Are you curious about the history of your home? Wondering about others that also found shelter under its roof, passed through its rooms, cared for it, and called it “home?” If so, here is a list of resources you might want to use… with some commentary added to help you.
I love these books! I like starting with them. If you pick up a Polk directory published in 1925 or later and go towards the back of it, you’ll find a street index. Look up your address in the street index and you’ll see a name listed as living in your home (generally a man’s name). Look up the the name in the front of the directory and you’ll see their occupation, where they worked, and probably the name of a wife. Adult children at the same address might also be listed. Look up the name in an earlier Polk directory and see if they were living in your home before 1925, or if they lived elsewhere in the City.
These books can give you an idea on who lived in your home, for how long, and who were its longtime residents. Getting familiar with the residents’ names can help you spot information more easily when you’re utilizing the other resources that follow. If your home was built before 1925, you will likely want to come back to these directories again later.
Where can you find these books? I’ve seen them at multiple locations. I tend to use the sets at the Downtown Library and at the Utah History Research Center. Keep in mind that no Polk directories were produced in: 1943, 1945, 1947 and 1954.
Utah State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO)
Visit this office. It is UPSTAIRS in the Rio Grande Depot (300 S. Rio Grande St). Because Yalecrest is a National Register Historic District, it’s possible that some extra research has already been done on your home— including information on its architecture, architect, builder, and first residents. Not every Yalecrest home has information this complete. But, it will still give you an idea on the building date and architectural style. The basic data came from the Yalecrest Reconnaissance Level Survey done in 2005.
Utah History Research Center
Combine your trip to SHPO with a trip here. It is on the MAIN FLOOR of the same building, the Rio Grande Depot (300 S. Rio Grande St). This is where you’d go to hunt for the original building permit for your home. The information isn’t digitized so you’ll need to load up the microfiche reader. Having an idea on what year to start with (from upstairs) should help you scan through to find the month and year for the building permit, and the name attached to it.
At the UHRC, you can also find Polk directories, books on Utah’s history, manuscripts, maps, newspapers, cool old photos by Shipler (early Utah photographer), a collection of old East High yearbooks…
Salt Lake County Archives
Email the County Archives and schedule yourself an appointment. The SLCo Archives is a windowless building with records dating back to 1852!
It can be interesting looking at your home’s early tax appraisal cards. You’ll see the early owner names and a footprint sketch. You might find original old photos of your home here. I like looking at the building date info… because it tells you when and how they came up with the building date recorded. Like, maybe when the City came knocking on your door nobody was home so they recorded an estimate given by a neighbor! Or maybe the owner was home and had a record showing the date. Or maybe the City guy decided to make an educated guess himself. Looking at a record’s source, I can’t help wondering if some of these dates might’ve gotten copied and reused (incorrectly) through time.
The archives also have tax assessment rolls on microfiche. You can see how the value of a lot changes before and after the street gets paved, or how the land value varies depending whether or not you’re on a corner. You can see who owns the land and is holding the mortgages or who outright owns the home. You can see which homes appear to be under construction longer than the others. The exact abbreviations used, or the order of the letters, changed from 1929 to 1930 to 1931. All seem to have BH as Built Home, FG as Full Garage, DFG as Double Full Garage. A ‘P’ might mean partial. An ‘R’ for recently. It all depends on the year. You can look at what’s being taxed and see if your “building date” makes sense.
Salt Lake County Recorder’s Office (and Assessor’s website)
The Recorders Office is located at 2001 South State Street #N1600. To dig through the records here, you first need to know the legal description of your lot. You can look it up on the Assessor’s website:
On the website “submit” your address. This should bring up your property. Near the top, choose the tab labeled “Legal Desc.” Make note of your lot number and subdivision name. Or walk up to the desk and give them your address and they’ll be happy to look up the legal description for you.
Let the office worker know you’re researching your home and they’ll print out a list of the books and corresponding pages where information for your lot is recorded. You might want to bring good reading glasses or a magnifying glass, along with a ruler or something you can use as a straight edge because the information (that is freely available to the public in the red abstract books) is hard to read. The desk can help you get started in understanding and reading the info you’ll see in the books. For example, under “Kind of Instrument” you’ll want to pay attention to lines marked with the initials W.D. since that represents a Warranty Deed. The Grantors and Grantees will probably match the names you saw in your Polk directory research. For a nominal fee the office can print you a copy of any records of interest if you give them the Entry Number associated with it.
Check out the federal census records that are digitized and available online. By law, the government cannot release census records to the public until 72 years have passed from when the Census was taken. The 1940 Census is the most recent census available, having been released in April 2012. It can be accessed online for free at 1940census.archives.gov. You can get free access to census records from earlier years at familysearch.org.
Census records show you the ages, occupations, number of kids living in your home when the census takers came around. The 1930 census will tell you what state or what country both the residents and their parents were born in. You can see how educated they were, if they were war veterans, how old they were when they first got married, and whether or not the home had a radio set.
There are quite a few newspapers already digitized and more are coming online all the time. Check out:
Use the search engine and search for articles of interest using your street name or the names of past residents. Reading these old newspapers can be very entertaining.
You may be able to find info already written on people that built your home or lived in it by surfing sources on the internet. Check out the University of Utah’s Special Collections. They have some interesting documents, old publications, transcribed oral histories, and Sanborn maps. (The historic Sanborn maps can show you the evolution of a city, neighborhood, or specific building site.) Investigate genealogy websites. The internet is full of family blogs and articles around history.
Talk to them! Particularly the old-timers and anyone whose family has lived in Yalecrest for generations. There is a wealth of information all around us.
We’ve been gathering so much information, but there isn’t enough time/people to write it all down. Consider becoming a KEEPer and helping us uncover, organize and celebrate the history of our wonderful neighborhood.
Thanks for reading this far. I hope you found this information helpful!