Would that walls could speak. We don’t blame you if you’re inquisitive about the past of your home. Every home has a history, whether it’s a 100-year-old farmhouse, a Victorian beauty, or a modern new construction (though, some are more interesting than others). Discovering a home’s past can aid with preservation efforts as well as enhance your appreciation of its peculiarities and charm. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to research a house’s history using the internet. These are 12 methods for finding out the history of your house.
1. Check the deeds registry.
Investigate the deed to your house first. To look up the deed to your property, either visit the office in person or go online to the local registrar’s website. Look up the deed for the property when the previous owner possessed it after you know the name of that person. The deed will contain the name of the seller who they bought the house from. As far as you can, keep going back. Records kept by the registrar may not go all the way back to the first owner. If so, ask the staff where you might locate documents that are older than their records.
2. Check the National Registry of Historic Places
Is your residence old? Consult the National Register of Historic Sites if you’re unsure about whether the house qualifies as historic. The official list of houses that have been registered and deemed “historic” because of its age, architectural style, and/or overall significance is available through the service, which is run by the National Park Service.
To search online, go to the National Register of Historic Sites website and use the interactive map, downloadable spreadsheet, or searchable online table to look up your house. (The website suggests using the table to find information, but I found the map to be the most user-friendly.) If you have a reference number, you can use the spreadsheet to search for it.
3. Ask your Realtor
Ask your Realtor about the history of your house before moving into it. They ought to be able to inform you if the house is located in a neighborhood that has been classified as a historic one. A professional realtor should be able to help you locate the prior owners’ names as well. Be aware that there may be restrictions if your home is situated in a historic area. These regulations, which frequently deal with a home’s outside appearance, aid in preserving the general aesthetic and allure of the community. Nonetheless, a lot of homeowners consider the regulations to be onerous. Before buying the property, be sure you’re prepared to handle everything that comes with owning a historic home.
4. Contact previous owners
Inquire about the property from the sellers if you get the chance to do so. They’ll probably be more than happy to talk about the history of the house. They might even view it as a selling point. After you move in, get in touch with them if that isn’t a possibility. Try to get in touch with former owners as you discover their names and discover their contact information. They can discuss their knowledge of the home’s past as well as their memories of living there. If you’re fortunate, a former occupant who wants to see their former home might even knock on your door. Use the chance to your advantage and ask them questions.
5. Look up old census records
Who inhabited the house before you, do you wonder? Start by looking at historical census records. You should be able to find out the names of the family members who resided there, together with details like their ages, places of birth, the year of immigration, their marital status, occupations, possessions, and other fascinating facts. Not every census yields all of these data, according to the National Archives. For instance, only the “head of household” is included in census records between 1790 and 1840.
6. Subscribe to a genealogy website
While investigating the history of your home, websites like Ancestry.com can be extremely helpful. You can discover information by looking for the names of previous owners and individuals connected to the property. You might discover, for instance, that one of the prior owners served as a cavalry lieutenant in the American Civil War. These websites might also include census data and archived newspaper articles. The ancestry of prior owners may occasionally be revealed, revealing connections to other local families or even historical people.
7. Visit a local library, historical society or preservation foundation
A plethora of material may be available in your local library, including antique books, maps, newspapers from the past, local census data, artwork, and pictures. The latter two might assist you in determining when your property had renovations or expansions. Photos can also confirm that famous people, like presidents, visited the area or that historic events, like battles, indeed took place there. Keep in mind that if your town or city was once a part of another, you might want to check the library there as well.
I firmly advise making an appointment to view the images, maps, newspaper articles, and historic designation reports at your local library’s archives when conducting historical research on a home or community. A nearby historical group or preservation facility is another place to look. These groups will store and preserve images and significant records in addition to hosting exhibitions and town-related events. Historic areas and structures are also beautified by preservation foundations.
8. Head to a nearby battlefield
You might wish to visit if your property is close to the site of a Revolutionary War or Civil War fight to see whether it might have served as a base, staging area, or field hospital. Learn more about the battle’s general details, its limits, and whether or not well-known residents took part by seeing the displays. Then, request assistance from the professionals in determining whether your home may have been connected in any manner.
9. Research Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
The Sanborn Map Company has produced maps for almost a century that have assisted fire insurance providers in determining the risk of covering a specific property. These maps show the position of windows and doors as well as the size, shape, and construction material of buildings that were there at the time (brick buildings were red, while yellow buildings were built of wood). A complex system of abbreviations conveyed information about a property’s features, such as its roof and basement, as well as its proximity to a Catholic church.
10. Explore the home and yard for clues
There could be a lot of existing hints regarding a home’s past, from the attic to the backyard. Search for hints in the type of flooring, décor, architectural style, old wallpaper, home expansions, and décor. While an outside plaque is evident, if you know what to look for, you can find more inconspicuous hints. Beams made of wood that have been hand-hewn suggest that some of the house may be older than other parts made of wood with circular saw marks. Also, former owners might have hidden or stored useful personal objects like photos, souvenirs, and newspaper articles in the yard or in the attic.
11. Conduct a title search
Do you wish to learn who occupied your house? Try searching for titles. You’ll probably conduct one of these anyhow if you’re buying a new house because many purchasers choose to pay for a professional title search. In order to provide prospective homebuyers with the names of persons who have legitimately held the property from the beginning to the present, title searches comb through tax records. By doing this, buyers may be certain that the individual selling them the property is in fact the owner. A title search can also be done independently using one of the numerous public websites.
12. Read books on the area
There are probably books written about the past of your town or area. The History Press, which issues regional histories across the United States, is where you should start. Books and literature published about a particular city or region of the country are sure to be sold in abundance at airport bookstalls and neighborhood bookstores. Of course, if you are having trouble finding anything in your neighborhood booksellers, you can always search Amazon for maps and histories of your city.
Tips to make researching easier
Knowing where to look for information about your home is just the beginning. As you research, you can take steps to make the process more successful and maybe even uncover a few secrets.
1. Make a binder.
Organizing your research in a binder is the easiest way to stay on top of it. A chronological arrangement of all your notes and copies of papers related to your house should be made. Place a sleeve protector in the binder and place each piece of information inside. If you want to share information about your house with others, think about making two binders: one for working purposes that contains all your research, and the other for displaying the images, maps, and news stories you think guests will find fascinating.
2. Note all names.
Throughout your investigation, you can run across many ways to spell the same name. Other names for James Rogers include J. Rogers, Jas. Rogers, and even James Rodgers. James Rodgers might, of course, be a completely different person, but you won’t know that unless you look further. List all names, the date they were given, and the source they came from (deed, newspaper article, census records, etc.).
3. Don’t overlook small details.
Almost any component of your house might contain a clue. An area of the house that has hand-hewn floors might be original, or at least very ancient. A renovation may have been completed when a specific window design or kind of glass was installed. You might be able to learn something about the occupation of a past owner from an old door knocker. The more you learn about the architectural style prevalent at the time your home was created, the more likely you are to notice these telling elements.
4. Pay attention to street names.
Street names might alter over time. Despite the fact that Dixon Drive presently leads to your home, West Street may have been the street’s previous name. While this may be simple to locate on a map, if you’re looking for a house on Dixon Drive rather than West Street, you risk missing important information in newspapers and documents.
5. Don’t believe everything.
It doesn’t always follow that your home had two chimneys in 1890 just because the map says it did. Sometimes, maps, newspapers, and documents are inaccurate. Whatever you discover, if at all feasible, corroborate it with at least one additional source. Ideal would be a picture showing the two chimneys. Indicators of a second chimney’s structural presence may also be found in certain buildings. Another possibility is that a former owner may have remembered living in the property when it had two chimneys or even remodeling it to get rid of the chimney.
6. Measure your rooms.
Does a space appear smaller than it ought to be? Or does a wall appear especially substantial? A room or a section of a room may be closed off during renovations. You can discover discarded furniture, old pictures, mementos, or nothing at all between the walls. So don’t use your suspicions as a reason to smash your walls! To view inside your walls with little harm, speak with a general contractor about employing specialist tools like a SeeSnake Micro Inspection Camera or Walabot.