When one buys an old home, they buy history! No matter if it is in a town, or a big city or out in the country, if its old – its historic in their eyes! I’ve been working on a project writing the history of 150 buildings on Saint Charles Main Street and even though I’ve been writing and researching for over 30 years – every experience teaches me more! Here’s a few of the things I’ve learned over the years on how to learn the history of your house, or farm, or cemetery…
You start with the legal history of the property. Its like the skeleton, and I’m not talking about ghosts! But to begin, you have to know the first owner, and each subsequent owner of the property and the dates that they owned it. Now if you are lucky enough to have one of those good old fashioned abstracts around, that the deed company provided when the property changed hands, this is great. What you want to create is the same thing, the transfer each time the property changed hands, who it was sold to, what was on the property, and when exactly this happened. This creates a timeline of the property. When buying a property the title company is doing this research but its expensive, but well worth it. This can take quite a bit of time in the County Recorder of Deeds office. In St. Charles County (MO) one can research the deeds online at https://stcharles.landrecordsonline.com/index.html at almost any time of day! This is a great advancement through technology. You will want to read the actual deed and make a copy to refer to. These old deeds can tell you a lot whether it was Main Street or a cemetery!
Once you have developed your timeline of who owned the property and those dates you will want to know more about those people!! That is the flesh and blood of the story. The lives of the people who lived or died on your property. There are so many sources for this information!!! You can spend forever developing the story of your property just researching the lives of all the people who lived there. You may even want to consider Nomination to the National Register of Historic Places if it qualifies, and it hasn’t already been done. Check first to see if its listed and if its eligible at https://dnr.mo.gov/shpo/ where there is a great group of people ready to answer questions!
Further steps in developing the history of your property:
- Death and Taxes are the two things you can’t escape. Those records in St. Charles County (MO) can be found at https://lookups.sccmo.org/assessor where all the public records for property can be found. If its in St. Charles County they’ve got it. You will find the Deeds literally in the Recorder of Deeds office in the new St. Charles County Administration building on Second Street in St. Charles.
- Newspaper articles can be found at either https://www.newspapers.com/ for a cost or many can be found in the archives of the State Historical Society of Missouri where they have microfilmed thousands of newspapers. To find out what newspapers they have see http://shsmo.org/newspaper/ or check out some of the great collections of newspapers at the St. Charles City-County Public Library at the Kathryn Linnemann branch through http://www.youranswerplace.org/ which is also free. What are you looking for? If the owner died a tragic death you will find it in his obituary, or if the house suffered damage in the cyclone of 1876, or maybe he did something famous that put him in the newspaper.
- If you proficient in genealogy and have an Ancestry.com account try searching the families that lived there in the Public Family Trees. If you find your people, contact the owners of that tree. They will love knowing and having pictures of their ancestors house! You will want to connect with earlier families that lived in your house because only they can give you pictures of the Christmas tree in front of the mantle or Grandpa on the front porch. They are a resource like no other!
And a lot more information you are going to go in search of can be found at the St. Charles County Historical Society at 101 South Main in St. Charles. They are open Mondays-Wednesdays-Fridays and Saturdays from 10am until 3 pm! You can go online too and visit them at https://scchs.org/ There you will find a wealth of information and volunteers that are great and willing to help you! Here is what you will find there, and some of this is for the entire St. Charles County…
- Tax books! Nothing tells a story better than when the value of a property doubles or even triples because Grandpa built his house.
- Abstracts from the old Emmons Abstract Company are fantastic and can help create that skeleton.
- Property files which they keep on each address.
- Photographs that can be searched of the families and sometimes the properties too.
- Family files that help you flesh out those people that lived in your house.
- Sanborn Insurance Maps that show what your house looked like in certain years. They have all the St. Charles ones, but for those of you in O’Fallon here is a link http://dl.mospace.umsystem.edu/mu/islandora/object/mu%3A138917
- Along the way you may even start to discover that an earlier resident was the Sheriff or did something really amazing or important and they will also be able to tell you a little more about that probably.
- For those of you who just love old houses too I hear they are having a House Tour on September 9, 2017.
There is also an O’Fallon Historical Society at http://www.ofallonmohistory.org/ and a Wentzville Historical Society on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Wentzville-Historical-Society-125569122083/ and the Boone-Duden Historical Society in southern St. Charles County at http://www.boone-duden.com/ as well.
This will just get you started! Soon you will be posting on one of the local Facebook pages about St. Charles County like St. Charles history of the past and events of today and telling all of your friends “Guess what happened in my house!” Let me know if you want help too, because I happen to know several great researchers.