House History and Genealogy

Most people have very strong attachments to their homes, but over time, they might also stop to consider who else has called the house their home. It's natural to wonder about the history of a home, especially if the home is older or unusual in style. Sometimes, new homeowners hear a story about their home's former residents from neighbors and begin to wonder how much of the story is true and what other secrets their home holds. Or perhaps the construction of the home is unusual or really well done and they'd like to learn more about who designed and built their home. Luckily, it's easier than ever to research the history of real estate holdings. Homeowners can start by compiling what they know or think they know about the house. New researchers should be warned, though, that sometimes, they've received bad information, and official records can even be wrong. For example, tax records might list the year a home was substantially renovated as the year it was built.

Internet Resources

Search Resources

Along with learning about the property, many new homeowners wish to know more about the family who originally built the home or even those who lived there afterward. Genealogy research tools make this process easier. Census records, court documents, newspapers, and city directories all can work together to paint a vivid picture of the people who once called the house their home.

Former Owner Research

  • City Directories of the United States of America: City directories were typically searchable by the name of the head of the household but also by address, making them a valuable tool when researching a property.
  • Researching Your House: City Directories: This video explains how to access and use city directories when researching a property's former owners.
  • American Newspapers: The Library of Congress hosts this database of information about newspapers dating back to the 1600s.
  • Yearbooks: Many older yearbooks are available online and can help researchers discover information about the former children who once called the house home.

Property Legal Issues

Geography and Maps

Census Records

  • About Census Records: Census records provide information about the people who once lived on a property as well as their neighbors and the larger community.
  • Census Records: The 1950 census is the most current census available to researchers.

Subscription Internet Services

  • American County Histories: This is a historical source for information on the county level.
  • ProQuest Digitized Newspaper Archives: Libraries and universities often have institutional memberships available to their patrons to use this large database of historical newspapers.
  • Ancestry.com: This popular genealogy site can be used to research the former owners of a property.
  • MyHeritage Search: It's possible to search this site for free, but payment is required to view documents.

Historical Societies

Historical societies and preservation groups have a vested interest in the built environment. Anyone interested in the history of their home or neighborhood should reach out to their local historical society. So much information has been digitized and placed on the Internet, but often, smaller historical societies have a wealth of information that only exists as paper documents.

  • Docomomo: This nonprofit group works to preserve modern homes and buildings.
  • Researching a House: Title abstracts are one place to find out about a home's history.
  • Tips and Tools for Saving Spaces: The National Trust for Historic Preservation has ideas for saving historic properties.
  • Research Your House: Some historic homes should be submitted to the National Register, and this article explains that process.