the first questions we were trying tounderstand.
Some traces were carefully preservedand passed on in formal records. Lisa,one of our participants, receivedthe original architectural plan ofher 100-year-old house during theclosing (see Figure 1). Those drawingsguided the rehabilitation of her house,which, after being divided into athree-unit apartment, had lost muchof its character. For example, the planrevealed the original door ways forpocket doors that had been walled off ina previous remodeling.
Many other traces were discoveredand used in a way that could hardly havebeen anticipated by their creators. Forinstance, an antique postcard, collectedby one of Lisa’s friends, clued her in tothe house’s original exterior features(see Figure 2), and an old weddingphoto, possessed by a daughter of thesecond family who owned the house,helped Lisa learn the detailing of theoriginal staircase.
More striking, some traces were left
behind in the house itself, and they can
be just as informative about its past
adaptations if one knows what to look
for. Linda and John learned a lot about
how their house evolved over more
than 150 years as they ran into covered
flooring, overlaid wallpaper, and other
remnants of old materials when they
were demolishing parts of their house,
which was in great disrepair when they
bought it (see Figure 3). They called
those “shadows of what had been there
Traces of prior appropriation of
our participants’ homes were diverse
in their forms, origins, and intended
purposes. Those traces were found and
made use of long after they were initially
created partly because they were left in
place or embedded in things that carried
either informational or sentimental
value. This echoes and extends Daniela
Petrelli and Steve Whittaker’s work
describing how common objects become
reminders of people, experience, and
places as they are integrated into
everyday life [ 4].
Connecting with the past throughtraces. David Kirk and Abigail Sellensuggest that sentimental objects keptin a household can connect youngerfamily members with a past they didnot experience by themselves [ 5]. We
Figure 1. The original plan of Lisa’s house. It shows the layout of her house whenit was built in the 1900s.
Figure 2. The antique postcard Lisa received from one of her friends depicts the exteriordetailing of her house in 1905.