Architectural Ancestry: A Course in House History

Instructor: Jill Morelli, CG, CGL and FAIA Emeritus
Dates offered: Wednesdays, April 17, 24, May 1 & 8
Time: 6:00 pm ET – 9:00 pm ET/3:00 pm PT to 6:00 pm PT
Cost: $300
Registration: 19-25 January 2024

Course Description
Learn about house histories from an architect/genealogist! Like people, places have a history and your home is your most personal of places. In this course we will review the records that might be helpful to researching your location of choice; use our observational skills to identify design elements and how they inform us about our house and our neighborhood. We’ll review other house histories (some not even houses!) and the myriad of ways they can be presented.

You will research your own project during the course and present its status in the last class. How fun will this be!?

Skills based requirements

  • Identified specific urban location to research for the length of the course, preferably in the area in which you live;
  • Mid-level skills in genealogical researching;
  • Access to, and some familiarity in navigating them; and
  • Access to, or other newspaper site covering your geographic area.

Recommended Resources

  • Elizabeth Show Mills, Evidence Explained, Third Edition, Revised (yes, you will be citing your work!);
  • Virginia Savage McAlester, A Field Guide to American Houses. (available on InternetArchive for check out, one hour at a time.)

Course Outline

This is a tentative class outline. Main themes will stay the same; presentations will vary. Sometimes the needs of the class have precipitated a activity or presentation I didn’t even think of! On the day of the class you will receive a final class agenda, the in-class activities, and the assignment for the following week.

Session 1: Genealogy & House History: Uncovering the People behind the Walls

  • Introduction: Tracing Homeownership and Occupants
  • Records:
    • Conducting Oral Histories, Interviews, and Exploring Local Genealogy Resources
    • Identifying Governmental Records, Maps, Building Permits, and Property Records
    • Utilizing Local Archives, Libraries, and Digital Resources including historic maps
  • Case Study:
    Guest speaker: Pam Pracser Anderson, CG

Session 2: Architectural Design & House History: Discovering Visible & Hidden Clues

  • Analyzing Architectural Styles and Changes Over Time
  • Using Architectural Vestiges to Date and Document the House
  • Recognizing the Evolution of Architectural Elements
  • Combining Architectural and Genealogical Clues into a Comprehensive Story

Session 3: The Neighborhood & House History: Learning about your ‘Hood

  • Exploring the neighborhood, its growth and development
  • Crafting Compelling Narratives from Your Research
  • Practicing Old House Documentation: NAHB
    Guest speaker: Rachel Allison, Preservationist

Session 4: Preservation & House History: Presenting Your Project

  • Considering Legal and Ethical Considerations in House History Research
  • Presentation of class projects

Come join us as we explore our built environment write the story of your project and its occupants.

The above agenda is subject to change. Homework will occur between every class that is a combination of a scavenger hunt, where you will answer prescribed questions; and homework, which will be activities for your own home. This homework may take 10 hours per week.

The class will present its projects at the last class. While I don’t expect you to finish your project by class end (but you might), your progress and how you went about it will be of interest to all.