This is part one of a multi-part series on researching past residents of your Portland-area house:
- Portland houses 1934 and after
- Portland addresses 1933 and earlier
- Houses that are (or were) outside Portland
If you’re interested in your house’s history, chances are you want to know more about the people who lived there before you moved in. The good news is, it is usually both easy and fun to find out who lived in your house! In this post, I'll show you how you can use historical city directories to find information about who lived in houses that are in the city of Portland.
UPDATE: This post will show you how to find the names of people who lived in your house from 1934 to now. Portland had a massive, citywide address system revision in the 1930s, so finding earlier residents requires an extra step -- finding out your house's pre-1930s address! We'll deal with that challenge in part two of this series, Who lived in my house? Portland addresses 1933 and earlier.
If your house was within Portland city limits when it was built, or during the time period you want to research, its residents will probably be listed in the Portland city directories. If you’re not sure when your neighborhood became part of Portland, take a look at the Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability’s map of historical annexations to the City of Portland (pdf).
City directories are a little bit like telephone books, except that they date back way earlier (the first Portland city directory was published by the Polk Company in 1864!). To look at the library's extensive collection of city directories, visit the Literature & History room on the third floor at Central Library. The librarian on duty will be happy to help you get started – but here's a bit about how to go about using these valuable resources:
City directories often contain more information about people than phone books do. In addition to a home address, most people’s city directory listings state their job or occupation, and some include their employer’s name. Usually only heads of household are listed in city directories, but you’ll see their spouses or (in the case of women who are widows) deceased spouses noted in parentheses.
On the right is a listing from the 1934 Polk's Portland (Oregon) City Directory showing that Lida Schuman, widow of Louis L. Schuman, lived in, and probably owned the house at 1737 SW Market St. (There is an abbreviations code at the beginning of the directory which tells us that "h" means "householder," most likely another way of saying that the person listed both lived in and owned the house.)
Let's look at another one:
This listing (also from 1934) tells us that Gustav R. Magedanz, who worked at a business called Pigott & Magedanz, lived with his wife Martha, at 5115 NE 24th Ave. There is an "h" next to their address too, so they probably owned the house.
A little bit below Gustav and Martha, there are a couple of other people named Magedanz who share the same address: Marvin Magedanz, a millworker; and Norman A. Magedanz, an attendant at Pigott & Magedanz. These are very likely relatives of Gustav and Martha – maybe their sons or brothers? Both of their entries have an "r" before the address. According to the abbreviations list at the beginning of the directory, this "r" means "roomer or resides." Usually this is an indication that the person or family in the listing rents their house or apartment, rather than owning it. (Marvin and Norman lived in what appears to be their family home, so they may have paid rent, or perhaps not.)
Pigott & Magedanz has a listing too (shown at right), which tells us that Gustav R. Magedanz and his partner Thomas A. Pigott operated a gas station at 1035 SW 6th Ave., in downtown Portland.
Sharp eyes will note, though, that the listings above are alphabetical by name, not by address! When you are looking for the past residents of your house, you probably don't know their names, right? Never fear, Portland city directories published in 1930 and after have a special cross-reference section in the back that you can use to see who lived at a particular address.
Here’s what the by-address listings in the back of the 1934 directory look like – the top excerpt on the left shows Lida Schuman's house at 1737 SW Market St.
And the one below it shows Magedanz family house at 5115 NE 24th. In both by-address listings, you can see the cross streets at each corner, which can be quite helpful when you're searching for a specific property.
The listings by address don't show as much detail as the listings in the alphabetical-by-name section, but they do sometimes have a little donut symbol to the right of the householder's name. This means that the person reported that they owned their house.
Now you have a grasp of some of the basics of using city directories to find out who used to live in your Portland house, in 1934 and later! To learn more about finding past residents of your house before 1934, take alook at the next installment in this series: Who lived in my house? Portland addresses 1933 and earlier.
Have fun researching the history of your house; and as always, be sure to ask your friendly librarian any time you have questions, or whenever you'd like help with a research project!