A fun way to learn about your house is to find historic newspaper advertisements. It wasn’t unusual for 19th century and earlier homes to be sold after a homeowner died. Sometimes the proceeds of the sale were used to settle the estate. This is one reason we can find advertisements of homes for sale in historic newspapers.
Elihu Fuller, a wheelwright, bought his home in East Medway (now Millis), Massachusetts in 1822. He died unexpectedly from typhoid fever in 1852. His house was put up for sale to pay the debts of his estate. An advertisement in a local newspaper gives a very descriptive look at what the house and property was like in 1853.
The text reads like this:
Sales by Auction
BY JOHN P. JONES.
ADMINISTRATOR’S SALE OF REAL ESTATE
By license of the Court of Probate for the
county of Norfolk, dated at Dedham, on the
first Tuesday of April, A.D. 1853, will be sold
at Public Auction, on Thursday, the fifth day of May
next, at one o’clock, P.M., at the house of Elihu Fuller,
late of Medway, deceased, a FARM containing thirty-five
acres of Land, five acres of which is woodland, with the
buildings thereon, consisting of a large and good two-story
Dwelling House, with kitchen and wood-house, in good re-
pair and suitable for two families. Also a large two story
Shop, Barn and Other outbuildings, all in good repair. On
the premises is a variety of fruit-trees.
The above is well situated in the easterly part of Medway,
about half a mile from two churches, post office, and good
The condition of sale will be liberal and and made known at
the time of sale. ISRAEL D. FULLER, administrator.
Medway, April 11, 1853
The advertisement describes a two-story home large enough for two families located on thirty-five acres with a two story shop, barn, other out buildings and an orchard of fruit trees. It also describes its location near two churches, a post office and “good” schools.
This advertisement provides a rare look into an earlier time period. Shortly after this advertisement was run, the property was divided into smaller pieces and sold off.
Where to Find Newspaper Advertisements
You can search for newspaper advertisements if you have already done your deed research and know the names of the previous owners of your house. Armed with those names you can search online historical newspaper databases such as those found online at Ancestry.com (subscription site), The New England Historic Genealogical Society (subscription site), the Boston Public Library’s database “America’s Historical Newspapers (1690-1922)” and Genealogybank.com (subscription site).
Free access to Ancestry.com is available from many libraries so be sure to check with your local library to see if they have it. Also, the Boston Public Library offers eCards to residents of Massachusetts. You can apply online (no need to visit the library). This will give you access to the Boston Public Library electronic databases.
Of course, you can also search newspapers on microfilm which can often be found at your local library.
Searching for newspaper advertisements with just a name can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. An easier way to find historical advertisements specific to your house is to look in probate records.
Advertisements from Probate Records
When a house was sold as part of the settlement of an estate, often a copy of the advertisement (like the one above) was included in the probate packet. Advertisements aren’t found in every case. You will, however, find a document that lists the newspaper that the advertisement was placed in. The document will also list the dates that the advertisement was published. With this information you should be able to locate a copy of the historical newspaper, perhaps in your local library or a nearby larger library. If not found there, try the Boston Public library which maintains a large collection of New England newspapers on microfilm.