The Doan Hartnell house in Port Hammond is one that benefited from a series of small newspaper blurbs on the process of construction and then the move-in date in 1923. Never underestimate the value of community newspapers to local history. (Maple Ridge Museum)

Looking Back: Asking the right question

One of the most prominent aspects of our Maple Ridge Museum services is the provision of local historical information on everything from buildings to people to landscape elements.

The more we share our collections on-line – especially the ever-popular photographs – the more inquiries we get from people looking to research some element of their own life.

We try very hard to accommodate all requests, but there are things questioners can do to help us and speed up the process.

For starters, don’t open with: “Do you know anything about Maple Ridge history?”

Assume we do. Be as specific as you can be when researching people. Keep in in mind the “who, what, when, where, and why” as far as possible, with the minimum being full name and a reasonable time window of no more than a decade.

Due to our small staff and extremely limited space, we can’t provide access to historical records and research materials for people to do their own work. We have to do the looking for you.

For some families, it is relatively easy. Recently we received a request from a woman looking to discover if Solomon Mussallem’s wife Hanny was her great-great-aunt. As the Mussallems are a well-known local family, we were able to answer her question and prove for her that the relationship exists.

Other families may not have left so large a footprint on our community, so we must seek wider. This is where the date range becomes important.

Most of our larger resources are dated. Phone books change annually, while the census only changes every 10 years. We have good coverage by our local newspaper, and those in the past, but we only have an index for the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Gazette from 1923 to 1976.

Our most frequent local request is for information on specific houses. We are very keen to support and encourage those who have bought older homes and want to know their stories, but there are complicating factors, starting with the address.

A 100-year-old house likely began on a road with no official name as we didn’t have those until 1938. Since then there have been three changes of names and two in the numbering scheme so that there is no easy way to go from a modern address to any historical information unless we have already researched it.

The history of houses resides with the history of the people who built them and then occupied them and sold them to others. If we are very lucky and know at least one name, we can often track the building back to early days and provide some stories for earlier occupants. Often, the gold nugget of history exists as a one-line entry in an old newspaper that says, “Mr. Smith and his family moved into their fine new home in Hammond on the weekend.”

That one line gives us builder and first occupant, as well as date of construction. We only have that level of information for the rare few.

Our best recommendation is to find the person who has lived longest in your immediate neighbourhood and ask them who used to live there.

Over the past year, even though we thought we had researched it very thoroughly in the past, we found a lot of new information about Haney House. But it took a deep dive and some wallpaper cores to accomplish it.

On Sept. 30, from 1 to 4 p.m., as part of the Culture Days event, we will be showcasing Haney House and the research done to expand our information. Join us and bring your questions.

Val Patenaude is director of Maple Ridge Museum and Archives and Haney House Museum.

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