Finding Your Roofs: Ed Allan Leads Eight Streets on House History Journey

The houses and bungalows of the South End, Back Bay and Bay Village – in particular – have a history to tell that spans many long years before the current residents ever set foot in their abode.

Eight Streets resident Ed Allan enlightened several residents on Tuesday night about the resources and richness of history that lies within each and every person’s historic home.

In the 1990s, Allan said he began to research his home on Milford Street in the South End, using old deeds, Census records and voter lists.

He found everything from the mundane – such as a man who lived there who was an egg inspector – to the celebrated – a renowned and controversial minister who ruffled many a feather (and was once even tarred and feathered), Allan said.

“Several of the tenants in my house were teamsters, and one of the teamsters became an egg inspector,” he said laughingly. “He had grown up in Charlestown and moved to the South End. He got married after becoming an egg inspector and moved back to Charlestown and stayed an egg inspector until World War I.”

More intensely interesting was Rev. Justin D. Fulton during the pre-Civil War era. He had been a prolific writer, and the leader of Tremont Temple in downtown Boston. He was a devoted abolitionist, but was also severely anti-Catholic.

“He was very controversial in his time,” said Allan. “Julia Ward Howe called him ‘lucifer.’ He went on many missions, including one in Nova Scotia. His views on Catholicism were so well received there that he was tied to a telephone pole and tarred and feathered. Then he came back to Somerville.”

The process of researching one’s home could never be easier, said Allan. With technology and the internet, most everything is accessible on a computer.

“With the advent of modern technology, it’s not nearly as hard to find out who lived in your house and who built it,” he said. “You no longer have to go down to the Pemberton Square Courthouse and climb rickety stairs and clear away cobwebs from the old deeds, and then try to made photocopies of them. Most everything is digitized now.”

When Allan started his quest, he began with his own deed and worked his way backwards.

“It really is not so hard to find out the history of your house,” he said. “You start with your own deed and go backward. Resources for who owned your house going back 50 years are at the Registry of Deeds. Records going back further are at the State Archives at UMass-Boston and they are online too. The Archives folks are very helpful if you go there and over the phone. Photocopies of the Archives are free too.”

Much of the archives have been digitized in the last several years, he said, courtesy of the Mormon Church genealogy project, and also through state digitizing grants as well.

Other resources that are useful are Voter Lists, which can be found at City Hall or the Boston Public Library.

“I like the voter lists and the Census information,” he said. “One of the most important things I learn from that is the occupations of those who were in my house, as well as the other people on the street.”

For the South End, the Eight Streets area and the corridor between Tremont and Harrison Avenue are the most historic. Allan said much of the South End nowadays is filled tidelands, so it was underwater or mudflats in the old days. Only the corridor that includes Eight Streets was dry land when Boston was first developing, which of course makes it the most historic area.

“Eight Streets is actually one of the oldest parts of the South End,” he concluded.

For more information or to read Allan’s ‘How To’ guide for researching one’s home or neighborhood, visit the Boston Sun website.

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