When Research Pays Off

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In the 1940s, after 30 years of exposure and wear-and-tear, the family living here decided to remodel their deteriorating front porch. They removed the columns and poured a concrete deck. Then they enclosed it with casement windows and turned it into a sun porch. Below is what it looked like when we moved in in the late 1980s:

Front porch, December 1989

Our detective work on the reconstruction showed the ghosts of some early columns and other features, but we had to use our imaginations to guess at what it looked like originally. I had been looking for members of the family who lived in our house (one single family was here from 1912 until 1959, which is a good long time for one family to be in the house…we were lucky in that). Through determined research, I found the little boy who grew up here…he was in his 90s when I found him. That’s Bruce Morrison in the cap with his hand on his dad’s shoulder on the left side in the photo below. We had lunch together and he told me all about growing up in our house.

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In addition to sharing all kinds of stories about the house and neighborhood, Bruce put me on to a bunch of photographs of the house from the teens and early 1920s. Jackpot! We couldn’t believe our eyes. We were generally right about the columns, but the idea of the extended porch, with its false pedestal corners, was well beyond our imaginations.

 

Photo courtesy of Morrison Family

So, we sat down at the drawing board, old photos in hand, and did some scaling of the ghost porch using measurements of house parts visible then and still here today. And then we found a very talented and patient carpenter to put it all back together.

 

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After a little landscaping and reconstruction of some long-gone sidewalks, we’re confident the family who moved in those long years ago would clearly recognize the place today. Research pays off: you might be surprised at what you’ll learn.

2 responses

  1. Doug thanks! This is exactly what I hope to do for our bungalow in Laurelhurst! May I ask where you got the info on the family that first lived in the house? I understand that might be done through city permit or tax records? I’m working on it! We are remodeling this year and want to maintain the original character and exterior colors as much as possible. Thanks!

  2. Hi Marcia. I found the Morrisons using some straightforward genealogy research and some detective work:

    First, I learned about the initial owners by looking at the tax records. That way, I had a name to find.

    Next, I learned about the Morrisons by tracking their time here in Portland by using the Polk Directories, and then by using the US Census, starting first with 1920 then going back to the 1890s and forward to 1930. This helped me figure out who was who in the family.

    I used this info to search for obituaries on the Morrisons, which led me to info on survivors. I then made direct contact with the survivors (lunch, interviews, visits).

    It was a lot of fun, for me and for the Morrison family too.

    Best of luck. Drop me an e-mail if you get stuck.

    D.

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