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.
- Seven Ways to Trace Your Home's History: Information about private property often ends up scattered around several different repositories, including libraries and the county clerk's office.
- How to Research the History of Your House: The house itself is usually full of information about when it was constructed and what sort of people lived in it during its early years.
- Guide to Old House Styles and Architecture: Knowing the dominant house styles from each decade makes it easier to approximately date when a house was constructed.
- Antique Home Style Guide: Dating the style of a house makes researching it much easier.
- Using Written Archives to Discover the History of Your House: The BBC wrote this guide about using different types of archives to discover a home's history.
- How to Research Your Historic Virginia Property: Virginia is full of historic properties, but these research ideas are also applicable to properties across the country.
- Is My House a Sears House? Sears kit homes were built across the country from 1908 to 1940. Anyone wondering if they own one can use this guide to look for clues.
- Guide to Kit Houses and Homes: Sears was not the only manufacturer of kit homes in the 20th century.
- Researching a Property in Milwaukee: Although written for Milwaukee homeowners, this guide has good information for homeowners everywhere.
- Lustron Locator: Lustron homes were prefab homes made of metal that were sold in the mid-20th century.
- House History Checklist: Archivists compiled this helpful checklist of areas to focus on when researching a house's history.
- Building Background: The foundation of a building can be an excellent source of information.
- Researching House History: A Case Study: Learn from one person's example by reading this account of a home history research project.
- Researching Historic Houses: Library guides compile and explain the various kinds of resources available when researching old homes.
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
- National Center for State Courts: Often, older properties turn up in a variety of court documents over the years.
- Legal Land Descriptions: Over time, there have been many different ways to legally obtain land, and this can affect where you should look for property records.
- Understanding Property Deeds: A deed is a legal instrument used to prove ownership of property and legally record transfers of the home between owners, making these documents valuable sources of information.
- Glossary of BLM Surveying and Mapping Terms: The Bureau of Land Management issued this glossary explaining various terms used in surveying.
- The Real Estate Marketplace Glossary: How to Talk the Talk: Learn about the terminology found on real estate documents with this guide from the Federal Trade Commission.
Geography and Maps
- Fire Insurance Maps of Alabama: Fire insurance maps like these can provide information about neighborhoods over the years.
- Geological and Topographical Maps: The USGS provides current and historical maps with rich information about communities.
- 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 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.