|Authenticated Sears Sunlight • 578 Smiley Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio • 1929
(Source: Realtor.com listing)
Andrew Mutch, of the Kit House Hunters blog, posted today about the benefits of searching for kit houses through mortgage records ("The Great Sears Papertrail"). He has been posting lately about the many houses (many! as in, hundreds!) he has located this year through mortgage records, and about how satisfying it is to know that you've authenticated the house you're looking at, you've added it to the master list of Sears houses being compiled for purposes of historic documentation, and you don't have to second guess, or do floor plan comparisons, or look for marked lumber in a dark basement.
But, the process can be complicated. And, there are many ways to attack the search, depending on what resource you have begun with. You might be starting with a mortgage or foreclosure listing found via a county assessor website. That might have been a quick find... or, more likely, that might have been a find that necessitated jumping through one hoop, and then another, or tediously wading through page after page of a non-indexed mortgage and deed book.
Or, you might have started with a mention in the legal section of an online newspaper from the 1920s or 1930s, or from a mention in a longer newspaper article, or from a mention in an ad in a 1920s or 30s newspaper (say, for a model home, like this Wardway Devonshire --no mortgage for the latter, but, it's authenticated now!).
|Sears Sunlight as shown in
Cindy Catanzaro's 1929 Sears Modern Homes catalog.
|From page 95 of the 1929 catalog.
|This was about all I could see using Google maps,
but it does show the side windows,
and that is important to narrowing down the model of the house.
Or, authenticating your house might end up involving a big, hairy combination of a bunch of those sources... and, you might find, after lots of digging, that you had already read about the house in a newspaper article you were shown a month or so before.
So, here are the steps I went through yesterday and today, to finally come up with a definite ID on this house. This is how I explained it to my researcher friends in our FaceBook group:
Here's the kind of trail you sometimes have to follow to track down a mortgage: Charles and Grace O'Brien -- Sears Sunlight at 578 Smiley, Springdale area of Cincinnati. Found only with the help of several sources-- Cindy originally had a long newspaper article that was talking about numerous folks who were building houses in Cincinnati. But, she also found a mention just recently of his mortgage (Sept. 4, 1929, Walker O. Lewis), in the Cincy Enquirer. I was doing the Ancestry legwork for her... but, there were too many Charles O'Briens! Then, she realized we might have his name in that other article, and sure enough, it said he was on Smiley... near Greenlawn... nothing had the actual address. I looked for the first house that seemed older than the others, and the tax records said that the build year was 1945... but, upon clicking on the actual ownership card in the files, I found that Charles and Grace O'Brien were listed as owners. Whew!
Starting last night, and ending up with an answer today
Here's how it played out.
• Cindy Catanzaro gave me a short list of names and dates for homes she had seen in legal listings for mortgage transactions, in a historic Cincinnati newspaper (no addresses or streets or blocks or lot numbers given at all).
|You can see where I labeled Charles O'Brien's address, once I found it.
• I was helping out by using Ancestry.com to try to attach those names to an address, through census records and city directories. If you find an address for the person, you check out what the house looks like, using Google Maps. I was tired, but I wanted to do some research, so I did a quick look up of all 12 of those names. I found only three leads: one was a house that is definitely not a Sears house (might have been where the person getting the mortgage lived... but, maybe they weren't building for themselves, or maybe they only had a mortgage for building materials); one was just a hot mess of a house, that looked vaguely like every bungalow ever made, but mangled; and one was so covered by shrubs and a huge tree, that all I could see was that it was light blue, and had a little bay window on the side. I was tired. I gave up.
|Here's my message to Cindy late last night.
• Taking a second look: This morning, I felt re-energized, and I definitely didn't want Cindy to have to RE-check every name I had already done a (shoddy) search for, so I started by re-investigating the three actual addresses I had found. Many of the others seemed to have gone to addresses that are now smack in the middle of a highway, or where there is a Pizza Hut now, or the street name doesn't even exist anymore. So, I wanted to note those specifics on the list she had given me, so that she didn't go re-checking those addresses.
Of the houses I did have: duuuh. Two were good! One was the now-mangled mess of a Sears Windsor:
|Click any image to enlarge.
|Turns out there is what looks like a nice little Sears Josephine a few houses away!
• I re-traced my steps in Ancestry.com for all 12 of the names on the list.
I still ended up finding that many of the houses were no longer there, but I also did find this cute little Sears Claremont. It turns out that it was already on our list, and, when I showed it to Cindy, I found out that the previous owner, who had it up for sale in 2013, had contacted Cindy via her FaceBook page (Sears Modern Homes). But... now, it is authenticated with a mortgage record!
Sears Claremont at 7001 Palmetto, Cincinnati, Ohio
1929 mortgage by Elizabeth L. Willis,
with Walker O. Lewis, Sears trustee.
• Into play comes the long newspaper article! But, Cindy suddenly remembered a several-column newspaper article that she had shown some of us, all about new Sears homes being contracted for in the Cincinnati area... well over two dozen. The names were listed with a street name only, and, when we read it, we realized that we had found several of those names already, while (tediously) wading through the un-indexed Cincinnati mortgage books (there are many, many, many of these books, with hundreds of pages each... and we have been looking through them page by page). But, many more were left to be found. We each got busy with other researching, and hadn't returned to looking for the names in that article. One, however, was Charles O'Brien:
|Charles O'Brien was one of the last names mentioned!
Darn. I found one of the dreaded straight-shot bungalows (Crafton, Winona, Hampton, Grant, Sunlight, etc.)... usually impossible to identify for certain as a Sears house, without a mortgage or something like that. But, I did have a mortgage! So, I turned again to the Hamilton County Auditor's website, and looked up the address of this house... and it told me it was built in 1945. Pfff. Our mortgage was for 1929! Well... those dates are very often inaccurate. So, I dug further into the information on the house. Lo and behold! I found that the first owner listed on the tax card was: Charles O'Brien and his wife, Grace!
|Source: Hamilton County Ohio Auditor
|By the way, here's the floor plan of the Sears Sunlight,
as shown in the 1929 catalog.
But... we love our mortgage searching. We love authenticating our houses. And, we think it's important. We're not about just collecting pretty pictures of Sears houses. We want to contribute to a historic record that documents these homes. And, we want to be as accurate as possible. So... we continue! It might seem like tedious work, but it's really more like a great puzzle, and we love it.
On to more searching!