We’re going to look at something slightly different this week. Of course, family history does seem to be about names, events, and dates. But it is also about places. And property. Property is one of the factors that really show somebody’s social status. You can learn an awful lot about your family from the houses that they lived in. You can find these out from census returns, or certificates. If you are looking at an address from 1911 or earlier, you can use census returns, like I described in an earlier article.
Another very useful resource is the street directory. These started out as an early form of Yellow Pages, back in the late 18th Century. By the 20th Century they listed every house in every street, and who lived in it, and sometimes their profession. This is especially useful if somebody was running a business. As you get later into the 20th Century you can also try looking at phone books. All of these can be found in either archives or libraries. This site is also worth a look.
You can also use electoral registers. These are mainly useful for if you know an address, you can then look it up and see what people of voting age lived in that house in a particular year. You can usually find them in coouncil offices, or libraries. I found this very useful for researching my family history during the second world war. I knew that my great-grandparents had a bed and breakfast at 66 High Street. I looked this address up in 1940, and they were there, and my grandad and his siblings. Also, interestingly, a couple of relatives and some others who i have no idea who they were! Then when the house was bombed out in the 10/11 January 1941 raid on Portsmouth they all moved to 68 Angerstein to live with some other relatives.
A very useful source, but quite unpredictable, is the title deed. Some of these are held by solicitors on behalf of clients, other people have them, and some have been deposited in archives. It really is pot luck. Im really lucky, as a few years ago my mum and dads mortgage company sent us a large brown envelope containing all of the title deeds for our house, as far back as 1936 when the builder bought the land from George Cooper, tjhe farmer who owned most of the land in Paulsgrove before it was built on. My road was one of the first roads built in Paulsgrove. I know all of the people who have owned and lived in the house until the present day, what it has been valued at. I even have some lovely diagrams of the area, from when G.A. Day the Builder purchased it from George Cooper. Not long before we moved in the old lady who lived here sold half of the back garden to a property developer. shame really, would have been a lovely big garden…
One thing I would stress… dont just look at the one address. Look at the neighbours, the whole street, the area. Think about the community, the people who live there. Are they all naval families, railway workers, miners? is it a poor area, or more upmarket? Is it in the inner city, or a leafy suburb? If you’re really lucky, you might be able to find out what rates they were paying, so this gives you an idea of the value of a house. And if your relatives owned a nice big house, chances are they were pretty well off!
With the advent of the interweb, now you can simply type an address into multimap and see exactly where it is. Something that I find really interesting is to go and have a walk round these houses, and look at them. Of course, it helps if they are still standing. Even if they’re not, local libraries, archives or even newspapers might just have photographs.
So next time you walk past a row of old houses, or even walk up the path to your own, think about the people that have lived there, the events, the memories. If only those bricks could talk…