REPRINTS


New Ways to Find Old Treasures
by Susan Barlow
reprinted with permission from Manchester Life, February 2014

Want to find out when your house was built? Want to find out about your ancestors? Instead of having to drive to museums, libraries, and Town Clerk offices to find information, you can obtain more and more historic data right from your home computer.

For example, to research a house online, you can visit Vision Government Solutions to find information from Manchester's tax data (the grand list), including size of property, style, date built, replacement cost, etc. There are occasional discrepancies for example the construction date may be a bit off, reflecting the date the property became taxable on its own (if it were part of another holding).

For vintage photos and detailed descriptions of old houses, visit the Connecticut State Library online and search for the WPA Architectural Survey. You will find a drop-down menu to select a town. The Works Progress Administration (WPA, established in 1935), coordinated work-relief projects during the Great Depression to assist the unemployed and poverty-stricken. The WPA worked on the Census of Old Buildings, collecting descriptions, sketches of interior and exterior details, and photographs of nearly 5,000 buildings. The State Library's web site explains, "Although the locations may seem exact, they may be misleading or inaccurate. Construction dates and original owners are as written on the survey forms, even though more recent research may provide different information." Still, despite these possible pitfalls, it's a good place to start research on an old house or just browse and learn. The State Library also provides access to historic newspapers online just use your town (or state) library card to sign in.

You can also view some property data online at the Manchester Town Clerk's web site, and you can look at old maps of Manchester on the this web site. For example, click here to access a 1914 panoramic map of Manchester which is zoomable, so if the building you're looking for is 1914 or earlier, you can see an artist's drawing of it.

Webmaster's Note: This map is accessed off the "Related Web Sites" page's 'Manchester Maps' section, which you can access by clicking here.

The old-fashioned way to find data on your house includes looking through the old city directories and architectural surveys, available at Manchester libraries and at the Manchester Historical Society, or visiting the Town Clerk's office. These can be time-consuming processes, but you will find helpful staff and volunteers, and always find out something interesting, maybe even something you weren't looking for!

Genealogy also has new ways to find data. One of the most popular is Ancestry.com. Dennis Gleeson, President of the Manchester Historical Society and an active member of its Genealogy Group, has subscribed to Ancestry.com for several years and finds that "They keep adding new things and I have added things myself, for example my father's birth certificate, and photos of some gravestones. I have found new information about family members that wasn't there when I started working on the family data several years ago." Dennis has his own subscription, but Town residents can access Ancestry.com free at the Manchester public library. Dennis invites those interested in starting a genealogy project to participate in the Society's Genealogy Group, which meets the second Tuesday of the month at 10:00 a.m. at the History Center, 175 Pine Street or visit the Historical Society weekdays from 10 to 4 to peruse the annual city directories, high school yearbooks, and architectural surveys. Dennis notes that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon church) provides free family data at FamilySearch.org and you can sometimes find information there that's not available elsewhere.

Gravestones contain lots of important family data and lots of gravestone information is available online at FindAGrave.com, a free resource supported by volunteer photographers and researchers but be aware that sometimes gravestones have misspellings of names and even incorrect dates.

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