I arrived a little late for the The Rochester Genealogical Society meeting at The Asbury First United Methodist Church (1050 East Ave.) and Robert Coomber was talking about his Research trip to LDS Library in Salt Lake City. It was too much a tourist slide show but an informative overview of the library. I was also kind of annoyed that the guy running the laptop slide show didn't know how to operate the software, and neither of them really understood feedback and microphones. But hey, it didn't cost me anything.
In the break for refreshments, I had some instant coffee and cookies and briefly chatted with Rick Porter — the keynote speaker for the night and operator of Finger Lakes House Histories.
His lecture was titled If Your House Could Talk, What Story Would it Tell? It was quite informative. He gave case-study examples describing the kind of information you can find and how that manifests in a house history. He said it's not too hard find the hard history of a structure — its architecture and land history — and it's not too hard to find genealogical information about families, but he's interested in finding the "soft history" of a house … who lived there, when, and why.
Some obvious tools include deeds, census information, and tax records. It might seem straightforward to use deeds, but there's some unexpected challenges: like they were not transfered to newly formed counties so you need to search based on the old county's records. And before 1840, deeds were not often recorded at all. Records of mortgages, deeds, and "discharge mortgages" are available on the county clerk's office — the last being for second mortgages for improvements that were successfully paid in full.
There are other avenues of research as well. Legal notices are another interesting source of house history as they include wills and auctions of households. There are also "Sanborn maps" which were used for fire insurance and include materials, building changes, and power sources and are often available on microfilm at the library. Also, in this area, a house sale included an abstract that itemized the full land history, but usually all that is provided to a new buyer in recent years is evidence of a clean title. Apparently Monroe county is one of a few counties that still requires abstracts, so you can locate that information from the abstract company.
I had always wanted to stop by one of these meetings as the topics discussed often seemed quite interesting. Perhaps I'll make a bigger effort to do so in the future …