23 December, 2008

Box House History

Inspired by Andy at Building a Better Bungalow, I got a free 14-day trial membership to Ancestry.com to see what I could dig up from the 1930 Census regarding The Box House, which was built in 1925, 1926, or 1928, depending on which records you believe.

It was a little more complicated than just plugging in the address. For whatever reason, that wasn't working. I would get an "address unknown" sort of message. I found another source online that indicated what enumeration district our street fell under, and then pulled up that document on Ancestry.com, checking it page by page until I found the address for The Box House.

Well, I found out that both units of our two-flat were occupied by renters during the census. The downstairs unit, the one we're currently occupying, had a George and Ethel May Tetlow who lived here with their children, George Jr. and Betty Lou, and George's mother, Nellie. Nellie was born in England, and Ethel May's family came from Canada. George was, unsurprisingly, the breadwinner of the family, working as a salesman for an oil distributor. Checking back to the 1920 and 1910 censuses, I found out he had worked as an auto mechanic and a chauffeur. It seemed he always lived within a few blocks of The Box House.

The upstairs unit, which we are currently renting out, also had tenants back in 1930. George Melberger, originally from New Jersey, worked as a department manager for an insurance company. He lived at The Box House with his wife Claudia and his daughter, also named Claudia, age 15.

Both units were paying a rent of $75 a month, which is $968.26 in today's currency. It was the cheapest rent reported on the block. The other rental properties on our street were renting at $88-$110 a month. Most of the houses were owner-occupied, most of the people in them American-born, and most had foreign-born parents. The block seemed primarily English descent, with a smattering of folks of Belgium and German heritage. Each household had at least one radio, and everyone could read and write.

I couldn't glean who owned The Box House from the census info, but it seems obvious it was built as an investment property, as both units were rented out shortly after it was built. I recall one of my neighbors saying The Box House and the next two properties were all built at the same time, so it's possible that one of the owners of those houses owned this one, too. But that's pure speculation. I'll have to dig deeper and haul myself down to the library and/or historical society for the next phase of research.


Andy said...

The "chain" continues...amazing what reading other blogs inspires, isn't it? :)

Oh, and I should have warned that it's not as easy as looking up your address in the census, and that you'd have to weed through pages to get to your street. But it sounds like you made it through!

Would be neat to find out who actually owned the building...so good luck!

Joanne said...

It's reading other house blogs that help me keep my sanity about our fixer upper. :-)

It really took only half an hour or so to find our house in the census, but what a little thrill that was!

Karen Anne said...

The problem with the U.S. censuses (censi?) is that the census takers varied a lot in their handwriting and diligence, so you often have to scan thru pages and pages. Plus incorrectly spelled names are all over the place. And if a family wasn't home, they were apparently skipped for good that time around.

Every so often I'd find some pages that were beautify written, and I wanted to beam a message thru the heavens to the census taker to say thank you, and nice work doing your best when other people clearly didn't give a darn.

Don't forget to save off the pages you're interested in to your pc, so you'll have them even if you let your Ancestry subscription lapse.

Jen said...

I found a relative of an owner of our house today. Maybe even the first owner. Which would be the same as the last owner I could located from the 30's. (See side bar on blog) He gave me the name of the grandson of that owner and his brother knows the other contact info. I am excited, and if he was the first owner that would explain why I hit a dead end.

Have a great Holiday.