Who lived in my house? Getting started

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If you’re interested in your house’s history, you can find past residents of many Portland-area houses in two ways:

  • Look in old city directories (which are similar to phone books)
  • Search for the house’s address in digital newspaper archives

To get started, gather some basic facts about your house and your neighborhood. This will help you plan your research. 

Was your house in a city when it was new?

Is your house in Portland, Gresham or in another Multnomah County city?  Every city’s boundaries have changed over time. To find documentation about your house, you’ll need to know if it was in an incorporated area when it was built. If it was, you’ll need to know which one.

Portland’s boundaries have changed a lot over the years. Many neighborhoods that now seem like they've been in the city forever were annexed fairly recently. The Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability has a map of historical annexations to the City of Portland which shows when each part of the city was added.

If your house is in Portland, was it built in 1933 or earlier?

Do you know the date your house was constructed? If your house was built in Portland before 1933 and you want to find its early residents, you will need to know the original address. If you’re not sure, check the city of Portland’s property information database, PortlandMaps

Knowing the build date is important, because Portland completely revised its addressing system in the early 1930s. Portland grew enormously in the early 1900s. Each newly-added bit of land had its own street naming conventions and address numbering system. Then, in 1931, five-man crews began walking the entire city and assigning new addresses to every building. The crews finished their work in July 1933. Nearly every building in the city got a new address number and directional, and many street names were changed. 

This is how Portland got the five quadrants: NW, N, NE, SW and SE. In 2020, part of SW Portland was re-addressed again, and now some streets are designated S for south. 

Finding your house's pre-1933 address

Check the Directory of Street and Name Changes published by the Crane Direct Mail Service. You can use it at Central Library, or download a digital copy from the City Archives catalog, eFiles (it’s a large file: 43.4 MB / 243 pages). If your house was built before 1933, and it was within the city limits in the early 1930s, it is probably included in this cross-reference directory. The directory is designed to convert old addresses to new ones, but it works both ways. Ask a library staff person how to use the directory to find your house’s old address.

Close-up of a list of addresses in Portland from the Crane Directory of Street and Name Changes, new addresses assigned in the 1930s are in one column, and older addresses are in another.

Once you know both your house’s old and new addresses, you’re ready to start looking for past residents in Portland city directories

Dig a little deeper

If you can’t find your house’s past residents using city directories or rural directories, try these suggestions for other creative ways to research who lived in your house