House Photo Identification – How to Find Who Lived at an Address

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 28

Original air date: 10/8/20
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history.

watch Elevenses with Lisa episode 28

In this episode we’re going to take many of the things we’ve learned in past episode of Elevenses with Lisa and apply them to one of your genealogical problems. My goal isn’t to find the answer myself, but rather to provide a toolbox of strategies that you can use to experience the joy of the discovery yourself when researching a home or location, as well as in a wide variety of other genealogical situations! Keep reading for notes that accompany this episode.

Cynthia Owens is a regular viewer and participant in the Live chat each week during Elevenses with Lisa. She emailed this photo and wrote “This picture was with my mother’s belongings…photo of a house in Omak, Okanogan, Washington with only an address written on it. 308 S. Main, Omak, WA. I have hundreds of photo’s (B & W) that have no information on them and a lot of people who I don’t know.  I have a gold mine and no idea how to mine it.”

Cynthia's photo of a house

The house photo in Cynthia’s family collection.

Cynthia said that so far she has found the names of the last two owners in county records and some directories. She also determined that the house was built in 1928. She writes, “I have a lot of family on both sides of my parents who could have owned it.”

Formulate Your Research Question

The research question in this case boils down to: Who owned the home at 308 S. Main, Omak, WA in the 1930s?

Compile Known Family Names

We start by compiling a list of family surnames that we will be on the lookout for. These are families who are known to have lived in Washington state during that time frame.

Cynthia’s mother’s family names:

  • Woodhead
  • Patience

Cynthia’s father’s family names:

  • Tucker
  • Stubbs
  • Tonks

Answer the Question Does the house still exist today?

To answer this question, we turn to the free Google Earth Pro software. By simply searching the for the address and using Street View we are able to determine that yes, it is. Google Earth also allows us to obtain a high-quality image.

The house in Google Earth's Street View today

The house in Google Earth’s Street View today.

Google for Land Records

I conducted a simple Google search: Okanogan County Land Records

The results:

 

Locating Land Records

Special Guest: Kathy Nielsen, Librarian
Kathy Nielsen is a reference librarian and an educator.   She has a masters degree in History and in Library Science.  Kathy is currently a popular genealogy speaker on  California’s Monterey Peninsula.  She incorporates her skills as an historian, a storyteller and a librarian in her search for her family’s history. Kathy Nielsen stopped by to offer suggestions on obtaining land records. Watch Elevenses with Lisa episode 20 on House History featuring Kathy Nielsen.

The FamilySearch Wiki

Visit the free FamilySearch Wiki here. Search for the county in the wiki and then click on Land Records.

County Auditors Department

  • Where land records are located.
  • You can do a title search.
  • The records may not be online.
  • Email or call and inquire what the options are to access the records or have a search done.
  • Access varies by county.

Follow the chain of ownership back in time:
Grantee = the person who bought the property
Grantor = the person who sold the property.

Real Estate Websites

  • Trulia.com
  • Zillow.com

These sites don’t provide owner names but do show you recent transactions.
Result: The house was sold in 1997. It went on the market briefly in 2013.

Assessor’s Office (Tax Records)

These are typically only available to the current owner.

More Places to Look for Real Estate Related Information

City Directories

City directories are usually published yearly. Look also for Reverse Directories that allow you to look up the address in order to find who lived there. Kathy suggests contacting the local public library staff to inquire about City Directories and other records. Many libraries are currently staffing online reference chat.

State Libraries

Kathy recommends expanding out from the local area library to nearby communities, and the state. The Washington State Library is also currently answering questions. They have a genealogy department and city directories.

WorldCat.org

WorldCat is the world’s largest network of library content and services. The online catalog that itemizes the collections of 17,900 libraries in 123 countries and territories.

National Register of Historic Places

According to the website: “The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resource.” Click here to learn more about and search their digital database.

Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (Washington State)

From the website: “On this site you will find information on historic buildings, the archaeology of Washington State, how to navigate our regulatory processes and how to nominate properties to the State and National Register of Historic Places.”

Neighbors

Contacting and talking to neighbors is often one of the quickest and easiest ways to gain information. The 411.com website offers a free reverse address lookup. The results will give you the name of the current owner and residents, and even plot nearby neighbors (with names) on a map.  

Researching the Home from Home

If you’re unable to research in person, make significant headway with these online resources.

Historical Societies

Google to find the official website of the historical society located in the area where the house is located. These sites may include searchable databases and information on how to contact them for resources and lookups. 
Result: The Okanogan County Historical Society features a searchable database.

Facebook

Search Facebook for the name of the county historical society in the area where the house is located. Facebook pages often include more up to date information than the official website.

Old Maps

Depending on the town and area, you may be able to find an old map from the approximate time frame that includes details on homes. Two excellent free resources are:

  • Davidrumsey.com
  • Historical maps in the Layers panel of Google Earth Pro

Search at Genealogy Records Websites

Searching for various combinations of the address, town and surnames from the family tree may lead you to an answer. Here are a few examples of searches run at Ancestry.com and FamilySearch. (Your results may vary depending on the date you are searching):

Keyword: (address) 308 Main St, Omak (exact)
Results: 25 (These were not all exact)

Residence: (town) Omak (exact) and Keyword: (address) 308 Main St. (exact)
Results: 5

Search each surname in Okanogan County at Ancestry.
Results for Cynthia’s mother’s family names:
Woodhead (Paul Woodhead married in Okanogan in 1941)
Patience (No results)

Cynthia’s father’s family names:
Stubbs (results from the 1970s)
Tonks (None)
Tucker (8 results)

FamilySearch.org

Run the same at the free FamilySearch.org genealogy website. Search each surname with Omak (exact) & 1920-1940 (restricted to) U.S. On the day I searched, the only surname from the list with results was Tucker. Cynthia’s next step would be to compare the results to her known family tree.

Search the Census Specifically

You can search the census by using the search fields and using variations of names, town, county and specific address. If you don’t find the specific address that way, brown the records of the town, looking for addresses written in the left margin. At Ancestry, look for the link to a map of the location found in a census.
Results: 1930 Census: 104 West First St., Omak (Jess Tucker)

Use Google Earth to determine if the addresses found are the same today. Plot each finding on the map using placemarks.
Result: 1930 Census Address: 104 West First Street, Omak = not there today

A search in the 1940 for Jess Tucker found him still living with his mother. She was recorded as “Frances Write” living at 504 Main St., Omak, close to the house in question. When searching the census be sure to look at the pages on either side of the results page. In this case Jess is found on the next page living at “no number” as a renter at his mother’s home.

1940 Census Enumeration District Maps

Ancestry has a collection of 1940 Enumeration District Maps from the National Archives (where they can also be found here along with additional helpful search strategies.) Enumeration districts are geographic areas that were designed to allow an enumerator (the census taker) to visit every house in the district within a two-week time period. A month was allowed in more wide-spread rural areas. These maps vary in the amount of detail provided. They may or may not indicate house numbers.

Go the Ancestry Card Catalog and search for the 1940 Census Enumeration District Maps collection. In the search fields for this collection, enter the enumeration district number which can be found in the upper corner of the 1940 census page.

State Census

State Censuses were often conducted every ten years in years ending with “5” which makes them a great supplement to the U.S. Federal Census. They also sometimes include information not gathered at the federal level. Therefore, an important question to ask is “was a State Census taken in this approximate time period?”

Here’s a State Census list from the National Archives.
Results for Washington state: No state census taken after 1898.

Card Catalog Include Useful Unique Sources

Not all useful records will surface with a straight-forward search. Dig into the Card Catalog of your favorite genealogy records website to find unique and useful collections that may include addresses.

Example: Search the Ancestry card catalog for Okanogan County, WA
Found:  Washington, Postmaster Indexes, Prior to 1965
Strategy: Browse the alphabetically organized Okanogan cards for each family name.

Another unique record type that often includes address are Draft Cards. Search by location then surname. Also try Keyword searches. Not all cards include complete addresses but many do.

The Future is Bright

Here’s a summary of the wide variety of genealogical research strategies we’ve covered in this episode:

  • FamilySearch Wiki (by county)
  • FamilySearch Card Catalog (by location)
  • County Auditor’s Dept. for land records
  • com for most recent purchase
  • City Directories (including reverse)
  • Local, County, and State libraries)
  • org
  • National Register of Historic Places
  • Neighbors
  • Historical Society (website and Facebook)
  • Old maps
  • Search Genealogy sites by address & surname
  • Census / State Census
  • Unique Records (Draft cards, Postmaster Index)
  • Plot in Google Earth for perspective
  • Census Enumeration District Maps

Resources

Premium Video & Handout: Solving Unidentified Photo Album Cases(This video features using Google Photos.) Also watch  Google Earth for Genealogy  and download the handout.
Bonus Download exclusively for Premium Members: Download the show notes handout

Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member today. 

Please Leave a Comment or Question

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Free Video: Powerful Google for Genealogy Search Strategies

Boost your Google search skills with this free video class on Google for genealogy, presented at RootsTech 2016 by Google expert Lisa Louise Cooke.how to use Google for family history and genealogy

“Everyone should be using Google to search for their family history!” That’s Lisa Louise Cooke’s mantra. Google reaches deep into so many different kinds of content on the internet. Google search tools help us discover ancestors’ names mentioned online; locate records we need; and discover historical details, images and maps that help us better understand their lives. And Google is FREE.

But Google works best when you follow a well-executed search methodology, just like in other aspects of genealogy research. At RootsTech 2016, Lisa taught a powerful and popular Google search for genealogy methodology class to a packed audience in a session that live-streamed around the world. Watch her dynamic, informative class below for free. Kim wrote in to say that the class “was the best one I’ve seen thru the free streaming [RootsTech]….Thanks for sharing free content with those of us who can’t afford to spend any money on genealogy.”

How to use Google for GenealogyThis class content comes from Lisa’s book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox (2nd edition). In it you’ll find all you need to know to take your hit-and-miss online searches to a powerful, proven search methodology for finding your ancestors online–and everything else you’re looking for! There are step-by-step instructions, screenshots and powerful examples for topics such as basic and advanced Google searching, Google Books, Google Earth, Google Scholar, Google Alerts, Google Translate and even YouTube.

More Google for Genealogy Gems

Keep learning from Lisa! Click below to read more proven Google search methodologies for genealogy.

Google Searching 101

7 Google Search Features You Should be Using

2 Mysterious Deaths in the Family? Time To Google Them!

 

 

 

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