Last night I had the pleasure of presenting a talk to the Westport, Massachusetts Historical Society. The talk was called “Researching the History of Your House.” I like to customize house history talks by using a local historical home as the example to demonstrate the key points of my talk. Last night I used 42 Prospect Avenue at Westport Point as the centerpiece.
Residents of Westport are very lucky to come from a town with many historical homes. According to public record there are 342 single family homes built between 1850 – 1900, 48 built between 1800 – 1849 and 30 built between 1700 – 1799. [Please note that years assigned by public record can vary from that of completed historical inventory survey forms and other sources.]
Westport residents also benefit from the support of an active historical society. When starting to research the history of your home be sure to visit the Westport Historical Society to make use of the many resources that will help in your search. The historical society has historical land ownership maps, Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps as well as copies of the historical inventory forms that were completed for the Westport Historical Commission. The society also has a collection of books that can be helpful in your research.
Without stepping foot in the society building you can benefit from the tremendous resources available on the society website. The Society has put online a searchable database of its entire collection of photographs, postcards and archives. Many years worth of town records have also been transcribed and are available online. Perhaps the owner of your home was noted in these records as having been elected a fence viewer, warden or tithing man in 1790. There is so much online at the society website that you’ll even find a separate section for online photo albums.
Meanwhile from the Westport Historical Commission website. If you are a historic home owner, you will also find many files on the site that are particular to being in a historic district, demolition bylaws, and historic inventory lists.
A good way to quickly get started on researching the history of your house is to check to see if a historical inventory survey form (previously mentioned above) has been already completed. Each survey form contains a photo of the historic home (at the time the survey was completed), as well as information on the approximate date built, a list of architectural details, and a description of its historical significance. Some forms contain more information than others but at the very least you should be able to obtain an older photo of your home. If you don’t want to wait to view the hard copies at the historical society, head to the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS) to search for a copy online. Photos and pdfs of the forms have recently been added to the site.
When you are ready to start researching the deeds to your property you can go online to the Bristol County South Registry of Deeds. Indexed deeds are currently available (as of August 2010) back to 1978. You can also search by book and page number back to 1999. Need a more hands on approach? Head over to the Registry at 25 North 6th Street in New Bedford. They are open 8:00am – 4:30pm, Monday through Friday.