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Researching Your Neighborhood

Neighborhood history is fun! You can find out who lived in your house, who ran the corner grocery store, who preached in the church down the street, and lots more. All you need to do is follow a few simple steps and you're on your way.

Step 1: Learning About Your Neighborhood

Take a walk around your neighborhood. Look for clues to the past. What do old buildings tell you? What kinds of people lived there? How is the neighborhood laid out? Make a list of questions about your neighborhood hood which you can use to guide your research.

Step 2: What Public Records Can Tell You

a. Deeds: Deeds can tell you who owned a house and can give you clues to when it was built. The Register of Deeds Office is on the first floor of the County Office Building at 720 E. Fourth St. For more information on how to research deeds, call the Historic Properties Commission at 563-2307.

b. Birth, Marriage and Death Records: These are helpful in piecing together the history of individuals from your neighborhood. Death dates are particularly helpful; if you know a person's death date you can look up his obituary and get lots of good biographical information. The Register of Deeds Office has birth and death records from 1913-1947 and marriage records from 1868 to the present. The Public Health Department at 249 Billingsley Rd. has birth and death records from 1947 to the present. In addition, all Charlotte Municipal Cemetery records are kept at Elmwood Cemetery, W. 6th Street.

c. Building permits: Kept at the Building Inspector's Office in the City Hall Annex, next to City Hall on E. Trade St., building permits will tell you when a house was constructed , who built it, the name of the contractor and architect, and the value of the house.

d. Water permits: These permits, which date back to the 1890's, tell you when water was connected to a house, and thus, are a reliable, easy way of dating a house. The records are kept at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utility Department, 5100 Brookshire Rd.

Step 3: To the Carolina Room:

Second Floor, Main Library, 310 N. Tryon St. (374-2980)

a. Sanborn Maps: Sanborn Insurance maps of Charlotte are available for the years 1885, 1896, 1900, 1905, 1911, and 1929. These are valuable for giving you an idea of when a house was built, its shape, size, and what it was built of. Also, Sanborn maps are great for giving you an overall picture of what your neighborhood was like and how it changed over time.

b. Beers Map (1877) and Gray's Map (1882): These are two wonderful old maps of downtown Charlotte that show who owned which property and the location of schools, churches, and other institutions.

c. City Directories: Probably the single most valuable source, City Directories can tell you when a house first appeared, who lived there and what they did for a living. You can literally recreate the histories of entire streets from the City Directory. The Carolina Room has a complete set from 1896 to the present and a few volumes before the 1890's.

d. Newspapers: You can look up obituaries of neighborhood folks in past editions of the Charlotte Observer and the Charlotte News. In addition, building permits were published regularly. The Carolina Room keeps a file of abstracts of old newspaper articles which may say something about your neighborhood.

e. Vertical Files: The Carolina Room keeps files of old newspaper clippings, filed by subject. You can find lots of good biographical information.

f. Local Histories, church histories, and biographies: Check these for references to your neighborhood and biographical sketches of prominent people.

g. Photos: Nothing can convey the feeling of a neighborhood more than old photos. The Carolina Room has a good selection from which you may copy with your camera.

Step 4: In Your Neighborhood

a. Church archives: Many neighborhood churches keep their own archives, full of old documents, church histories and photos. Many churches can refer you to older residents who have lived in the neighborhood for years whom you can interview.

b. The Personal Interview: As the "dessert" of your research, the personal interview should be the last step. In order to ask informed questions, you will need a solid base of research. Talk with people who lived in the neighborhood for many years. You will be amazed at the wonderful anecdotes you will hear. A couple of tips: if possible tape record your interview to guarantee accuracy as well as to keep a permanent record. Always prepare questions ahead of time and try to substantiate information gotten from interviews for accuracy.

Use as many of these sources as possible. Try to create a cross-sectional view of the neighborhood. Don't just research "prominent" properties or people; neighborhoods are usually made up of all kinds of folks. Good luck!