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There are several ways to look at the history of a house. (1) construction — the original building and later modifications, (2) the residents and owners — the stories of these people, (3) neighborhood — how the house related to the neighborhood and (4) prior history — the land before the house was built.

It would be nice if the original and succeeding owners had kept a book or file with the deeds, building plans, a diary, scrapbook, etc. But, that seems to never be the case. So, the current owner has to become a "House-History Detective." The following are some things that may help.
  • PROPERTY ID — One of the important facts is the parcel identification. One place to find that is on your deed or other real estate records. Another place is at the Hamilton County Auditor's Property Search page (click on Property Search), where you can find your property by current owner, parcel id, street address, or even from a map.

  • DEED RECORDS — The property identification will help your trace the ownership backwards through the deed books. These are not on-line, so you will have to go to the county offices for this search, although older deed books and indices are available on microfilm at the Cincinnati Historical Society Library at the Museum Center (old Union Terminal). In fact, you don't have to start from the current date. If you have a name, you can use the indices to begin the search at an earlier date. The indices can be searched by buyer or seller. Eventually, you will build a list of every owner of the property. You can even continue your search to before the subdivision was platted, although you property will be part of a much bigger piece of land.

  • PLAT MAPS — For most houses, the property lot(s) will start with the original subdivision plat maps. The plat book/page numbers for Hamilton County subdivisions are available at the Hamilton County Recorder web site. To find the plat book/page number, you can search using the name of your subdivision. The map and description will be on this plat book page. The maps, which are not on-line, will show physically where the lot is and the date when the subdivision was first recorded, thereby giving the time when the neighborhood was started, and the earliest time your house would have been built. Here is a list of Norwood Subdivisions and their respective plat book/page numbers.

  • CENSUS RECORDS — With the names you have compiled, you can find more information in Census records. The Main Library downtown has a complete collection of the Census records. With a person's name, or with a list of Norwood Enumeration Districts for the various censuses, you can find information about anyone living in the house and their neighbors up to, and including, the 1930 census. Within the last few years, the ProQuest® website HeritageQuest™ Online has placed scanned images of the library's copies of the microfilms on the Internet. The searching capabilities are much easier and efficient than doing a manual search through the microfilms. For an undisclosed time, these images will be available through the OPLIN (Ohio Public Library Information Network) connection at the "Research & Homework" section of the Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County web site for anyone with a library card, or from a workstation at a branch or main library.

  • DIRECTORIES — The 1896 directory was the first directory for Norwood and there are many more Norwood directories at the Norwood Branch Library. Other directories, some on microfilm, are available at the main library and the Cincinnati Museum Center Library. The Norwood Historical Society, also, has a collection. The 1896 directory gives house locations in relation to street intersections. But, sometimes there have been "backfills" or empty lots, which can make a determination using today's layouts a little tricky. Later directories use street addresses. If you have a pre-twentieth century home, you should use the 1896 and 1902 directories together, so you can be a little more confident of the location and address.

  • NEWSPAPERS — After you have a list of names, you can search for newspaper stories about those people. If you are lucky, the person did something noteworthy. Usually you will be able to find an obituary, which will give more information for research.

    For local papers, you can begin your newspaper search on NEWSDEX at the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Library's web site. There is also a link (ProQuest® Historical Papers) to the old issues of New York Times, which has been found to have obits and articles on some Norwood citizens. You will need a library card to access that link, however. The Museum Center's Library also has microfilmed Cincinnati newspapers, including some Norwood Enterprise newspapers. Don't ignore the old neighbors you found in the censuses and directories; stories about them may have a references to your house or its residents.

    From January 7, 1971, to December 6, 1973, the Norwood Enterprise newspaper had a series of reader-supplied columns, edited by Charlotte Shockley, called "I Remember Norwood..." Long-time residents told their stories about living in Norwood. Copies of those articles were collected and donated to the Norwood Branch Library. Since they often mentioned Norwood homes, you may find some useful information about your home there.

    AN EXAMPLE: By combining information from one of these columns with previous homeowner information from censuses, directories and newspapers, a Norwood resident was able to determine that a well-known early 20th-century musician and composer, Victor Herbert, had visited the home.

  • BOOKS — There are several books, at the libraries, and reprints, from around the late 1800s, that have biographies of Norwood residents. If you are fortunate, a previous owner or resident of your property will be described. Click here for a partial list of books.

    It is possible, for a few houses, to piece together information from advertisements in the 1894 book "Norwood, Her Homes and Her People" and old directories, to determine the architect or builder. Similar results may be possible with other documents. See "More Resources" at the end of this page for two builders of the 1890s.

    AN EXAMPLE: By using the biographical information and a deed record, one current Norwood resident was able to determine, within a three-month period, when his house was built.

  • INTERNET — Of course, if you are reading this on-line you know about the research capabilities of the Internet. Search for the names you have collected, either through a search engine, e.g. Google, or at genealogic sites such as

    AN EXAMPLE: By searching for the name of the 1892 owner of his home, a Norwood homeowner, was able to get detailed information about the first owner and his family, including a picture of his wife.

  • PHYSICAL FINDS — If your house hasn't been remodeled, you may find clues in the house itself.

    AN EXAMPLE: After removing layers of old wallpaper from an attic room, one Norwood homeowner found children's pencil drawings on the old plaster walls. Besides the typical child's sketch of a house with smoke coming out of the chimney, there were several scribbled names. When a review of census records was undertaken, those same names were found to be those of the children of the early 1900 homeowner. It put one more piece of personal history into the home.

  • HOUSE CONSTRUCTION — The construction and style of your house may give clues, also.

    Like many communities, there are "Sears" homes in Norwood. Looking through old catalogs, you may find your house. With the old Norwood Sash and Door Company, which was owned by Sears for many years, those items may be part of your house. Look at this site for more information on Sears homes: Sears Archives - official site for Sears Homes.

    Details from your house may give important clues. For example, if your house was built during a certain period (1902-1928?), the fireplace tiles may be of Rookwood manufacturer (although Rookwood Pottery started in 1880, they didn't start making art tiles until 1902, when they added the Architectural Faience division). You can investigate other items in the house like stained glass windows, brass doorknobs, gas fireplace valves, etc., for their origin, too.

    Investigate thoroughly — don't jump to quick conclusions! Just because you found a swastika on a fireplace gas valve, doesn't mean that it was manufactured in Nazi Germany, or that it was brought here by a returning soldier. Before the Nazi Party, the swastika was considered a lucky symbol by many groups around the world, even native Americans. Companies used it for advertisement and commercial purposes. One of those businesses, the Crane Valve Company, manufactured steel valves in the 1920s and 1930s with the swastika molded into the knobs. They stopped using the symbol, as did many groups, after the Nazi's started using it. At least one Norwood home was found to have these valves.

    If your house was built before a certain time, it will have a stone foundation. If an addition was made with a concrete block or concrete foundation, you may be able to date it. Some stone foundations have been covered with concrete on the outside and mortar or paneling on the inside, giving the impression that the house is younger than it is. An older hous that has been relocated will probably have a concrete foundation, also. Not only is the house not in the original, but the foundation is not original either! The same dating technique can be applied to lumber, since the dimensions of standard lumber changed over the years. What was at one time a true 2"x6" joist, became 1¾"x5¾", then 15/8"x55/8", and is now 1½"x5½" dimensional lumber (does anyone know when these changes occurred?). Other little things can help determine changes that were made to the house over the years. If the house was built before certain times, plumbing, electricity and gas piping may have been added later. Remember, the 1896 book Norwood, Her Homes and Her People was published as a souvenir for the celebration of the completion of the water works, so houses built before that time probably didn't have water pipes. Interestingly, as early as January 1889, an advertisement for an East Norwood house described a gas and hot-air furnace. In June of 1896, another East Norwood home for sale had "hot and cold water." (If anyone has definite dates for any of these "certain times," send them to us.)
As you can see, some of this work is similar to genealogical research. In fact, the families of the previous owners, as well as Norwood history buffs, would find your results interesting. A donation to the Norwood Historical Society's Archives of a copy of your research would be appreciated.

One very important hint — DOCUMENT! — make sure you write down your source, either next to your note, or on the back of a copy of a record! You should include where and when you got the information, and any data about it. Do it as soon as you collect the information — you will forget to do it later!