Monday, August 3, 2009

Same house, 103 years later? Revisited

I love it when my readers are more enterprising than me (and smarter?), and take my posts and dig a little deeper. I posted 18 April 1906 - San Francisco - They Were There! on Thursday and followed it up with Same house, 103 years later? on Friday.

This was the picture of the house at (then) 4135 19th Street in San Francisco in the days after the 1906 earthquake:

I searched for the house on Google Maps and found it in the Street View, with the address of 4131 19th Street:

Reader Pete Small saw these pictures and did a little detective work that is revealing and useful to other researchers. Here are Pete's emails to me (posted with his permission):

"First, the County (usually) Assessor-Recorders Offices around the country have, for the most part, all digitalized their property records. Some have more detail than others, but there is usually a Block and Lot map and a description of the property. Some, like my County, actually have a picture of the house (SF does not) and the original handwritten property cards back to 1938.

"The Google maps are excellent, but the addresses that appear on-screen are usually off and sometimes you don't know if you are on the right side of the street (unless you can read the house number attached to the front door). Using the county Assessors map, you can verify the exact location of the property.

"Second, some facts (?) and a fun observation.

"The 1900 Census has:

"4131 19th St McKnew, Elijah 63 and Jane 52 (+some children). Elijah owns the house and it is mortgaged.

"4137 19th St McKnew, Henry 29 and Annie 28. Henry is renting.

"* The County Assessor has 4135-4137 as a 3 family house built 1900. You can see the three entrances in Google maps street level and one of the house numbers is clearly (4137)

"The 1910 Census has:

"4103 19th St McKnew, Elijah 74 and Jane 62 (12 children 11 living) + Gladys 18 (dau) owns home-Free

"4135 19th St McKnew, Leland J 21 and Agnes 20 married 1 year and they are renting.

"*The fun part. Leland is a Wells Fargo Express Messenger. Look at the outfit on the young guy in your 1906 photo. There is writing across his chest and what may be a small shield. Also, there is a bicycle by the front door! He is also wearing leggings. I worked for United Parcel Service for 33 years as a Finance Manager. UPS got their start in 1907 Seattle, Washington as a messenger service. I have a few old photos of the original bicycle/motorcycle messengers and they all wear those same leggings.

"I have tried to enhance your photo to read the house number better, but the last digit is still unclear. It is possible it is 4131*. The house seems much closer to the curb in the 1906 photo vs Google, but may be a trick caused by the cameras of that era.

"*4131 was built 1990 according to the Assessor's Office, but I think that is because of the recent addition and it is a 3 family with 17 rooms, 6 Bdrms and 6 Baths."

After I responded commending his work, Pete wrote back saying:

"Another goodie: 1920 Jane 42 (s/b 72) a widow b. Austria (s/b Australia) owned (mortgaged) 4137 19th St and has it currently listed for $1,271,000. Always pays to be nice to your out-laws!"

I thank Pete for his keen observations and digging in the county assessor records for these properties.

Here is another Street View that shows what is currently 4131 (on the left) and 4135-37 19th Street (in the middle with the tree in front of it), and 4143 19th Street on the far right (the green house).

I can barely see the street number 4137 for the right door of the middle house above the door in the Street View. Thank you, eagle-eye Pete! Do you see two dogs on the sidewalk in the far left lower corner of the above picture? I wonder if those are the current residents of one of my wife's ancestral home?

Since the current building at 4131 19th Street is 3 units with 17 rooms, 6 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms, I wondered just how far back the building goes. I used the Satellite view from Google Maps for the block and zoomed in as much as possible:

As you can see, the current 4131 19th Street (with the red stick-pin over the white roof) has the deepest lot on that side of the street, and it appears to have had a significant addition in the back, plus the front addition, if the different roof colors are any indication. The 4135-37 building doesn't go as far back as the current 4131 building does.

Finally, picking up on Pete's research in the census, it looks like the Elijah McKnew family lived in 4135 (current 4131) 19th Street in the 1900 census, and his son Henry lived in 4137 (probably current 4135) 19th Street then. In 1910, Elijah and Jane had moved down the street where it says they owned the house at 4103 19th Street, and son Leland McKnew was in 4135 19th Street. By 1920, Elijah had died (in 1912) and Jane lived in 4137 19th Street (probably the current 4135-37 address).

A review of the San Francisco City Directories for this time period may be helpful too!

To top it off, I received a response on the Scanfest Today post from a great-granddaughter of Veronica McKnew, who may have been a granddaughter of Elijah and Jane McKnew. If this anonymous poster is reading this post, please email me at and "let's talk" about the family. I have quite a bit of McKnew family history information and am married to one of your cousins.

Since I started the last paragraph (and had to go look in my email files), I received an email from Tim Cox of CGSL, who lives near this neighborhood, and he walked by the houses today and took many pictures from street level and even knocked on the door of 4135! He found the property descriptions online and sent them to me. Thank you Tim!!!

Isn't genealogy, family history and house history fun?


Randy said...

It was the use of the "pancake" feature that allowed me to read 4137.

Brian said...

I've done this in Milwaukee with my ancestors. Driving in these areas now isn't as safe as it once was. Milwaukee had a massive address overhaul in 1931, which makes it really hard to find exact houses. The 1930 census still used the old system.

I'm still not sure if some exist anymore, but it is fun to look at how they've changed.

Anonymous said...

I also like to "househunt" while doing genealogy. Most censuses will have the street name written on the left hand side, and the house or apartment number preceding the family's name. I then Google the address to see if it still exists. If I am lucky, there is a picture of the original house.

Liz said...

Great SF genealogy site that includes city directories:
Enjoy! :)