Resources for researching the history of your House for
“If This House Could Talk…”
Resources for Learning about Your Cambridge Building
To begin researching your building, look at Cambridge Buildings and Architects by Christopher Hail at the Harvard/Radcliffe Online Historical Reference Shelf. You’ll find historical information that Hail culled from atlases, building permits, tax records, and deeds. For atlas images, go to "Research:", then to "Harvard Map Collection", and then click on a specific atlas. Another tip - some of the atlas pages have a "zoom" feature, which indeed does zoom, but then the entire map becomes too big to fit on one's screen; use the mini-map in the upper right corner, with a red box that delineates what you're viewing¾ click on and drag that box to view other parts of the entire map. There are several other possibly useful links on this page too.
Also go to the Cambridge Archives Project, developed by the Cambridge Historical Society, the Cambridge Historical Commission, and the Cambridge Public Library lists all of the different archival collections related to Cambridge at these three institutions. If you visit www.cambridgearchives.org and click on Collection Details and Links to finding Aids it will give you an alphabetical list of all of the archival collections in Cambridge and, when available, a link to the finding aid. The site also has a link titled “Other Sources” if you click on this, it will take you to a page with hyperlinks to 60 to 70 other sites that can be useful for your research.
Discover more about your building or property, past owners and residents, at the Cambridge Historical Commission. The collection includes information on every building in the city, historic photographs, city directories and atlases, and some deed, tax, and building permit records. Please call to arrange an appointment, as space for researchers is limited.
Cambridge Historical Commission, 831 Massachusetts Avenue, 2nd floor
Telephone: 617-349-4683 / TTY 617-349-6112 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org For research hours and a complete list of available resources.
4) The main branch of the Cambridge Public Library has old issues of the Cambridge Chronicle and city directories on microfilm. See the reference librarian on the 2nd floor.
The CPL also offers free access to ancestry.com on any of their public access computers. Another great resource: the four volumes of "Survey of Architectural History in Cambridge." These can be checked out at the CPL.
Cambridge Public Library, Main Branch, 449 Broadway, Reference: 617-349-4044
To learn more about the people who lived in your house (how many, their relationships, occupations, and ethnicity), visit the northeast regional office of the National Archives to obtain census data for the years 1790-1930. Many other records are also available.
National Archives Boston, 380 Trapelo Road, Waltham
Telephone: 617-647-8100 Email: email@example.com
6) Comercial on-line sources
There are a number of for-profit on-line sites that have digital versions of the federal Census. You can try a free 14-day trial of www.ancestry.com and access the census information online. The site has many primary source materials, including court, land, and immigration records, newspaper obituaries, wills, financial and military papers, and vital records.
To discover the ownership history of your building, go to the Registry of Deeds.
Middlesex County Registry of Deeds 208 Cambridge Street, East Cambridge
Telephone: 617-679-6310 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
www.cambridgedeeds.com Many documents are available online.
The Cambridge Historical Society's archival collection is strongest in material related to Cambridge families, individuals and organizations. CHS also holds material on Cambridge businesses and government organizations.
CHS is actively collecting material related to individuals who have lived or worked in Cambridge; material related to clubs, churches, organizations, and associations that have opperated in the city; and records of small independant businesses that have been based in Cambridge.
The Cambridge Historical Society also has extensive files on Cambridge people, businesses, churches, and schools, as well as vital records, early histories, atlases, city directories and telephone books.
Cambridge Historical Society, 159 Brattle Street, Cambridge
Telephone: 617 547 4252 Email: email@example.com
Located at 51 Inman Street, the Cambridge City Election Commission holds documents concerning Cambridge voters and city elections.
Documents are available to the public, although there may be a small fee for some records. The Election Archives document Cambridge elections throughout the years. Although only recent elections can be found online, records of older elections can be found through contacting the Commission itself. Some highlights of this collection include the Street Lists, which is an annual list of every resident in Cambridge, their address, occupation, age, country of birth, and political party. The Election Commission also keeps voting lists, street addresses of voters, and the original copies of index cards with information on all Cambridge residents who have registered to vote. In addition, district maps and files of residents/voters are available. These records can confirm where Cambridge residents live, who they live with and how they list their occupation. Some records such as voting lists and original registration documents are stored in a separate vault.
The Election Commission provides the follow index of their
documents: Poll Tax List 1884-1924, Poll Tax List of Women 1919-1930, Poll Tax List of Men 1920-1933, Poll List of Women 1928-1956, Poll List of Men 1934-1956, Street List of Men &Women 1957-1998, Archive Search Residence Listings 1884-1998, General Register of Voters 1883-1980, General Register of Voters 1961-1964, Voting List 1879-1998, Voting List Book 1939-1870, List of Women: Qualified Voters for School Committee 1893-1911, Annual Documents, Minutes of Meetings 1964-Current, Miscellaneous Books, Voter Affidavits, E-mail from Donald York, List of Missing Books, List of Found Books, Tally Sheets, and Packing Lists.
The Cambridge Department of Public Works at 147 Hampshire Street has a wealth of information relevant to those interested in historical aspects of the municipal engineering of Cambridge. The Department of Public Works owns information concerning sewer, drain, and street lines, but their records span much further than these specific categories. The DPW is in the process of updating their storage facilities to include a fire proof vault and a climate controlled space, but until then most records are stored and organized in the basement in many different formats. Digital records that are available on the office computers also exist for many maps, plans, and GIS. In the first section of the basement, there are a myriad of records including videos of pipe inspections, sewer and drain plans organized in flat files with a binder index, atlases containing maps of town borders and street lines, and miscellaneous items such as pictures, MWRA records, and old time sheets. The DPW's plans generally date back as far as the 1850s, although there are a few records that date back further. In the next section of the basement, there are oversized original maps of Cambridge and surrounding areas in addition to original field books that provide data for future development plans. In additions to records directly pertaining to the DPW, other city departments store miscellaneous records. Although not all of these are cataloged, the DPW has made a GIS map of the basement with a rough index. All of these records are public information and can be accessed by contacting the Department of Public Works. Besides the actual copies, the DPW also offers digital scans and computer programs that focus on specific records. Aerial photos, atlases, field books, sewer/street volumes with names of property owners, and other various plans of the city are all cataloged online. Furthermore, GIS (Geographic Information System) helps viewers understand the size, shape, and location of any building on a map while also linking this information to the sewer volumes. Specifically, the DPW has 33 major atlases dating back until 1819 and 6 recent detailed aerial photos of Cambridge. Again, this information is also public and can be seen by contacting the DPW to schedule an appointment. Finally, the city has fairly strict laws for disposing records and only invoices and purchase orders from before 2002 can be gotten rid. Besides that, the DPW offers a weath of underused information that can enlighten users on the geographic and engineering history of Cambridge.