September 25, 2005


Earlier this week, I went to the Orange County Archives in an effort to find out something about the genealogy of our house.
Conviently, our County Archivist happens to be a good friend from my days on summer camp staff, so there was no trepidation about walking into the archives and asking "hey, can you help me find out about my house?"

We already knew that our house didn't have a completely straightforward provenance, because it was moved to its current address. But we had an original address -- 125 South Rose St. -- from the city's historic preservation department, and a construction date -- 1906 -- from the sellers' realtor.

The first step was to find our building on the Sanborn fire-insurance maps for Anaheim. (Sanborn produced detailed, annotated maps of downtowns across America for the use of the fire insurance industry. Now they're useful to historians trying to figure out what used to be located where.) Our first map was somewhere around the turn of the century; predictably, the plot at 125 S. Rose was blank. We moved up to the teens -- a small outbuilding at 125-and-a-half, but the main plot was still empty. On to the 1920s -- no house yet! Okay, let's move up to the 1930s ... the first map to show our house in place was from 1943. What's happening here?

On to the property records -- the lot at 125 S. Rose was owned in the 1900s by someone named A.M. Caswell. There's nothing on the lot yet; Caswell is being taxed for the land value, but there's no assessment for 'improvements'. Caswell dies in the teens, and his estate sells the lot to a man named John Paul Taggart. Taggart holds on to the lot, but keeps it empty until 1923, when the tax rolls show that he begins to be assessed for land and improvements!

[Paging through the assessor's records, I was overcome with nostalgia. I wish that my property tax assessment for next year could be nine dollars -- but I'm sure that the people getting hit with eight/nine/ten dollar tax bills back then were probably cursing the taxman just like today.]

After that, the house is occupied by a succession of renters -- you can trace the ever-changing cavalcade of names in the city directory (that also helpfully lists such things as age, profession, spouse's name, children -- nobody had any privacy back then). Taggart never lived there; his mailing address is on Zeyn Street, in a tonier neighborhood with bigger houses.

So ... was our house built in 1922? Or was it moved to Rose Street from somewhere else? Our house's style is considerably more spartan than your average 1922-built California Bungalow would be, but its look fits nicely into the earlier Revival/Victorian-to-Craftsman transition period, which is why we felt comfortable with its supplied build date of 1906. But if you were building a smaller rental house, you wouldn't necessarily tart it up with ornamentation or special features -- damn tenants are just going to drive nails into it or tear it off anyway!

The definitive answer would come if we could find a 1920s building permit for the Rose Street address. If the house were moved, the paper trail might not be so clear. So the next step is off to the city, the Anaheim Museum, or the Anaheim Library's local history room -- stay tuned!

[By the way, I have to say that working in the Archives can be a surprisingly physical profession -- all of the records beyond a certain age are contained in gigantic ledger books, produced in an age before computers (or, once you reach past the 1920s, before typewriters). Hefting those from their storage shelf to the reading room every day must add up.]

Posted by Kevin at September 25, 2005 09:51 AM

Now you see why I like my job so much - this is the type of thing that I get to do all the time!

Posted by: Mary at September 26, 2005 06:03 AM
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