Researching House History - Part 3

In Part 1 we located the original plumbing card for our example house, which confirms the date of construction and the initial owner. In Part 2 we found the house on some historical maps, which revealed the owner in 1914, hinted that the house was leased in its early years, and showed the original configuration of the house's entry and porch was oriented toward Glisan. Now we'll starting researching who lived in the house.

Polk City Directories

You've probably identified a couple of the former owners through the plumbing cards. In our example, we found that J. A. Corenbaum was the owner in 1943, and E. M. Reagan was the owner from at least 1950 to 1963. Start by looking up those persons in the Polk City Directories.

From the mid-1800s to the mid-1980s, with some gaps such as during the part of the World Wars, Polk published an annual directory listing every person or business at every residential or commercial address in Portland. You can find physical copies of the Polk directories in the Multnomah Country Central Library, at the city Archives, and at the Oregon Historical Society's reference library.

Or you can consult them online. Get a library card from the Multnomah County Library and sign up online at the library's website. At the website, search for "HeritageQuest Online", follow the link to use HeritageQuest, and click on City Directories. Enter the first and last name of the owner, specify that he or she lived in Portland, and with luck you'll see a list of all directory records for, in this case, J. A. Corenbaum and his wife Kathy S.

When you view each record, you'll see his address, profession, sometimes employer, and maybe a spouse or child's name. We see that J. A. Corenbaum was an engineer for Pacific Telephone and Telegraph, married to Kathy S. Corenbaum. In 1941 they lived on SE 36th St, in 1943 they lived at the house we're researching - at that time, 3260 NE Glisan - and by 1950 they had moved to 621 NE Hazelfern Pl.

Here is how a page of one year's directory is displayed - in this case, page 115 of the 1950 directory.

You will probably have to use the zoom ("+") and scroll around to find and read the individual record. Here's the entry for J. A. Corenbaum in 1943; "eng" means engineer, "h" means home address, and there is a key at the front of the directory if you run into any puzzling abbreviations. If the record is for a married man, his wife will be in parentheses like "(Kay S.)". If the record is for a widow, there may be a note like "(wid [husband's name] )".

Polk Reverse Directory

What if you don't have the owner's name for some years?

Starting in 1930, the Polk Directories included a "reverse directory" at the end of the book. You can look for an address and see who was living there, then look up that person by name for, hopefully, information on their profession and family.

The easiest way to consult the reverse directory pages is by using the physical copies of the directories. We recommend going to the city archives, because the archivist will not only pull the directories you want, but also look in his or her other information sources, such as old permit records, maps, and sometimes old city photographs.

You can try searching the reverse directory pages online. From about 1930 to about the mid-1940s, these pages are sometimes included in the online scan. From any page of any directory, click on the year to select the desired year's directory, then click the film symbol to show all pages of the selected directory, enter a page number to jump to near the end of the directory, then page forward and back until you find the address of the house. Note the occupant's name, and then search them by name for, hopefully, more information. This is a slow process and you'll often find that the reverse directory pages are omitted from the scan, so is best to use the physical copies.

In our example, we've found that before J. A. Corenbaum from about 1941 through 1950, and E. M. Reagan from about 1950 through at least 1960, the house was vacant in 1930, occupied by Robert S. Flack in 1932, vacant in 1934, occupied by George Thompson, a driver, and his wife Helen C. in 1937.

Newspaper Archives - Using Address

Before 1933, there was no Polk Reverse Directory, so it is harder to identify a house's owners or occupants. One method is to search newspaper archives for mentions of the house address. At the Multnomah County Library website, search for the online archive of The Oregonian, listed as the "Historical Oregonian (1861-1987)". Enter the house address, using different variations like "1000 East Glisan Street" and "1000 E. Glisan St". You can also search for "Historic Oregon Newspapers" which will take you to the University of Oregon's archive of many Oregon newspapers, or purchase a subscription to Newspapers.com which has the digitized Oregon Daily Journal.

Newspaper searches require patience. The search engines are not great. Expect to wade through many articles and advertisements that contain only "1000" or "Glisan", before you stumble across something you're looking for - a name associated with the address. Then start searching on that name and see what you find!

Our example house's address appears just a few times in the newspapers, not always in the most, ahem, reputable manner.

A March 21, 1914 classified ad in the Oregon Daily Journal said "GIRL wanted to do cooking and general housework; good wages and small family. 1000 East Glisan st."

A September 25, 1923 list of marriage licenses in the Oregonian recorded the license issued to "WARRENS-GROVES -- William H. Warrens Jr., 21, 1000 East Glisan street, and Marguerite R. Groves, 19, 1000 East Glisan street."

On February 11, 1924, the Oregonian reported that "Three Portland youths, all frequenters of card rooms, last night were taken into custody on charges of forgery and placed in jail. William Groves, 19, 1000 East Glisan street . . . "

The February 26, 1926 Oregonian reported a jug of moonshine was found in an automobile abandoned after at accident at East Thirty-ninth and Powell Valley road, which was traced to ". . . 1000 East Glisan street. Investigation proved this to be the residence of A. Cohn, who told the policemen that his young son had the family machine out."

On a more cultured note, the March 6, 1932 Oregonian reported "A meeting of the composer's guild of the Music and Arts club was held recently at the home of Robert B. Flack, 1000 East Glisan."

Newspaper Archives - Using Lot and Block

Another approach is to search for the lot and block number - for our example, lots 6 and 7, block 74, Laurelhurst.

In the early decades of the 20th century, The Oregonian and The Oregon Daily Journal published lists of real estate transactions. A sample, alas not for our example house, reads "Laurelhurst Co. to J. H. Ray, lot 13, block 74,Laurelhurst", followed by the price.

In some cases this will be the only way to identify the first owner-occupant of a house that was initially a speculative build.

These newspapers also published notices of delinquent property taxes, about two years after the taxes went unpaid; delinquent taxes from year 1913 were published in 1915, etc. You never know, the house you are researching may show up there - as our example house does, in the February 18, 1916 Daily Journal.

In our example, you'd try searching for "block 74" or "B. 74" and "Laurelhurst". You'll probably wade through dozens of unrelated pages. Think like a detective!

Well, now we have some names associated with the house. In part 4 we will try to find out a little about these prior occupants.

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