Locating Those Old Houses
Have you ever taken a parent down a lane, and they tell you that the "old homeplace" was located "over there", and all you see is a field, grown up with weeds, and trees? No longer is a foundation discernible. Nothing that a home ever existed?
Don't dismay. If they can remember that a home used to be there, chances are that someone, somewhere down the line, will have a photograph of the home.
The trick to proving it was actually on the spot first mentioned by your parent is to get a photograph, as best as you can, of the location. Make sure you stand back far enough that you can get a photograph of the site from a few different angles. You can save these to your digital files, and mark them something like "Grandpa Jones Homesite - 1", "Grandpa Jones Homesite-2", etc. Now, someday when that certain photgraph you've been trying to locate comes up, see if you can match the background images with the background images of the house! Watch for hills, mountains, old trees, barns, cliff faces, etc. Chances are, if the photos you took were in the correct place, you will be able to match up something in the background with the old photographs.
Let me show you a few photographs of my family's "old homeplace" and let's see if you can understand better what I mean.
These two photographs, the upper one taken about 1910, the lower one sometime in the 1970's we believe, are the oldest known photographs of the this home.
You can see, that except for the south end chimney being gone, the home is basically the same from the first to the second photograph.
Now look to the right of the photograph, and in the 50 to 60 years difference of the ages of the photograph, you will see the tree line remains basically unchanged. There does appear to be a fence of some kind across the front border of the yard in the upper photograph that is no longer there in the bottom. Otherwise, there is not much changed.
Now look at this photograph:
This is a photograph of the same home in 2001, about 30 years after the second photograph. While you can no longer see the same view of the trees to the right of the home, you can definitely see the woodlands there. However, the house is essentially, unchanged. Except for a small window change on that south end, where in the top photograph, had once been a chimney. The home has otherwise not changed a great deal.
So let's move forward a bit.
I think that you can see, some extensive remodeling, and fixing up has been done since the 2001 photograph. (This photograph was taken in 2007.) A fan light was added in the upper eave of the south side. The bottom of the old stone chimney was salvaged, and a window was replaced where the old chimney had once been. New siding and windows have been added to the home. But the structure is intact, and basically remains the same. We can still see those same trees to the right of the home, although not well in this photograph.
Now look at this photograph, and the very first photograph. DO you see it? Look at that tree line to the right of the home? In almost 100 years, that tree line has remained unchanged! The same would be true if the house were still there or not! This is providing documented proof that the home is not only the same home, but sits in the same place it did in 1910.
And here is yet another view. In this one, the north end of the home. Here you can see that original chimney that was noted on the first photograph, and you can see that it is stone, just as the original showed it. You can see the trees to the right of the home, but the tree line view is a bit different from this angle.
And here are two more photographs of the same home. These are taken from a field across the road from the house.
Do you notice that distinctive tree line to the right of the home?
This is a close up of the photograph above.
You can see the trees are essentially unchanged, except more mature.
(The bottom two photographs were taken in 2009.)
I hope that this helps you to understand how you can use photographs from different time eras to determine if a location is the same one or not.
Remember, hills, valleys will remain unchanged. Trees may or may not remain unchanged. Timber gets cut down. Trees are cut down, or grow differently. Creeks or rivers change courses. But the topography basically remains unchanged.
In towns, or cities, houses, or business buildings may remain unchanged. I've often noticed things like church steeples in the distance of an older photograph that are still visible in the later one. Or streets remain unchanged, including names sometimes!
Use the clues around you to determine if the location is correct.
So, while there may not be a house where your old family "homestead" used to be, go ahead and snap a few photos of the site from different angles. You never know when other photographs may come up! (Incidentally, I started only with the last 2 photographs you see here. The others were added through later research. )
Let us know if this article helps you!