Princess House Mysteries: Chapter 4

23 May 2015 . category: . Comments

First things first, there have been some setbacks with my Princess House Research. Nothing tragic, but a bit frustrating for me personally. Let me set the stage for you so that you can empathize.

About three weeks ago, I finally worked up the courage to go to the Land Records Department of the Alexandria City Courthouse and find the original deed from Benjamin Williams’ 1880 purchase of 1204 Princess Street. After going through security, taking the elevator up to the third floor, and making my way past lines of people visiting the clerk to get married or divorced, I arrived at the Land Records Department. It took me a moment to orient myself to this large room filled with ledgers, but before long, I found the book that I was looking for: General Index to Deeds, No. 6, 1871-1884.

Deeds Ledger at the Courthouse Archives

Figuring out how this book was organized was a bit tricky. The names of the buyers and sellers are both recorded into a single index that is alphabetized by both last name and first name. However, after ten minutes of page flipping, I found the entry that I was looking for.

Deeds Ledger open to entry showing Benjamin Williams

According to this ledger, Benjamin Williams purchased 1204 Princess Street from Ann Eliza Page on January 5th, 1880. Furthermore, I could find the actual deed on page 574 of book 8 in this series. Great!

However, one thing surprised me. Based on an 1877 map of Alexandria, I learned that my entire city block was owned by a man named William C. Yeaton, so I was expecting to find his name here. I’m not sure who this Ann Eliza Page person is, but to learn a bit more about her, I cross referenced her name in the index.

Deeds Ledger open to first page of entries showing Anne Page

Deeds Ledger open to second page of entries showing Anne Page

From this perspective, we can see that Ann Eliza Page sold ten pieces of real estate between February 1877 and March 1880. This seems to be consistent with the idea that Ann Eliza Page purchased all or some of William C. Yeaton’s block and broke the land into parcels of land for new homes. Alternatively, it is conceivable that Page may have acted as Yeaton’s agent for these transactions. To know for sure we’d have to take a look at the actual deeds.

To do this, I found the microfilm storing the ledgers that contained Benjamin William’s deed…

Image of Microfilm Reel containing Benjamin William's deed

… and then I walked over the to microfilm reader. Uh oh!

Image of Microfilm Reader with out-of-order sign

The machine was out of order, and after speaking with the staff, I learned that it takes about two weeks for the repairs to be made. I asked if there were any other microfilm readers in the courthouse or if there was any way that I could transfer the microfilm to the Alexandria Library, which has about five working readers. All of this proved to be impossible. Calling back in two weeks was the best that I could hope for.

Feeling generous, I waited approximately three weeks to check on the machine. It turns out that was a mistake. “Oh, the machine was working great for a few days, but then it broke down a day or two ago. Please call back in two weeks.”

I’ve been able to find other things to work on, but I’m going to hold off on much of this narrative until I can get access to these records. I’ve got some good theories, but I really need to discover what was going on with my city block in the fifteen years between the Civil War and Benjamin’s Williams purchase of 1204 Princess Street.

Thanks for your support and patience! :)


Me

Sean McBride is a Full-stack SW Engineer with strong infrastructure chops. In previous chapters of his life, he's been a West Point cadet, an Army Officer, and a History PhD dropout.