Researching House History - Part 5

In Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 we determined when our example house was built and by whom, found historical maps and photos documenting its original configuration, learned about the builder, and identified some of the prior occupants.

Now we'll try to find information about some of those occupants. Let's start with "Robert B. Flack", who hosted a meeting of the composer's guild at our example house in March 1932.

Census Records

At the Multonmah County Library website, search for "HeritageQuest" and follow the links to the HeritageQuest page.

Click the link for the US Census of 1930 and search for first name "Robert B.", last name "Flack", residing in Portland. In 1930, Robert B. Flack was 22 years old, living with his father Robert S. Flack and mother Mary B., and his occupation was "musician". The family weren't yet living in our example house. The 1940 US Census shows Robert B. Flack, now 32 years old, living in Los Angeles, occupation "singer coach". After 1940, US Census data was no longer public.

Newspaper Search

Next do a newspaper search for Robert B. Flack in Portland, focusing on the 1930s. Use the same methods we've discussed earlier. This turns up several articles about the promising young pianist who was making a name for himself on our city, such as:

Pianist Robert B. Flack was being written up in the Portland papers as early as 1918, when he was just 10 years old. To follow his career after he went to seek it in California, we'd have to search Los Angeles-area newspapers, but in October 2, 1960 he re-appears in the Portland press. Anne Lise, "Danish concert artist and vocalist" was performing at Willamette University and "Robert Flack, Los Angeles pianist and former Portland resident, is flying up to accompany Miss Lise". So it seems that Robert Flack made a career for himself in Tinseltown after all.

Don't limit yourself to searching Portland-area sources. Once you have a name, follow it where've it goes. For our example house, the historic plumbing permit cards show the owner as "E. M. Reagan" in 1950 and 1962. This name doesn't appear in Portland-area city directories or newspapers, but looking farther afield turns up Elroy M. Reagan and his wife Mabel in Albany and Eugene newspapers. Elroy was a newspaper owner, editor of the Albany Morning Register and Evening Herald. In the mid-1920s, he merged his papers with another and went into real estate sales and development in Portland with the Simms Company, while living on Lombard St in Portland. In the mid-1930s Elroy and Mabel moved to Eugene, where she was often mentioned in the society pages. In 1934 Elroy is described in the Eugene Guard as former Portlander, who was looking after his "property interests". We surmise that his portfolio of investment properties eventually came to include our example house.

In your own research, hopefully you will find yourself researching prior occupants who were notable in some way, or at least had distinctive names or lived in the house for longer periods. But in our example, we're not so lucky. Our example house seems to have been a leased house for many decades, with a high turnover of occupants who left little trace in the historical record. Some have very common names or professions that wouldn't tend to land them in the newspapers, like the driver George Thompson. Others appear to have been possibly shifty characters, like the check-forging youth William Groves and his housemate A. (Aaron) Cohn who, every year, reported a different profession and title to the city directory.

In Part 6, we'll recap the sources we've consulted in the example, summarize what we've learned about our example house as an illustration of what you can learn in just a couple days of research, and suggest additional sources should you wish to dig deeper.

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