House History Seminar

Vol. XVI No. 1 - SPRING 2005

By: Kathy Gemperle

Interested in finding out who built your house? Nine people gathered at the Edgewater Historical Society Museum to learn how to research the information and make sense of the resources available. The seminar took place over three weekends in the month of February.

The first meeting included background on the Edgewater community and how it was built from the 1850s to the 1930s. The participants had the opportunity to look at plat maps and learn the names of the original sub-dividers at the museum. Also available at the museum for inspection was a 90 year old book with real estate information. Some participants found the name of their original owner.

The second meeting was held at the UIC library, where the Ancient Permit files are available on microfilm. Everyone in the group successfully found their permit date and a listing in the Ledger book. Interestingly, three of the owners live in buildings designed by A. E. Norman.

The last session was held at the Chicago Historical Society where, with the help of LeRoy Blommaert, the group was able to look at the 1928 Sanborn Fire Insurance maps for Edgewater and the 1887 Rascher Maps (Rascher was a West Andersonville resident).

Also available in the Chicago Historical Society’s research center is information on property owners based on obituaries from the Chicago Tribune archives. Some students pursued information in the City Directories such as listings for builders and architects, while others looked in photo files. Although there was still more to find out when it got to lunch time, we just had to stop. Further research on individuals who have lived at your street address is available at the Newberry library in the census data for the years 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930.

It’s amazing how little is left after a family leaves a home in Edgewater. Doing this kind of research is a little like being a detective. Perhaps the most unusual thing we found were five photos of a home on North Winthrop Avenue that had been torn down more that 50 years ago. There was nothing about the family with the photos. For the most part, there are no photos of neighborhood streets and houses. You have a better chance of getting those from the families that lived there if you are able to find them.

Interested in researching your house history? We hope to put together another seminar, either in the fall or next winter. In the meantime, we suggest that you read the booklet, Your House Has a History. Which is available on line at the City of Chicago website You may download and print it from the website. In it you will find a list of resources to investigate.