05 January 2016

Information From a Former Occupant of the House

Just before the New Year, I penned an article here called "The Importance of Contacting Your House's 'Descendants'" which described why it is so important for you to attempt to contact living persons who are connected to your house's history. This is THE most likely way to find the most elusive types of information-- about layout (or other physical) changes, the personalities/lives of former owners and occupants, and perhaps even photographs. The article also described ways in which you can go about finding these living sources and how to respectfully approach them. Finally, I presented an intro to what has led to some of my most important discoveries to date:
"The most successful result, however, was with one of the daughters-in-law (edit: of my house's longtime owners John & Catherine Cantlin), who by chance has lived within my same neighborhood for decades. I found contact information including the telephone number and address in a phone directory, and started off by writing a simple letter and including some current photographs of the interior and exterior of the house. I did not receive a response, so after a couple of months I made a simple phone call. On the receiving end was the daughter-in-law, who was delightful to talk to, who HAD received my letter (but had not responded only because she assumed she had no useful information for me), and who proceeded to have a very nice conversation with me about what I've found to date and about what she recalled."
I sent my initial letter to the daughter-in-law (who I believe is in her 70's) towards the end of the summer of 2015 (around when I started Home Scribe History) and decided to make the cold call in early November. We spoke for roughly 20 minutes and I kept very detailed notes. What follows here is a brief summary of what I found out from her in the first of what is hopefully multiple conversations with her:

  • The daughter-in-law herself, who was married to John and Catherine's (now deceased) youngest son, lived in the "apartment" side of the house from 1958-1961. This confirms that she has some serious memories and knowledge about the house.
  • She confirmed that the house, for a significant part of its history (as early as the 1950's through to at least 2001), was a duplex and not merely a single-family home as it was originally and is today. This is something I discovered previously and detailed in my post from late September "This Single-Family Was Once a Duplex" and was triggered by the discovery of a piece of duct tape in the basement labeling piping for the "Old Kitchen". The layouts I presented in that post were far from correct, largely due to the fact that the layout had changed much more than I realized. She did, however, confirm that what is presently my 3rd bedroom was formerly the apartment kitchen.
  • She confirmed the youngest Cantlin son's (her husband's) birth year as 1933. Additionally, she informed me that he was born in the home.
  • She and her husband had helped sell the house in 2001 after Catherine moved out to a nursing home at the age of 95. At that time, no significant changes were made in preparation for selling the house beyond some new carpets and minor cosmetic improvements. She confirmed some termite remediation which was found during my home inspection.
  • I was informed that after John Cantlin's death in 1961, Catherine Cantlin undertook additional layout changes on the half of the house where she lived. Most significantly, I learned that what is now the second bathroom (between the current kitchen and the current living room) was previously the original kitchen of the house. After John's death, this became a bathroom, and the former dining room became what is today Kitchen/Dining.
  • Her understanding is the same as mine that the house already existed when the Cantlins bought it in 1932. She relayed an anecdote that was told to her that the Cantlins had lived in Philadelphia previously (which I knew from census research) and had moved out to Glenside, at one point renting a house on Roberts Avenue less than a mile away from my house. Catherine had been trying to decide between the Roberts Avenue house and this one, ultimately choosing this one. She believes they rented the house before buying it, as I suspected based on their purchasing deed.
  • The neighboring lot used to be owned by Catherine Cantlin as part of her lot. This lot now contains my neighbor's house. According to the daughter-in-law, Catherine sold the lot off 30 or so years ago. Records seem to indicate that it may have been sold in 1973, 43 years ago.
  • She confirmed that the old stone stove in the backyard has been there since at least when she lived here, so she pegged it as at least as early as 1956-57. She was not sure who physically built it, and did not believe her father-in-law did. She relayed that it was heavily used, and that the Cantlins liked to entertain, especially on July 4th.
This single conversation gave me alot to work with-- alot of new leads to research further. It gave me alot of detail that I likely would never have learned without contacting former occupants of the house. I will say that I probably caused this woman to be confused more than a few times, referring to a living room that she never knew as a living room, and I kept thinking she was referring to rooms in the back of the house when she meant the front. This confusion was simply because the house has seen a significant number of changes, so both of us had come from it based on our own understanding of the house. I did ask her if she could recall any photographs which might show the house in some of these earlier decades. She said that she would check, and would also check with her sister-in-law (the other living Cantlin daughter-in-law) who might be more likely to have such things.

I followed this phone call up with another letter shortly thereafter, enclosing a few sketched out floor plans asking some additional questions and to ensure that I understood our conversation correctly. I will post more about any follow up information as it arises, but I hope this demonstrates the potential value to your house history research!

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