Throughout my own genealogy research, I’ve learned one of the tricks of finding more information behind a line of text on census records.
I know that my family arrived in the Dayton, Ohio area starting in the 1850s. They were emigrants from Germany and Ireland. They worked as farmers, blacksmiths, tailors and shopkeepers. They lived close to downtown Dayton where they worked and attended church.
Out of curiosity and with the help of Google Maps, I started on a small adventure to find out where they lived, do their homes still exist and what did the homes look like.
I started with a spreadsheet that I made for each ancestor along with the addresses that were recorded on each census record. Since the census was conducted every 10 years, I could see if they had moved residences, where they moved and who may have been living with them at the time.
My results were interesting but not overly surprising in terms of how Dayton has progressed over the past few centuries as well as where my ancestors lived.
Summary of My Results
- Overpass for the highway
- Convention center parking garage
- A set of high rise apartment buildings
- An empty lot surrounded by other houses
The remaining house built in 1900, was purchased by my 2nd great grandparents in 1914 and then transferred to my 2nd great aunt. She lived in the house until she passed away in 1952. According to the 1940 census, the upstairs was rented to another couple and my 2nd great aunt lived downstairs. There is still a staircase in the back of the house leading to a doorway upstairs.
Luckily, this home is in a historical district of Dayton where it’s protected from certain structural upgrades that will take away the authentic integrity of the house.
Of course I wanted to know more about this house. It’s old and my family lived there for almost 40 years. What was this place like? Is there anything about the house that it can tell me about my ancestors?
I used the online county property records to give me the name of the current owners. After an online search for them on social media failed, I wrote a letter to them and told them my story. The owner soon wrote me an email and was delighted to hear about the history of the home and my family.
There was upcoming home tour for Christmas and the home was going to be a featured stop. She was expected to give a presentation about the homes to visitors and she really didn’t know much as they had only lived there for about five years. I was able to give her a little glimpse of the family that occupied it for 40 years as well as a family portrait to show her visitors. This blog tells the story about the Christmas tour and the homes featured.
History Moving On
From the census records, I knew that my 2nd great grandfather was a tailor and his daughter (my 2nd great aunt) was a seamstress.
The current owner of the home mentioned that there was an antique sewing machine in the basement. After some back and forth conversation, I knew it had to belong to my family and she offered it to me as long as I could get it out of the basement.
So along with my aunt and a friend, we all got a tour of the home and I was able to get the sewing machine out of the basement. The machine was built in 1909 and while it looked a little rough, I was able to restore it and make it my own.
The home itself is full of original woodwork from the flooring, crown molding, staircase, pocket doors, etc. I was excited to walk up and down the same steps as my ancestors and get a quick glimpse into their private lives.
It was an amazing adventure and I encourage everyone to see what you can find going beyond the basic line of the old census records and using Google Maps. However, if you choose the adventure that I took, I encourage you to seek permission and please respect the privacy of the current owners you may encounter.
Have you ever done this yourself? What did you find? Tell us about it in the comments!