#52Ancestors: START with Historic Preservation Surveys

The first of Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks prompts is START. After much brain-scratching it came to me that I should start by sharing a priceless gift.

Every state has a free resource that few know about — Historic Preservation Records. The process is guided by the National Park Service. It starts with a local (town/city, county, state) historic preservation survey.

Vermont, for example, has been conducting historic sites and structures surveys since 1967. Maine began its architectural surveys in 1972.

What is surveyed? In Maine, for example: “Properties over 50 years old, including houses, barns and farms, churches, public buildings, schools, commercial structures, industrial structures, cemeteries, landscapes. Also cultural features, including tree lines, stone walls, and town pounds.”

Each property surveyed provides a wealth of historical information that is documented on a standardized form — with photographs of the individual site — as well as a location map of the area or neighborhood surveyed and a comprehensive written report.

A copy of all of this material is provided by the person(s) or contracted agency to the town/city/county for whom the survey was conducted, as well as to the state historic preservation office for its master file.

The last of these projects I personally conducted was in 1994. Between 1988 and 1994 my small firm documented thousands of historic structures in Central Florida, including neighborhoods in Orlando, Sanford, Eustis, Leesburg, Venice, St. Cloud, Lady Lake, and Inverness. For each of these communities I included a brief archaeological survey and produced what I considered an extensive historical report.

Those conducting these surveys, like myself, work closely with local historical societies, knowledgeable community members, and local government to ensure the most accurate and useful information to include in the survey. It goes without saying that reports like that of St. Cloud are a treasure trove.

Few know, for example, that the community of St. Cloud began with GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) Union veterans. Founded in 1909, it is referred to as a Yankee enclave amid the old Confederacy.

How many have heard of Isabel Roberts, the female architect connected with Frank Lloyd Wright, Orlando, and St. Cloud?

Florida’s historic preservation files are stored at the Florida Division of Historic Resources in Tallahassee.

Each state has a similar agency and repository. Florida’s DHS states:

The Site File currently holds information on more than 200,000 cultural resources and copies of over 22,000 manuscripts. Site File staff are available to assist citizens, government agencies and historic preservation professionals in performing searches and obtaining information from our inventory.

This is a great place for any family historian or genealogist to start.

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