The Importance of Provenance: A House's History
As we've discussed before, there are several factors that go into making something an antique. But maybe one of the most important, especially given recent looting scandals in the world of antiquities, is provenance, or an item's history over time.
"A good chain of provenance can give you a glimpse at the movement of objects through different homes and collections over perhaps hundreds of years," states Chantal O'Sullivan in a piece for Martha Stewart Living. This is critically important for establishing authenticity, especially for art.
I'd also argue that provenance is equally important to understanding the history of a house. In my own home, we had lots of questions: When was the kitchen moved indoors? When did the home get electricity? How many families lived in the house (a.k.a who can I point the finger at for the painted woodwork)? Did they use the front room as a parlor or as a doctor's office (as the anecdotal history of the house goes)?
All of these questions and more sent me on a deep dive into the archives to uncover the history of the house.
Establish Chain of Custody: Start with a Home Address
The only thing that I knew about my house was that it was built in 1898. I also knew that the kitchen addition was not original to the house as evidenced by a thick brick exterior wall separating the dining room and butler's pantry, and several cut down doorways. But stylistically it was similar to the rest of the house, and the masons were able to match the brick and flagstone sills, so it must have been completed closer to the original construction date than modern times.
We'd heard an anecdotal history from the last homeowner that the original owner was a white podiatrist, fleeing Boston with his black wife, seeking a city that would accept his interracial marriage. With that history in mind, I started poking through Denver Public Library's Digital Archives.
Review City Directories to Build a Timeline for Your House's History
DPL had several years of directories from late 1800s to the late 1930s on file. You can see that J. Henry Tindall, a bookkeeper for Denver Veal & Mutton Co. was the primary (male) inhabitant of the house.
It took me a couple of hours but I was able to piece together some of the house's original inhabitants from 1900 onward. So even though the house was built in 1898, it wasn't occupied until 1900. And then using names, rather than an address, I was able to see that the Tindall family lived on the edge of downtown and in Baker before moving to the City Park West neighborhood.
Searching by name also uncovered some additional records for the house address due to some gaps in the optical character recognition (OCR) processing that the library uses.
Lydia A. Tifft, J. Henry Tindall's mother-in-law, and later his son, Jesse E. Tindall, were listed in the directories, but his wife, Lettie, never was. Was it because she was a married woman? Was it because she was black? I was only able to discover her identity after uncovering census and probate records. More on that in a bit...
So while searching directories is by no means comprehensive, it definitely gives you a better sense of the PEOPLE living in the house, with names and dates.
Find Your Plot and Look Through Historical Property Records
While the DPL search for our address happened to pull up some property records in the search, none of the records therein listed our address. :( So after reading through a great tutorial on Colorado Building History, off to the assessor's office I went.
After searching my address, I was able to find all of the owners of the house from the 1980s onward through the "chain of title" link. But while that was interesting, I wanted to know more about the original families in the house.
For that historical search, the two most critical pieces of information to record are the parcel number and the lot description, as early land sales were tied to these numbers, and not street addresses.
I first reformatted the parcel number to match the other search results, 0000-02351, but unfortunately this did not yield any address matches.
I then decided to search by Block 38 in the Schinner's Addition and hit the jackpot. (If for some reason your text search didn't yield any results, try this interactive map instead.)
Now the legal description made more sense. Our house sites on the South half of lot 5, and all of lot 6. And J. Henry took possession of the house in 1900.
Flipping through the ledger (always click through the whole document!) yielded a second record naming his wife Lettie, and an associated court number for probate on a will. It also named several later inhabitants including William Monticue, Eliza Burns, and William and Dannie Monticue, giving us a rough timeline for property ownership through the 1950s.
Repeat the Property Searches Using Homeowners' Names
So now I had a complete picture from 1900 - ~1950, and from ~1980 to present, but what about the intervening years? Now that I had some names, I was able to search the DPL archives again using names rather than an address, and found the actual master property records that the OCR was unable to match.
There was more than one property record, so at some point the parcel numbers changed. And thankfully, there was only one transfer during that time -- between William Monticue, who we learned about in the handwritten records, and Sarah Proctor, who we see in the modern assessor's office records.
I was also able to understand a bit more about the house now that I had names for all of the real estate transactions. There were a series of tenants living in the house from ~1920 to ~1933 when Lettie and Jesse sold the house to William Monticue. But why?
Well, it turns out that the house was tied up in probate after the death of J. Henry in 1916, while Jesse was a student at the University of Denver. How did I find all of that out? Searching census, probate, marriage, and other records using a genealogical database.
Dive Deeper into Family Stories Using Ancestry
Given that I was most interested in the oldest inhabitants of the house (and didn't want to encroach on any folks that are still living), I started my search with the Tindall family.
Family 1: J. Henry, Lettie and Jesse Tindall
Census records helped me figure out that Lettie was J. Henry's wife and that Lydia Tifft and Chas Tifft were his wife's family, who lived with the married couple in the 1890s.
The census data also helped me confirm that the entire family was white, so Lettie was omitted from the city directories simply for being a married woman.
I tracked Lettie back to Illinois, where she started her adult life as a teacher. J. Henry was from Michigan and started his career as an ag. (agricultural?) clerk. I don't know where they met and married, but they were not living together in either hometown (or Denver) during the 1890 census. They made it to Denver by 1896. The house was built in 1898 and they moved into it in February 1900.
J. Henry wrote his will in 1911, before his death in 1916.
His son, Jesse, grew up as an only child (as confirmed by the 1910 census and J. Henry's will), and attended DU in 1919, studying science.
Sometime in late 1916 or 1917 I think that Lettie added the kitchen and butler's pantry onto the back of the house, based on the newspaper clippings and a series of items found behind the cabinetry. She also wired the ceiling for gas and electricity, also leading me to believe that the house first had electricity around 1917.
Although the J. Henry passed away in 1916, his will was held up in probate until 1919, when the case was finally closed.
Lettie and Jesse then moved on to Minneapolis, perhaps following a job for Jesse, before returning to Denver in 1933 to sell the house.
Family 2: William M. and Dannie Monticue
It took me several days to piece together the full story of the Monticue family. Originally I traced William M., a chiropodist, which is an old name for a podiatrist (my "missing" podiatrist!), through several offices in downtown Denver in the 1920s using city directories. As of 1924 he was living with his wife, Phoebe, on Glenarm St, while practicing medicine.
I later found him moving into City Park West on Humboldt St. in 1930 with his wife, Dannie. They moved to Gilpin St. in 1933.
Given the shared history I had learned from a past homeowner, I expected William to be white and his wife to be black. But the 1930 census clearly confirms that both he and Dannie hailed from Tennessee and were both "negro" or black.
So maybe the story was wrong and Phoebe was white and from Boston? Or maybe it was an entirely fictitious account of the past.
But either way, it's great to see a house pass from a white family to a black family in the days of rampant redlining. I am not sure how it was possible -- the house's proximity to Five Points? The fact that William was a doctor? I hope to dive into this further with local research librarians once the libraries open back up.
Looking back up at the census records, one surprising fact was the age gap between the couple -- 31 years. And if you look closely, you can see that William's first marriage was at 21 and Dannie's at 18, making this at least a third marriage for William and at least a second marriage for Dannie.
I stumbled across what I *think* is their marriage record, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
It was filed in Arapahoe County (Southeastern Denver), and changes their ages from 62 and 31 (per census birth years) to 58 and 35, respectively, at the time of the marriage. It also lists them as white. Maybe the ceremony would not have been performed otherwise? I later found out that Dannie was 75% Native American, so perhaps she was able to easily "pass" for white in the neighboring county?
I might have written this marriage record off as a coincidence representing someone else, but once I was able to search Dannie's surname, Harvey, the city directories show that she was living with William at his office on Glenarm while working as his assistant since 1927.
Whatever the situation, they married in 1929 and moved into the house on Gilpin St. in 1933. William passed away only two years later at the age of 68. But not before fathering a daughter, Sarah Patricia Monticue, in 1931 and a son, Bruce Monticue in 1934.
Both children were next to impossible to find because the family did not appear on any census records that I could uncover for 1940 onward. That was until I started searching for spelling mistakes; Ancestry lists the name "Morterye" instead of "Monticue". Here we can also see that Eliza Burns, who showed up in the property records before, was an elderly widowed lodger at the house.
Daughter Sarah Monticue
Prior to finding the above record, the only reason I initially stumbled across Sarah was because she and her first husband, Melvin L. Proctor, lived on Gilpin St after their marriage and the birth of their daughter Patricia in 1951.
Sarah was relatively easy to trace after that. During the 1960s she worked as an infant nurses' aide at a local orphanage, the Infant of Prague nursery, while living on Humboldt St. She divorced Melvin in 1968 and married Albert Lee Watson the following year, and moved back in with her mom.
Albert died in 1971. Presumably, Sarah continued to live on Gilpin St. with her mother, Dannie for the next several decades. I have been unable to find a marriage certificate for Dannie's second marriage to man named "John" (widowed again in 1967) or a death certificate for Dannie.
Patricia was named conservator for the property in 1987, and Sarah must have passed away in 1990 because Patricia passed the house back to Sarah's estate before selling it.
Son Bruce Monticue
I didn't even know about Bruce, until I posted in one of my favorite Facebook groups, Northeast Denver Love & History. The exchange yielded a first cousin once removed (thank you, Ron!) who provided some more details into their life on Gilpin St. City directories then show that Bruce lived with his wife, Aster Irene, in several properties in Whittier, Park Hill and Montebello.
He started his career as a meat cutter / butcher, before moving on to heavy machinery in the mid 1970s. Bruce and Aster divorced in 1983. Bruce remarried in Nevada, and moved to Nebraska, before passing away in 1997.
Once I had these details, I went back to the original property records that I pulled.
Compile Your House's History to Establish Provenance
Before I started this project, I didn't know anything about the series of renters in the 1920s and early 1930s. I also thought that the house started changing hands from the Monticues to the Proctors in the 1980s.
But it turns it out that the Tindalls owned the house for 33 years (1900 - 1933) and the Monticues (later Proctors) owner the house for 57 years (1933 - 1990). Just two families over 90 years!
Now it makes me want to reexamine all of the things we have found in the walls and the attic -- ladies' shoes, old business cards, meat packing boxes, etc. I would guess that most of them belong to the Tindalls or Monticues. More on that in a future Instagram post.
Subsequent owners have been in the property much shorter times -- 3 years, 5 years, and 10 years (with a slew of tenants). We're going on 13 years this year, and hope to make it at least 20 more.
Thanks for taking this trip with me in the past!
Need some help researching the history of your house? Contact Denver Squared to get started!