and the gift that keeps on giving…
This is the fifth year of “If this house could talk”, and a common question I get is, “Again? I already did a sign …. won’t people get bored if I use it again?” or alternatively, ” I did it once, but I have no more stories…”
Well, house histories aren’t the only thing your house can talk about. What about current day stories, stories about the pandemic, anything?! Think of it as a street-legal blog post! One year we had a totally made up story about seances and aliens! We don’t encourage making up stories to confuse future researchers – but it was sure fun to read! What would your house say today?
But, sticking to the history theme for a minute, let me share my experience about finding stories.
Researching your house and its occupants is like unraveling a tapestry. The more you pull on a loose thread, the more it keeps unraveling. The start of the research on my house was relatively easy – the prior owners had left me a book with the story of the first occupant, a letter he left to his son, and a lot of leads to learn more.
So, my first exploration was into the life of Abraham Wheelwright, soldier in the Revolutionary army and captain of his Newburyport shipping enterprise. That was interesting enough…
BUT WAIT … pulling on that thread led me to the next generation of Wheelwrights that were born in the house (including a captain lost sea), and then the generation of Wheelwright grandchildren who played in the house (one of them appointed Bishop of Rhode Island). and the generation that ran a paper business, a coal mine, and even founded Polaroid. In the end I’ve made connections to the current day descendants, and love sharing stories with them. The family stories they’ve handed down really fill in the gaps.
BUT WAIT … the fourth owner of the house lived here almost as long as Abraham, and has led to stories about him, his daughters, and his housekeeper – to whom he eventually willed the home. I was even able to find a calling card from his daughter for their State Street linen store!
BUT WAIT … that housekeeper, in the end, couldn’t really afford to live in and maintain the home…so she started boarding people. WOW! What a source of stories! I am currently researching all the children (foster children, boarders, and more) who lived in my house during the 1920s and into the depression.
Let’s see where that thread leads….
There are so many stories, so many threads, and they keep unraveling. We’d love to hear yours. But first you have to start…at the Library’s archival center, or our House History 101 class…
and that’s why we do “If This House Could Talk”.