When researching a building’s history, there are so many things that can tell the story. Yes, the first step is to find who legally owned the LAND that it was built on, and that gives us a framework of just that, who owned it. That is done through the deeds at the Recorder of “Deeds” office at the Courthouse. Then you can cite book and page about the ownership. However there is so much more! Taxes are not the only thing relative either. After the Civil War, if you owned a building on St. Charles’ Main Street and you were pro Southern, your taxes would have most likely risen..but not if a Union man.
SO MANY WAYS to find the buildings real story…there are maps, plats, Birdseye views, Sanborn Insurance maps, City Directories, newspapers, photographs, local history and even family histories! Sometimes people are credited with something when they are not even alive! Plus property is sometimes inherited, but the transfer of deeds doesn’t happen for years and years afterwards. Plus sometimes, the family says someone NEVER lived somewhere, but his brother lived in the house on the property. This kind of information comes from a family history.
CAN’T BELIEVE YOUR EYES? Photographs are great, but a date – ANY DATE – can be written on a photograph. Even if time stamped that can be manipulated through the camera itself. After a deed research is conducted, the lives of the people who owned it needs to be studied. A building is architecture, it is bricks and stone. It is the lives of the people who actually lived in it that tell its story. What did they do? Where they a City leader or a crook? Where did they come from? If the story is that they started a school for the blacks, how can that be documented?
And history is continuous. Fifty years ago, historians only had the story told over the clothesline to go on.The documents to go on could only be found right there, and we didn’t have the internet to help us find things tucked away in other archives, or historical societies. Families move away, and old family stories and photographs go with them. You have to be a bit of a history detective, not just the deed research and the family genealogist, too.
You must keep an open mind, and realize that is the way we learn new things and grow! That is how history progresses! Ask questions…don’t just take everything at face value…even if it is on a deed. Remember to read the whole story…you might learn that when that deed was written that it was the meeting house for the Colored Odd Fellows Lodge too. Ask, is this possible and why did they do this?
And most of all.. look at it through the eyes a that time, don’t be judgmental. We have all made mistakes…we’re human. That’s how we learn from our mistakes. Thats history. The real story comes from when we put the people’s lives into the context of the times in which they were born. Slavery was evil. Slavery was wrong. And there were thousands of Union soldiers who gave their lives to end that wrong. To understand the stories, one has to look at the times in which someone was living. Not just within a building at an address, but to consider their dreams, their failures and the time in which they lived.
Think…Question…dig deep…look for the whole story.