Monday, January 23, 2017

Google Sleuthing

We're in the market for a new house, so Zillow has pretty much been my homepage lately. Unfortunately, nothing new has been listed in quite a long time, so I've started to explore around a little bit. I've looked at houses way outside my price range, houses in far off cities, and last week on a whim, the house I grew up in.

I couldn't find a picture on Zillow, though, so I switched to Google street view. I "walked" up and down the street and found my friends' houses and the park I used to play in. I was even able to remember the route I used to walk to school every day. Google even allowed me to walk around the back of the house via a paved alleyway. I noticed that at some point the owners had converted the back garage into living space with a door and windows.

The picture was interesting to me me, so I screen shot it and sent it to my parents and brothers. This got us into a conversation about what else had changed about the house and eventually someone asking if we had ever looked for my grandparents' house in Texas.

I actually had looked for it a few times, but the only address I had was a rural route box number. When the E911 system went into place the physical address would have been updated and so I had no idea what the current address of the house would be.

I looked up the property records database for their town, but records didn't go back that far. I fiddled around with trying to figure out what the new name of the road might be. I figured there had to be some way to find the title transfer from when they sold the house. In my searching, I stumbled across some advice for searching public documents that are archived on the web. I ended up having to pay about $5 to access the records, but I found it!

In the deed of sale from 1990 I can see that my grandparents sold their house for about $64K. It gave the name and address of the buyer (also a rural route number) and described the location of the house in terms of the compass directions required to walk the perimeter. My knowledge of orienteering is sadly lacking, but I did notice that it mentioned the name of a road I had never heard before.

I googled the name of that road and started hopping around since I didn't have a house number. Since I had been keeping my brothers and parents updated with my sleuthing, I sent them the link to the Google map of the road. My younger brother "walked" down the road and was more successful than I had been at finding a house that we all agreed was the right one.

I showed my boss my detective skills and he asked me if it looked familiar. In all honesty, the street view picture doesn't, because we never used the front door of the house. We always entered through the side door. But when I flipped the view and look at the bird's eye view, I remember running through the "back 40" (which turns out to only be 6 acres) and I found the little pass through with the trees where we used to go and hide. We weren't supposed to be up there, and from looking at the maps, I can confirm my grandfather's statement that that property wasn't his. It was his neighbor's. Maybe that made it a little more fun and mysterious!

The house hasn't been on the market recently, so I can't find any interior pictures of it, but just finding the property was exciting. The best part, though? Finding my grandparents' signatures on the deed. These are the signatures that showed up on
all my birthday and Christmas checks as far back as I can remember. I hadn't seen them in a very long time, but they look exactly like I remember them. And that makes the Google sleuthing all worth it!

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