Out on a Limb: House Call

Out on a Limb: House Call

Appreciating the history of an old home.

I always wanted to own an old house, and last fall, I finally got my wish: I bought a turn-of-the century wood-frame home in a historic western Cincinnati neighborhood. The original structure was built in 1895, with “modern” amenities such as a kitchen and bathrooms added some years later.

I instantly fell in love with the house’s historical character — not just the craftsmanship and architectural details, but the tangible reminders of bygone days and generations. When I put away my dishes in the early 1900s pine cabinets, I can envision some long-ago resident whisking through the kitchen’s galley door to serve supper. As I do yard work, I can picture a former denizen leaning up against one of the old fence posts on a hot summer day.

Being a genealogist, of course, I’m not satisfied with simply imagining my home’s former occupants — so I’ve begun investigating the house’s “genealogy.”

I had a good head start: a copy of a 1915 neighborhood plat map bequeathed to me by the previous owner. It came from one of the street’s former patriarchs, who’d dutifully recorded the names of subsequent owners. From that map and records on the county auditor’s Web site, I learned the house passed from a Robert McKinney to Emil and Emma Albrecht, then to Marion and Artie Smith in 1944, before the prior owner bought it in 1975.

Poking around in census records, I discovered the Albrechts — like many of the street’s early residents — were German immigrants. I also found out Robert McKinney wasn’t the first owner: He’s there in the 1910 census, but not 1900.

So you can bet I’ll be turning to the sources in this issue’s article on house histories to solve that mystery. Whether you use our advice to learn more about your own old house or your ancestors’, I’d love to know what you uncover. Share your stories and pictures in our Back Fence Forum <www.familytreemagazine.com/forum>.

From the September 2008 issue of Family Tree Magazine

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