My house was built in 1935, and when I purchased it four years ago that was pretty much everything I knew about its origins. Well, that and the fact that the guy who did my home inspection mentioned he thought the house had, at some point, likely been moved from a different location.
Not one to let a perfectly good research opportunity pass me by, every once in a while over the past few years I’d loiter after work, poking around the library’s archives: sifting through old city maps and half-century old directories, searching for even the tiniest sliver of information about my home’s early days.
Aside from my natural curiosity and unabashed love of history, I think my fascination with uncovering the house’s history was further piqued by some of the updates I’ve made since moving in.
For instance, when the kitchen cabinets were pulled down during a mini-renovation last winter, we discovered the walls had once been painted a quintessentially mid-century shade of mint green.
Basically, the house is a charming little time capsule chock-full of long-forgotten tweaks and flourishes that hint at the folks who first called the place home nearly 90 years ago.
I began my research with a quick peek at the library’s Polk Directories, which are a treasure trove for this type of research, as our collection dates back to the Valley’s early days, when phone numbers still had only three or four digits.
The Polks only got me so, far, though, as it quickly became apparent that prior to the 1970s my current address simply didn’t exist in Yakima. It was then that I remembered the home inspector mentioning that my house had likely been moved from a different location.
Curious about that theory, I visited the city of Yakima’s Online Permit Center, which allows users to search for building permits, land use reviews and the like.
Lo and behold, when I typed in my current address, I easily found old permit applications relating to the relocation of my house — including its former address. With that information, I circled back to the Polk Directories and pored over the reverse address listing, which, finally (!) revealed the name of the couple who owned my house into the mid-1990s.
After that, I dug back through older and older directories to confirm that they were, in fact, the original owners and, in so doing, discovered that the street where they lived (Franklin Avenue) had been renamed in the 1980s, which is why I’d had such a hard time getting anywhere in my earlier research.
I was then able to find them listed in city directories dating back to the mid-1930s, where the husband was noted as working as a custodian/building engineer at North Yakima (now Davis) High School. The wife, apparently, was a seamstress who worked in a local clothing and alterations shop.
With their names in hand, I used a few of the library’s genealogy databases to search for their marriage and census records, through which I learned that the two were originally from a tiny town in North Dakota, where they married in 1933, before moving to Yakima in 1935.
That’s as far as I’ve gotten in my research and, while I’m still not quite done, I thought some of you might be interested in reading a bit about my little project.
I’ll certainly keep you posted regarding what else I discover, but for those of you who may be wondering about the history of your own homes, here’s an overview of some of the resources I used in my search:
Links and resources available on the library website
• City and county directories: tinyurl.com/a9dyxy47
Washington state digital archives
• Census records: www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/Collections#RSID:3
• Death records: www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/Collections#RSID:4
• City of Yakima online permit center: tinyurl.com/4udb8akj
• Krystal Corbray is programming and marketing librarian for Yakima Valley Libraries. She and other library staffers write this column for Thursday’s SCENE section. Learn more at www.yvl.org.