Library, see the "Delaware Index" for references to articles in the News Journal from the 1920s to 1977. Available at HSD, UD, DSA, and the Wilmington Institute Free Library in the New Castle County Public Library System
Tape-recorded individual personal recollections of Delawareans are invaluable for filling in the gaps you find in documentary history and for preserving local lore. Oral history tapes and transcripts are available at the Historical Society, including oral histories collected by the Delaware Chapter of the Society of Colonial Dames in America and the World War II Oral History Project. Other oral histories are preserved in Special Collections at the University of Delaware. The Hagley Museum and Library is also a source for oral histories, primarily relating to the Brandywine Valley. Check with the Delaware Heritage Commission, (302) 577-2144, for more information about oral histories. The Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village, (302) 734-1618, also has a collection of oral histories. The best sources for you, however, are probably the longtime residents of your community and former occupants of your home. Record their memories!
Available at HSD, un, HML
Court records are complicated sources, but you may want to investigate these records if you have learned that your property was involved in a bankruptcy proceeding or was the site of a crime. Not infrequently people have gone bankrupt and their property has been possessed by the Sheriff of New Castle County. If you encounter this during a deed search, you may be in luck. Frequently the deed will refer to the date of the sheriff's sale of the property, which, by law, had to be publicly advertised. Take note of the auction date and look in a newspaper, where you may find a descriptive notice of the house to be auctioned. During bankruptcy it is common for a property to be inventoried for its value, and some inventories have been preserved at the State Archives. You will need the approximate date of the bankruptcy proceeding, so an archivist can guide you to the court that would have handled the case. You will then have to look through the docket books and case files to find the name of the bankrupt individual. (There is no index!) Ideally, you will find an inventory of the
possessions of the bankrupt individual. Crime record~. are also hit-or-miss sources, which can be useful because they can contain detailed descriptions of a property and its furnishings. Ask about this type of record at the Delaware State Archives. Available at DSA
Some of the buildings in New Castle County were insured by the Farmers' Mutual Insurance Company. The insurance records list the buildings being insured and their value. For example, the policy taken by Caleb and John Marshall of Marshallton in 1840 insured their grain mill, assessed at $2500, and their rolling mill, assessed at $1000. This information tells us what was on a parcel at this particular date and the relative importance of the resources.
Available at HSD, Acc. 89.41
City and State Directories
Directories are similar to our phone books and can help a researcher track an individual or a community through time. The Wilmington directories include listings of names, occupations, and addresses for residents of the city and for some areas outside of the city proper for the period from the mid-nineteenth century to the present (UD, HSD, F 173.16 .W74). Nineteenth-century state directories are arranged by town and offer descriptions of the communities, which can help to establish the historic setting of the building you are researching (HSD, DSA). There are also some early versions of the yellow pages, which list Delaware's businesses and industries (UD).
Historical Archaeology and the Landscape
The word archaeology usually conjures up the word dig, which is something that ought to be undertaken only by trained professionals. The starting-out point of the archaeologist, however, is a careful study of the landscape, which is useful for the homeowner, too. Try mapping features in your yard, such as fences, walks, drainage ditches, old plantings, and unusual bumps in the ground. Link what you see in your yard with other facts, and you will suddenly see how your house is still rooted in the past. To learn more, see the sources listed in the bibliography and contact the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office, where you can learn about local archaeological organizations and about how archaeological sites are evaluated for the National Register of Historic Places.