How to Search the History of Houses

The history of a house provides important information for potential home owners.

Search the history of a house.Search the history of a house.
Whether a home has had a single owner or contains a long list of previous ownership, a home's history provides insight into the structural and foundational elements of the home. Knowing the history of a house can help a home owner determine the integrity and original purpose of the architectural design. The history of a house is like a story book outline of the characters and designers who made the structure into a thriving and interesting place to live.

Look at the title deeds to the house. The deeds typically show past purchase and sale transactions. A mortgage provider, a state auditor's department and a local county courthouse often have records of deeds that have been issued over the years. Use the record of deeds to create a timeline of all the owners who have purchased the house and the land represented by the deed. In order to keep the timeline in chronological order, ask for the index to the deeds organized by the buyer's name. Start with the deed to the present owner and pay special attention to the legal explanation of the property. Search for the buyer's name and any structural information about the home each time the deed was transferred to a new owner. Record the page and volume numbers. A sharp increase in the value of the property could mean a building was added to it or a new appraisal was issued.

Research census records. Census records often show previous owners and the transferral of ownership. Check a local library or the Internet for details pertaining to a specific census year. Some census information is not for public use, but tax records and home ownership are often available. Most census reports in the United States are free and can be accessed by state. The earliest census information dates back to the late 1700s. Most homes in the United States will not be easily tracked that far back.

Talk to the neighbors. Someone in the neighborhood might have already researched the street's history or he may be familiar with a neighborhood house that has been passed down the family line through the generations. After talking to neighbors, try to follow up on former residents and their descendants. Older aged neighbors can be especially helpful if they have lived in the neighborhood for a long time.

Ask neighbors or relatives if they have any family pictures that might show the building, land or structure in the background.

Research architectural features of the house. Look at all the different parts of the house including the construction materials, the roof, the chimneys, the windows, the doors and the foundational elements. In addition, pay close attention to the type of materials that are used in the home design. Study both the inside and the outside of the house. If the house is made of bricks, often a date or a manufacturer's name is printed on the brick. Research the style and structure of the home and compare it with other homes in the neighborhood.

Study street, neighborhood and city maps. Insurance companies often have maps that are used to determine boundary lines and home insurance needs. Plot maps often accompany deeds to houses and can be accessed while researching a deed. Study the survey maps that accompany a home sale each time that it transitions from one owner to the next. Research city and community maps that show other architectural buildings that were built during similar time periods. Old city and county maps might even show the house with the previous owner's name written beside it. Additionally, old maps often show the location of roads and other landmarks that no longer exist.

Things You Will Need

  • Home deeds
  • Surveys
  • Census records
  • Maps

Tip

  • Ask a realtor for any information he can get from his records.

Warning

  • When inquiring about the history, make sure the agencies understand that the research is for historical purposes only.

About the Author

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.