Discover Your House History: “If These Walls Could Speak”
A “house history” can tell you more about the house you live in–or your ancestor’s home. Here’s how.
Are you curious about the history of the house you live in, or would you like to trace the history of a family property? The online article “How to Research Your Home’s Past” by Charity Vogel has some great ideas. It’s not written for family historians, but I like some of the ideas it suggests:
1. Pull a full history of home ownership off your deed. (Historical deeds may not have these. But each deed does represent a link in the chain of property ownership: you should be able to move forward and backward in time in deed records until you’ve listed all owners.)
2. Use census records to learn more about other folks who lived in your home. Remember you’ll be able to see how many people lived there, and, for some census years, whether they owned or rented.
3. Watch for unusual patterns of ownership. For example, a deed showed sisters co-owning a home in the 1930s. Additional research showed that the sisters were nurses and ran the house as a community hospital. How cool is that to know about a house?
4. If it was a grand or unusual home, see whether the newspapers covered its construction. The author of the article found an 1898 article that detailed the entire five-month building process of her house!
Last year I shared an applicable research strategy in my blog post A Shocking Family Secret, and 3 Powerful Newspaper Research Tips about researching our ancestors and where they lived. By searching on their home address, and not including their name, you can uncover “a kind of house history set of search results, revealing who lived there before, descriptions of the home and its contents and who moved in after your ancestors left. In my case, I located an article about the Cooke home (by the address) being up for sale several years before they owned it. That article included a fairly detailed description of the property. The final article found in the British newspapers was also found only by address (as the Cooke name wasn’t mentioned) and it detailed the contents of their household up for sale. The auction was held in preparation for their move to Canada.” (Click here to learn more about finding your family history in newspapers.)
While looking for more on this topic, I came across a great newspaper article about three researchers who specialize in house histories. They said that in addition to the personal satisfaction of knowing about a family home, “A bit of history and story makes it much easier to sell: it attracts a certain buyer.”
Here are a few more helpful resources, if you’d like to research your house history:
- The New England House Historian: An inspiring and informative blog by house historian Marian Pierre-Louis, who works in New England. For example, read this great post: “Top 10 Places to Find Old Photos of Your House.” Scroll through the entire blog, though. It’s really inspiring!
- Discovering the History of Your House and Your Neighborhood by Betsy Green
- House Histories: A Guide to Tracing the Genealogy of Your Home by Sally Light
More House History Gems: Researching a Family Residence
Ancestral Landmark Discovery with Google Earth
How to Find a Family Address: 4 Steps to Using Google Earth for Genealogy