Last month was Keep America Beautiful Month. May is Personal History Awareness Month. I’m not sure who comes up with these really obscure designations, but they make good themes. To start off this month, we’re going to start with some tips on researching the history of your home, historic or not.
To start, you’ll want to gather your supplies. You don’t need much. I work with only a camera (your phone will work), legal pad, and pencil. You’re going to want to keep a record of everything that you find, so keep that legal pad handy.
The easiest thing to do is work backwards, creating what’s known as a deed chain. Start with the current owner, yourself in this case. You know who you bought the home from. You know how much you paid for it. If it’s a newer home, you may even be the one who built it. Write all of that down, including any changes you’ve made to the house since you bought it. Your next stop will be the County Courthouse.
All deeds are public information, meaning that you can access any deed ever recorded in Mason County simply by visiting the County Clerk’s Office. In larger courthouses, this can be a real hassle. Luckily for you, the employees of the Mason County Clerk’s Office are absolutely wonderful and willing to help those who aren’t familiar with the records.
You’ll want to locate your deed, between you and the person who sold it to you. Then, you’ll want to find their deed. In yours, it should say something like “being the same property (your seller) bought from (whoever sold it to them), as recorded in Deed Book #X, Page X. Go to that deed, record the information, and you’ll find the same thing. Continue tracing it down the line until you reach the last deed. In our case, that’ll be sometime before 1840. That’s the approximate time of the last land grant in our county. After that, the original grants were just split up and subdivided. If you’re really lucky, you’ll be able to trace your deed chain back to 1804, the year Mason County was founded.
If you want to go back farther than that, you’ll probably have to travel. Before 1804, Mason County was part of Kanawha County, which was formed from Greenbrier County, which was formed from Botetourt and Montgomery Counties (VA), which were formed out of Augusta County (VA). The original land records for each of those counties will be at their own courthouses, and that will get you back to 1738, well before the first European land grants were made in the 1770s.
After you’ve finished your deed chain, or at least gone as far as you can, you’ll want to search other sources of information. You’ll find quite a bit written on certain homes. A good example is Roseberry, in Point Pleasant. It is mentioned in the 1987 History of Mason County, and its history is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Both are good sources. Another good source is the Point Pleasant Register and its predecessors, or the Weekly Register and the Daily Register. Homes were frequently listed for sale in the local papers, and many of the editions published between 1862 and 1909 and free to access on the Library of Congress’ “Chronicling America” archive.
Finally, after you’ve completely gone through the written sources, you can begin looking into the home itself. Next week, I’ll talk about a few of the little clues that you can find throughout your home.
The next meeting of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society will be on Saturday, May 12, at 3 p.m. at the Mason County Library. The group will be planning cemetery projects for this summer.
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society.