Researching the History of Your Home!

Hey everyone! Today I had the pleasure of speaking at Belleville’s Museum Day activities. I was at the Garfield Saloon talking about how to research the history of your home. I figured these would be great notes to share with all of you. I don’t claim to be an expert in historical research whatsoever, but it is a hobby and passion of mine and we’ve had quite a bit of luck finding information about our house and the original family.

Researching the history of your home is a multi-faceted endeavour… it’s a little bit of determination, a little bit of stubbornness, a lot of patience, and a little bit of luck. My husband and I joke that we can very easily get sucked into an Ancestry black hole and not realize we’ve been staring at our computer screens for four hours until it’s 2 in the morning and our eyes are bloodshot.

The bulk of my research is done online. Today I provided all the guests with a handout of the websites I use… here it is in JPEG form so that you can save it to your phone or PC for reference. It is Belleville specific but no matter where you live, your city website and libraries should have similar information.

resourcesThe first should come as no surprise: Ancestry. This is a subscription service that has proven itself invaluable. I gladly spend the $20 a month to use this service and have discovered photos of original residents of our home that hadn’t previously been connected to our house. They do have a free trial available to use and I highly recommend using it a lot during that trial to see if it’s going to be a good fit. Once on Ancestry, you can search by name, birth date, marriage date, and death date. The search pages will yield results and potential results, perhaps people with similar names or in some instances, cases where the people you actually ARE looking for had their names misspelled on official documents. I discovered that Emma Romeiser actually had three children, one that died at birth. She gave birth to Roland Pannes in September 1916. His birth certificate was written in cursive and had combined the two N’s to be read as an R and an M together, changing the last name from Pannes to Parmes. I’ve purposefully searched the most common misspellings of Romeiser to see what information pops up.

The two websites geneologybank.com and familysearch.org are also incredible resources. Geneologybank blends ancestry like results with digitized newspapers all over the country. Familysearch is free but geneologybank is not. It also offers a free trial. A lot of times you’ll discover that these free trials require credit card information to be entered when you sign up– don’t let this scare you off. I have NEVER had an unauthorized charge on my account and if you cancel within the 2 or 4-week trial period, no charge is ever made to your card. Cancelling free trials is really easy and can be done online through these sites– there’s not even a need to call customer service and sit on hold for an hour. So as long as you click before the deadline, there’s no cost to you.

kitchenfire.pdfUnless you’re okay with spending the money– sometimes you’ll find it’s worth it. Like I pay for Ancestry every month. I also paid the $75 fee to use Newspapers.com for six months because it is such a huge resource to me. On Newspapers.com I search each individual members of my home by name and porr through the results. I also just put our address in the search bar and see what comes up. I found classified ads looking for help with cooking and the laundry, yard sales, and interesting tidbits like a kitchen fire in the early 1900s.

The library will prove invaluable. The archives at the downtown branch are extensive and they have microfiche for decades and decades of archived newspapers. Some of those newspapers have been digitized and are available on a searchable database by keyword. This is also available on the library’s website if you prefer to search from the comfort of your home. All you need to log-in is your library card number, and of course, if you don’t have a library card, they are free to get.

For those of you local to Belleville, the St Clair County Historical Society has archives available and their curator, Will Shannon, has a photo collection to pull from that helped us find photos of some of the Romeiser daughters. The Belleville Historical Society has a similar resource available on their website that lists area museums that have photos, documents, and stories if what you’re looking for is Belleville specific.

Then, of course, there’s just plain old Google. When searching, search names of former residents (if you’re unsure, you can search at the Recorder of Deeds office) and your specific address.

By searching all of these places, you’ll be able to fill in some potential gaps. We’ve used the Belleville City Directory to name owners of pretty much every house on our street and have been able to expand our search from there. I even search those names on Ancestry and see what photos pop up. Sometimes you’ll be able to find photos of neighbors that might have your home in the background or even residents posing with those neighbors.

Like I said, I don’t claim to be an expert in any way and have honestly been very lucky in our research. It takes persistence and patience. Essentially, don’t be afraid to ask local historians and archivists for help, don’t be afraid to search something that may not be entirely accurate (like a misspelled name or your neighbor’s address) because you may end up finding something really interesting, and don’t be afraid to sign up for that free trial or even spend a few dollars for a month or two to give yourself time to find information.

Happy hunting!!
The Brick and Maple Family

The Belleville Library: Part I

Located on E. Washington Street, the Belleville Library was constructed in 1916 by way of a $45,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation. Over the course of his adult life, Andrew Carnegie made it his personal crusade to build libraries all over the world. All said, Carnegie spent $55 million to build 1,679 libraries in the United States and 830 abroad.

library
Belleville Public Library

During the library dedication ceremony on January 20, 1916, then-board director Jacob Aull encouraged all Belleville residents to thank Carnegie by sending him letters and postcards. (Photos of library dedication courtesy of the Belleville Historical Society)

Other than an addition made to the building in the 1970s, the original building stands almost unchanged. Updates and upgrades have been made throughout the years but otherwise, she stands just as she did in 1916.

Here’s where the Romeisers come in.

When Peter died in 1916, he left a detailed Will & Testament. Everything was covered from the house and land all the way down to each share of company stock. He divided up 300 shares amongst his children and left a reserve for philanthropy. His daughter, Emma, spearheaded the idea that the remaining children (herself and her three brothers Theodore, Edwin, and Alvin) use that reserve to make a public donation to the library.

News Article

The amount at the time, $1,680, was the first public donation to the Belleville library and equates to more than $20,000 in today’s terms.

Emma wrote a letter to Charles Grossart, who took over The Romeiser Company after Peter’s death, about what to do with the funds. Her letter reads:

“My dear Mr. Grossart,

After months of pondering what to do with the money father left as a reserve, I have finally decided that a book shelf in the Public Library as an “In Memoriam” for father would be best of all. Alvin, Edwin, and Theodore are all agreed that it would please father. In this way, the money would be put to a fine purpose and serve to keep green his memory in the town in which he was so much interested. The best kind of monument.

The details and arrangements, I’m afraid, I must leave to you. After the stock is sold and the money available, would you still be willing to act as trustee of the fund until it has been used up? My idea is that from time to time books of real value shall be added to the library, fiction excluded. Books perhaps like Carl Sandburg’s ‘Abraham Lincoln’ and Emil Ludwig’s wonderful ‘Napoleon,’ books that will be permanent additions to the library. Of course a library committee must be appointed and I would be pleased to have the list submitted to me if possible.

Please let me know what you think of the plan, and what you would suggest in the matter. With greetings from all here to you and your family.

Sincerely, Emma Pannes.”


The connection between the Romeisers and the library doesn’t end here… there’s a second part to this story that I’ll be covering next week. So be sure to hit ‘subscribe’ and check back next week for Part II!

Stay sweet,
The Brick and Maple Family