Hi, and welcome to The Vernacular Life Podcast, where we talk about anything and everything that could go on in our 1906 vernacular farmhouse.
I’m your host Page and… Okay, I just said this was our 1906 vernacular farmhouse. If you’ve been around a while, you’ve probably heard me say 1906, 1905, somewhere in there. Because the truth is, I don’t really know how old our house is.
When we bought it, they told us it was built in 1912, but I look at it and I look at how cute all of the Folk Victoria details are, and it just doesn’t scream 1912 to me. So I did a little bit of research and I have decided that my best guess is that this house was built in 1906. And I think that because the original owner purchased the land from his in-laws in 1903.
So I figure it took about three years for him to get everything in order and get the property built and get the house built, and so that’s kind of why I say 1906. And so today I wanted to talk to you about how to figure out how old your house is. And even maybe if you’re really lucky, figure out who the original owner is, so maybe you can learn a little bit more about the family. Truthfully, there are probably a lot more ways to figure out how old houses.
These are the ways that I know of and that gave me the information that I want. So that’s why I want to talk to you about them specifically. So first and foremost, you’re moving into this new house. You just bought it, new, old house, new to you. It’s wonderful, it’s beautiful. Maybe you bought it because of the staircase or because it had the original windows or fireplaces or bathrooms or whatever reason you bought it.
Your best bet, the best thing to try first is the previous owners. Either, maybe you can get in contact with them at the closing. Maybe you can get in contact with them before. But especially if it’s an old house and they’ve lived there for awhile, those are gonna be the people who know the most about your house.
So questions to ask them would be, what do you know about who built the house? How long has it been here? Has it been moved? What history can you tell me? Do you have any stories that you know about it? And they will, if they know anything, and are friendly people, I would assume they would tell you kind of whatever they know. Now it can get a little bit squirrely because the previous owners of this house told us that a doctor lived here and that was kind of flashy, right. It’s like, it was a doctor’s house.
And I of course was already down the path of, this was a country doctor and he traded medical supplies for pigs and chickens and stuff like that. But as I did my research, even though the last name was the same, I couldn’t find evidence of a doctor that lived here. So we’ll come back to that in a second. So the second thing I would say, if you’ve asked the previous owners and they haven’t given you any information, the next best bet is the neighbors.
And I joke about being an introvert quite a lot and I don’t really know if I am an introvert because I do need people, I just get done with them very quickly. So it’s really just easier for me to hang out at home with my cats and record podcasts. But over the years that we’ve lived here, we have made a little bit of a connection with the neighbors.
I mean, one neighbor, they hay our fields for us and they store the hay, and then he brings me a big hay bale for my farm animals when I need it. So we have figured out, kind of a nice working relationship with our neighbors. And the thing about living in the country is that people just kind of wanna be left alone. Like we’re not out here to really like stomp on each other’s property.
I don’t really care what they’re doing over there, they don’t really care what I’m doing over here. And so we can kind of just comfortably bump along and not really bother each other if that makes sense. But one of the neighbors that we have, he has grown up here his entire life. So he’s probably in his mid sixties and his dad grew up in the house across the road from us. And so he has known many, many, many people to come and go about here.
But of course that really only goes back 40 or 50 years in terms of what he can remember and what he can tell us. But I have learned a lot about the place. I learned that there were two doors in the dining room, which I’m assuming is because there was a closet and the door into the kitchen, which is what we put back when we renovated. He told me stories about climbing up in the barn that was full of hay and making himself a hay for it and sleeping in there when it was very cold in the dead of winter, but he stayed completely warm.
So asking the neighbors, what they know about your house, I mean, you just never know what little bits of information are gonna come up. And we’ve lived here for four years and we still get little bits of information. I learned that there were buffalo here at one point, supposedly. Of course it’s all hearsay, so we really don’t know if that’s actually true or not. But asking the neighbors, if they can remember anything about the family or how long the house has been there, it’s just those people are more familiar with your new house than you’re gonna be.
So that really is just another very good resource. I’m sure also various canned goods and baked goods will help in the bribing process. Although the one time that I did give our neighbors foods, it was the first year that I’d really started learning to can. And I made a… It was a crab apple, jalapeno supposed to be jelly, but the whole concept using pectin to make the jelly actually gel just didn’t really occur to me.
So it was a two sticky, very hot syrup, and it was extremely strange. But I proudly marched out to them and gave them a jar while they were haying our fields as a thank you. So they probably think that I can’t cane now, but that’s beside the point. If they hay our fields again this year, I’ll give them another jar of proper jelly or cranberry sauce or something else instead. We’ve talked to the previous owner, we’ve talked to the neighbors, our people skills are pretty much exhausted and we need to go be by ourselves again, right.
So the next place that I would consider looking is in a book called, oh my gosh, what’s it called? “Field Guide to American Houses”, there we go. I will leave a link to it in the show notes. It is probably the best resource in terms of figuring out architectural styles. So when we moved into this house, they said it was built around 1912. And I just, I know what houses look like when they were built in 1912, they were little craftsmen things, and they were kind of those one and a half stories, and they were going in the direction of bungalows, and they had kind of heavy Oak trim and they were very square.
And the arts and crafts movement was like in full-blown happiness. And then all of a sudden, a few years later you get twenties house and thirties houses. So I looked at this little house with its sweet gingerbread trim on the front porch, and it’s rosette corners and it’s fancy door, and it’s fancy door plates. And I just thought, this is not a 1912 house. So I had purchased that book and I started looking through it and I came across Folk Victorians and there are a couple different shapes of Folk Victorians.
And that’s why this book is so good because it gives you an overview of each style at the beginning, and it shows you like the basic shapes where there are, just kind of these like rectangular Folk Victorians, and then they are, what do they called? Even gable, maybe where you have like a front facing gable and a side facing gable, or I don’t know, get the book and read it ’cause it’s really, really helpful.
But I started looking through there and I pretty much found multiple examples of Folk Victorians in this exact style. Now, if I recall correctly, I don’t have the book with me and I’m kind of precariously surrounded by cats, so I’m not gonna go get it. But I believe according to that book, Folk Victorians end in 1910. And as a little side note, this is why I refer to this house as a Victorian even though it was technically built in the Edwardian period.
Because Edwardian houses, aren’t really a style, and you’ll see that in this book. There are multiple styles going on during the Edwardian period, and none of them are referred to as Edwardian. So that is why I call this a Folk Victorian house, even though it was built in the Edwardian era, because it is in style, a Folk Victorian house.
And something you have to remember is that there was a significant time delay across the United States, as these houses were getting built. So things that were popular and being built on the East Coast, those same styles might take 20 or 30 years to get all the way across the country. So considering we are, I don’t know, 10 hours from the coast, I can accept that maybe this is a little bit later than the traditional Folk Victorian time period, but I just can’t accept that it was 1912.
That just seems way too late to me, it doesn’t seem correct. I go on feeling and gut a lot with this house. And my gut says 1905, 1906 was the right time. As a third method to try to figure out the age of your house, especially if it’s blatantly wrong. Like if you are in a federal house and they’re saying it was built in 1920, clearly we’re off by like a 100 years.
So if you have a date for your house that you suspect is completely wrong, then I would use this book, this “Field Guide to American Houses”, flip through it because they have so much information and so many different kinds of houses that you can look at for comparison. And see if you can find one that’s close to your house and then you can look at the date range and see if that’s even in the ballpark of what you’ve been told or what you’ve heard or any kind of guess.
let’s say that you have done all that and you’ve narrowed it down to a window. And that window is plus or minus 10 years. Now we wanna take a trip to one of your local buildings, truthfully, I don’t know what all of the local government buildings do, but mine was in like the clerk’s office I think. I think it was the county clerk’s office, or maybe the courthouse, somewhere down there.
But basically you need to find your county’s list of deeds, like sale of land deeds. Something about this podcast recording is making me like, hold my breath weird. So I’m having to take pauses so often and be like, okay, breathing. So you go down to the courthouse and I happened to go down there to like pay my license registration or something like that. And I asked the woman, I said, “Where are your deeds? “Where’s your deeds and records room?”
And she pointed me to it. It was a room maybe 15 by 15, and it had basically a copy of every deed for every sale of every property in the entire county dating back to pretty much as early as they could make it. Of course, if there has been a fire or something, then these deeds might be lost. But I got really lucky that the deeds were all still there. To a certain extent some of these might be digitized.
I found digitized records back to about the eighties and then I had to switch to the paper trail. But she actually told me, the woman who I was talking to at whatever building this was, she told me how to do this particular little trick. So what you’re gonna do is you’re gonna go probably with your realtor or whoever helped you buy the house, and you’re gonna look at the deed that is in your name for your house and property.
And somewhere in that deed, it’s going to say, this deed refers to the sale of land as also mentioned in deed one, two, three. So you’re looking for some kind of language that says, this is the same property that was sold in this other deed a couple years ago or whatever. So that is the, like that’s the hallmark that you’re looking for in all of this. So starting with your deed, the one that you actually have that says you own this or your landlords, if you happen to rent and they don’t mind you snooping around, then you’re going to go to the deed that’s mentioned in your deed.
So if you have deed four or five, six, and it mentions deed one, two, three, then you are gonna go back in the records and look for deed one, two, three. And then in deed one, two, three, it should say something very similar. This sale is for the land that has mentioned in deed, A, B, C. And then you go to deed A, B, C and it says, “This sale is for the land mentioned in deed X, Y, Z.”
And basically you can bunny hop all the way back to as early as you possibly can using this method. Now our house has actually been bought and sold quite a lot, like a lot, a lot. So I, I don’t know, it took me maybe two hours or so to fully bunny hop all the way back. But eventually I got to something that was the deed of sale for the original owner of this house, from his in-laws to himself.
So he bought land from his in-laws with no house on it as far as I can tell, and that was in 1903. And I knew that it was the original owner because when we were renovating the upstairs hall, we pulled off some trim and we actually found his name on the back of it with a shipping address. To me that says that the trim was purchased from a catalog and he had it shipped.
And so that stencil was just left on the back of the trim and it was such a fun thing to find. So when I saw that same name in the deeds and the records, I said, “Excellent, that’s our guy.” So from that, at the point of purchase, 1903, and I found this in research and in ancestry later, and I’ll explain that in a minute, but I know at that point he had a wife and two or three children.
So I’m assuming he bought the land, again we’re just kinda making up a story here because I don’t know. I’m assuming he bought the land because they were living in a small house and needed to upgrade, and needed a bigger size. And so that’s why it doesn’t make sense to me that it would take him nine years to build a house and get his family out here. Because by that time, I think all of his children had been born, he had like six or seven.
So to me, it just… I say this house was built in 1906, 1905, because that just seems more likely considering he bought the property from his in-laws and had all the kids, and it just like, it doesn’t make sense to me that he would wait. So if you can get yourself into the record’s office, if you can get yourself into the deeds and you can trace yours bunny hopping back as far as you can go, that might give you an indication of at least when the original owner purchased it, maybe when it was built.
Now, while you’re in the office, this probably works better if you have a house of a little bit of significance, like some kind of architectural significance or a house that was very clearly designed and was meant to be impressive. we don’t have that. We have a basic farmhouse, no president slept here, Nothing exciting happened here is just a farmhouse.
But if you have a little bit more of a prominent house, you might be able to find building plans. And I’m completely blanking on the name of the office that those would be in, but there may be plans on file for those houses. Now, I have to tell you the story that when I went poking around our building office and walked in and said, “Hi, I have a house that was built in roughly 1906, “I wondered if you happen to have the plans “for those on file.”
There were three people in the office and they literally laughed at me. They were very sweet and they were very nice, but all three of them busted out laughing. So I was like, okay, point taken. I’m just gonna leave now. Now, before we leave, I guess we have a couple more things that involve looking at records and public information.
But another place to look that was kind of unusual I didn’t expect, was the Property Evaluation Administration. I don’t exactly know what this office does, but I was directed down there and said, hey, if this place might have some information on the old property. And so where we are, all of their records are still physical and on cards. So I told her about it. I said, “Hey, I’m looking for this property. “We just bought it, this is where we live.”
And she ended up pulling out a card that had a picture of our house from I think, 1945. And that’s an important date, and I’ll explain why in just a minute. But she pulled it out and it’s the only original picture of the house that I have. It’s still had it’s back porch, the addition where our master bathroom is had not been put in yet. I think the house was in its original colors, which were white with green trim. It was just the most exciting thing to find this little scrap of information.
Because like I said, this is a farmhouse of like, not really any significance. I can’t find any evidence that there’s any kind of significant activity that happened here. So I am grasping at straws to try to figure out what this house was and what it looked like and who lived here. And so this was just a really, really exciting that I could find the picture. I’ll make sure to put it in the show notes because it was just, it was really cool to be able to find it.
So the last that you might be able to find information about how old your house is or the history of your house is something called the Sanborn Fire Maps. Now I know absolutely no history about the Sanborn Fire Maps, I don’t know why it’s called that. But what I do know is that, especially if you’re within the city limits, these were maps that were made pretty frequently over the years. I mean, you can just look ’em up, Sanborn Fire Maps.
They show a lot of times if houses were moved or how the lands and lots were parceled up or who lived there. Lots of information about the general layout of a city at a given time. So if you look at Sanborn Fire Maps and you’re looking at 1898 and your house isn’t there. And then you look at 1902 and your house is there, you’ve now narrowed down a window for when your house was built, that’s pretty accurate.
Now we’re out in the country, we’re outside of city limits. So obviously there are no Sanborn Fire Maps out here. But if you’re in a more city area or a less rural area, you might be able to find some information that way. The last thing and I’m only mentioning this because it has been suggested to me, but I haven’t actually done the research is to see if you can find the historical tax records for the property taxes on your property.
Because if there was a property that had no building and then had a building that should be reflected as a property tax increase, because now the property is worth more. I’ve never done that, I feel pretty confident in my 1906 build date, even though it’s completely unfounded and I’ve never found any evidence for it. So I’ve just kind of stopped looking at this point in terms of trying to figure out when the house was built.
But what I didn’t stop looking at was is who this guy was who built this house. And I’m going to be paranoid, okay, I’m not gonna say his name because the internet is a big place and I just don’t wanna do that. But I know his name, I know his full name, know his wife’s name, knows kids’ names. So I think he built this place in 1906. And from what I can tell his wife predeceased him by several years.
And I think I signed up for like a free trial of ancestry or something, and I used an email and I did all my research in like a week, and then I closed down the account just to try to figure out who this guy is. And I found out that, maybe we’ll have to talk about this more around October. But in 1944 I believe… No, he died in 1944.
So it must’ve been late 1943. Like December of 1943, he actually fell and broke his hip on the property. And he was transferred to a local hospital, and new year’s day, 1944, he passed away from complications. Now I’ve grown up with a mother who has worked with older adults her entire life. So I happened to know that falling, breaking the hip, contracting pneumonia and death is a fairly common path for older adults.
So I’m assuming that’s what happened to him. And if you remember, I said that, I found that picture taken in 1944, I think I said 1945, but it was 1944 and it was taken in the middle of summer. And so when I was tracing the deeds back, I saw that his son sold the property in the summer of 1944 for the first time. That was the first time it was out of the family. And so that picture was taken just six months after the original builder of this house passed away.
And that just gives me the most chills. I can’t even handle that about… I love that. I love this house and I’ll have to talk about this in another episode. But part of the reason we bought it is because I walked in and it just felt correct, everything about it felt correct. So when people are like, how do you know it’s the right house? I’m like, I literally don’t know because this one’s screamed at me with everything it had, that this was the house we were supposed to live in.
So I already feel connected to this house. It talks to me, it tells me what colors it wants, it tells me where it wants things. And so just to know more history and more information about the family. And I think about like, what was moving day like when they were here?
Like what was that first night like when they’ve been building this house and maybe they were living in too small of a house in the city and they got all the kids and they got their horse and cart, and they packed all up and they pulled up to this place, that’s absolutely beautiful. And they spent their first night in this house.
And like, I’m sitting in our master bedroom right now, recording this. And I’m looking around and knowing that this was a parlor and knowing that the original color of the parlor was pink and it had a tall mantle with green fireplace tiles. And I’m just thinking about the lady of the house, how she wanted a pink parlor with green tile.
And I’m just, can you imagine what a feeling that would be to come out here and to just, this is your house? And so I just love knowing about them. I love knowing about all of the… Not even really the children, because I tried to track them down and follow their lineage, but their last name is fairly common around here.
So it pretty much just becomes a rat’s nest. But I really think about the man who built this house and his wife and what they must have gone through to get here. And that was a very rumbly end to a discussion on how to possibly figure out how old your houses. So there will be a post about this on the blog, or you can see a summary in the show notes about all the different ways that I’ve used to figure out how old houses are.
I hope you enjoyed this episode. Definitely subscribe, hang around, we’d love to have you here. Leave us a review, and a DM, and a comment, and a five stars, and a, I don’t know, however else you’re supposed to leave reviews. And thank you so much for listening and I will see you next time. Bye.