Researching Your Home's History
Our Reference staff enjoy helping patrons daily on a variety of questions – some related to ancestors, some personal stories, but others want to know the unique, educational or more offbeat questions that they have about their homes.
The Library and a few other institutions around the city and state offer a unique look into the community in which we live. We have staff who are willing to help whether you want to come in and research or if you used to live in Lowell and are now looking for the history of your home/neighborhood.
One of the best places to start is to visit Ancestry (free to use at the library) or FamilySearch.org to find federal censuses from 1790 to 1950 as well as some limited Massachusetts State Censuses. Please note that the 1890 census was mostly destroyed in a fire.
The Library has a large number of City Directories available, some of which are also available on the search sites above. We have early editions of the Lowell City Directories, both in physical copy and on microfilm. Starting in 1917, the City Directories offer street listings, so that you can see who else lived in that area. City Directories are unique because at times they’ll list where individuals lived, worked, and potentially who else lived with them.
When we are asked questions about the history of a home, we undertake a number of different searches. The first is to pull both the Cultural Resource Inventories and Neighborhood Surveys. Both the Pollard Memorial Library and the Center for Lowell History on French Street have access to these books. You can see the first few pages of the inventory on our library.
There are also a number of online resources that you can use to research your home:
- MACRIS – https://mhc-macris.net
- Lowell Geographic Information System – https://gpv.lowellma.gov/public/Search/Search.aspx
- UML Digital Collections –
Other times, we’ll need to reach out to get a history of the home’s ownership and will work with the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds to find a history of a home. If it’s not able to be found online, we recommend that the patrons make a request to get physical copies of the materials.
We also have access to a number of maps to help identify when a house was built, any changes to the house, what building materials, were used and more. Physical maps are housed in both the Reference Room and our Local History Room. Additional scans and maps can be found at the Center for Lowell History, including their online Map & Atlas Collection. Maps provide unique layouts to neighborhoods and properties over time. The map below is a representation of Lowell before it was Lowell.
The question (history of the home, previous businesses or residents, other uses, upgrades, will disputes, real estate transactions, and lastly, “has anyone ever died in the house?”) will determine our next steps. One of our favorite places to find information about homes is in the newspaper. Your library card allows you access to the Lowell Sun, both historical (1879-1977) and more modern editions (October 2021 – present). We also have the Lowell Sun available on microfilm and our staff are willing to assist you with your search.
The Pollard is also home to a number of early Lowell papers on microfilm, including:
- American Citizen – May 20, 1854 – May 1862
- Centralville News – May – November 1916
- Chelmsford Phoenix – June 28, 1825 – February 24, 1826
- Evening Star – March 1890 – September 1896
- L’Etoile – September 1886 – April 1899
- Le National – June 1890 – October 4, 1895
- Lowell Advertiser/Lowell Evening Advertiser – January 1838 – December 1862
- Lowell Courier-Citizen – Morning edition: January 1837 – February 1906
- Lowell Courier-Citizen – Evening edition: March 1906 – December 1921
- Lowell Sun – Weekly: August 1878 – August 1892
- Daily Sun – September 1892 to our current editions of the Lowell Sun
- Lowell Sunday Telegram – April 1899 –September 1952
- New England Greek Messenger Weekly – March 1915 – December 1917
- Star of Bethlehem – January 1841 – May 1846
- Vox Populi
Beyond the papers, we’ll try a variety of different resources to find the answer. In the case of the question about if anyone has died there, we were able to pull the information from a death certificate that was found online, so the answer was “yes.” We didn’t get a heads up about why they were asking, so we aren’t sure if it was general knowledge or if they believe that their home was haunted. One of the unique things about the search is that the woman who passed was married, but yet all real estate transactions in the late 1800s and early 1900s were in her name because her property was deeded to her from her father and she shows up on all maps as the owner of the property.
Interested in learning more about resources in Lowell related to ancestors, local history or more? Our Assistant Director, Bridget Cooley, will be hosting a Local History Research and Resources talk on Wednesday, November 1 at 6:30 pm in the Reference Room/Memorial Hall.
Have a local history question, but can’t come in? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance today!