are available from 1886 through 1960 through Ancestry.com.  Ancestry.com is free for you to use at the Lewiston Public Library and at the Niagara Falls Public Library.  Or you can purchase your own membership. You can search page by page digitally.  You may also search through the actual directory books.  The Niagara Falls Public Library has most of them (I believe!).  Here are the Niagara Falls City directories that we have available in book form at the Lewiston Public Library:

Polk’s Niagara Falls City Directory:  1930-31, 1956, 1974-77, 1979-1980, 1982-2007

Hill-Donnelly Corporation, Niagara Falls, NY and Vicinity Cross and Search Reverse Phone Directory:

1984, 1986, 1989-1994, 1996-present

The great thing about the city directory is that you can look up an address.  It isn’t like a phone book where you can only look up a name.  So if all you know is your address than you are set!

Search by street

Search by street

However you can also search by name.

Search by last name

Search by last name

As for the house researcher, this is an excellent tool as it allows you to go back year by year.  You can find who lived in your house each year that there was a city directory.

The listing will provide the following information:  name of resident (usually the male first), spouse in parentheses, his occupation, place of employment, and if they own the house.  I ALWAYS look for the “Abbreviation Index.”  The Abbreviation Index will help you understand those strange letters and acronyms you will find after the names.  These strange letters and acronyms can hold a lot of important facts!  Knowing where the index is will save you a lot of time.

The abbreviation index will allow you to understand those acronyms and abbreviations

The abbreviation index will allow you to understand those acronyms and abbreviations

You can also find valuable information about businesses from a city directory.  They are filled with advertisements and also business listings.

ads 3ads 2

City directories are an excellent resource for finding the history of your home.

The third installment in our series about finding the history of your Niagara Falls home will concern the census records.

Anyone can research their home’s history once you are aware of the resources that are available.

directory 2

How to find the history of your Niagara Falls home, Part I: the Abstract of Title

In If This House Could Talk, Niagara Falls on June 8, 2015 at 5:16 pm

By Michelle Ann Kratts

This is the first installment in a series of helpful steps toward finding the history of your Niagara Falls home.  This first installment involves the Abstract of Title document . (You can click on any of the pictures to make them larger)

photo (13)

Map at the beginning of our Title Search showing the location

When you purchase a home you will be given the Abstract of Title document.  The Title Search is a process of retrieving documents as evidence of events in the history of a piece of property.  This document is filed in chronological order and usually begins at the earliest mention of ownership of the land.  In Niagara Falls our Title Searches usually begin in the early 1800’s and mention the Mile Reserve or the Holland Land Company.  The earliest transfers of land went to William Willink, Joseph Ellicott or other agents of the Holland Land Company.   My home in Niagara Falls first “belonged” to the State of New York.  It was part of a strip of land known as the “Mile Reserve” which ran along the Niagara River; specifically “Lot 57 Mile Reserve.”   These first mentions of property exchanges DO NOT mean that your house was built at this time.  It only means that the land was recorded as being owned by these entities or individuals.

photo 1 (8)

“Letters Patent” means a type of legal instrument in form of a published written order. This shows the transfer of the land from the State of NY (Mile Reserve) to Jacob B. Gilbert. This does not mean that he lived here. This only means that he owned the land.

photo 2 (5)

This is the first page to our Title after the map. It explains that the property was “Subdivision Lots 1,2, 3 Pearwood Avenue and 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Nussbaum Avenue, La Salle, NY being part of Lot 57 Mile Reserve.”

mile strip 2

The map showing the Mile Strip

You can easily see

You can easily see “Lot 57” on this old map. My house was built on this part of land originally known as “Lot 57 of the Mile Strip”

This shows the owners of the land.  Jacob Gilbert owns Lot 57 of the Mile Reserve (Strip).  This matches what my title search says.

This shows the owners of the land. Jacob Gilbert owns Lot 57 of the Mile Reserve (Strip). This matches what my title search says.

If you do not have access to your Abstract of Title you can go to the Niagara County Court House with your address and check for the deed information.  Everything on this Abstract should also be filed with Niagara County. What will you find out about your home in this Abstract of Title? There is usually a map which will show your property.  This can be extremely helpful if the street names have changed.  Many street names have changed in Niagara Falls–especially in LaSalle.  Below is a link to help with street names in LaSalle before 1928: http://niagarahub.com/2013/11/09/renaming-the-streets-of-lasalle-in-1928/ There were also other changes to the street names in previous years.  My present street of Lindbergh Avenue went through several incarnations:  Pearwood, Linden and Lindbergh.  At least those are the street names I have found so far! Also–you should probably know that in rural parts of Niagara County (including LaSalle) there were no house numbers attached to addresses.  This may make things seem even more confusing!

As you leaf through your Title Abstract you will probably see many transfers and deeds mentioned.  You will also see the mention of a “premises.”  A “premises” refers to the “land and improvements upon it.”  Such as any buildings or homes.  So usually this mention of a “premises” would refer to the home (or an earlier structure). The Title Abstract reveals people’s names and various situations that impacted ownership.  Perhaps land went to a widow. Perhaps there is a will.  Our Title (in the “Affidavit of Mortimer Goodrich”) refers to the death of one of the owners. He had been a beekeeper and was killed when his car hit a train back in 1925.  As you can see this is quite detailed.

photo (14)

Concerning the estate of Gotthold Greiner

So dust off your Title Abstracts or make a trip to the Niagara County Court House to see what you can find regarding your Abstract of Title and Deed records.  Once we have names and location….there is so much more you can discover. Our next installment will involve another very important source for researching your Niagara Falls home:  the City Directory.

The ghost of a local landmark

In If This House Could Talk, Niagara County, North Tonawanda on March 25, 2014 at 6:07 pm

In September of 1982, Patricia Dinieri took some pictures of an old building on the corner of Niagara Falls Boulevard and Nash Road. Today it is the site of a local landmark, the Sawyer Creek Hotel. These scenes from 1982 may make you think of the ghost towns of the Old West.

Sawyer Creek pics from 1982 Patricia DiNieri


Here is a link to the restaurant’s website with some local history.


The Remarkableness of Carl Goodrich; The Death Adventure of a Boy from LaSalle by Michelle Kratts

In Bring Out Your Dead, Dangerous Waters, Deaths, Ghost Stories, If This House Could Talk, LaSalle, Niagara Falls on July 3, 2013 at 11:49 am

It’s been 100 years since Carl left our house for his fateful trip into eternity.

The Journal of the Dead Beats Society

Once upon a time, ninety nine years ago, there was a young man who lived in our house. His name was Carl Goodrich and his story fell into my lap–along with an old newspaper clipping—just a few days before we moved into a big old farmhouse on Lindbergh Avenue in the LaSalle section of Niagara Falls. As a genealogist, I was excited about the possibilities of the lives of those who came before us but I must admit that I was unprepared for Carl Goodrich….

Of course, when you buy an old house everyone wonders if you have ghosts—especially if the past residents experienced violent or tragic deaths. I have wondered about that myself but so far haven’t noticed anything out of the ordinary. The doors swing open by themselves…but old house doors do that. There are strange creaking noises…but old houses do that. And the cats stare into the…

View original post 1,523 more words

Ladies of Niagara

In If This House Could Talk, Pictures at Niagara Falls on February 12, 2013 at 8:57 pm

laura and niagara falls

Canadian born Laura Clint (top right) married Charles Gillett Campbell and lived at 8804 Lindbergh Avenue in LaSalle (Niagara Falls).

The other women in the photograph are unknown at this time.



“Ours is a whistler…”

In If This House Could Talk, The Postman Always Rings Twice on January 19, 2013 at 7:20 pm

It turns out that a woman who lived in my house many years ago, Laura Clint Campbell, thought her postman was a special angel.  A friend of mine and local historian, Elaine Timm, happened to find a little poem that Laura wrote to this spectacular postman back in August of 1949.    The postman was actually Elaine’s grandfather, Harry H. Miller.  She said that she thought I would like to have this.  Of course!  And I will think of Laura and Harry each time I gather my own mail.

Poem for letter postman harry millerMailbox