If you live in an older home, you could be residing in a place rich with history. Research can yield a treasure trove of information about past owners and momentous events that happened on or near your property. Are you ready for some historical sleuthing?
Public records of a home’s history
One of the simplest and most straightforward resources about your home is your county’s appraisal district database. The appraisal district assesses the value of the house each year for property tax computation. Some databases limit how far back you can look, in which case you’ll need to contact the appraisal district offices. But in other counties, the history of your property’s appraised value going back many years is available, along with the names of past owners. Another office, that of the county clerk, keeps a history that shows the individuals to whom the property was deeded over the years. You can also track previous owners by checking with the U.S. Census Bureau.
The importance of this information is twofold. You can see how the house’s value has developed over time. And the names of the owners provide a window into the home’s history and what may have transpired around it.
Another public resource is your city or county building code enforcement office. This office keeps records of past building and improvement permits. These records allow you to see what renovations have taken place and which owners made them.
Learn some history
To find out if your home has historical significance, check the National Registry of Historic Places.
Armed with the names of previous owners, you can research past residents who may have been noteworthy. Your local historical society is a good place to begin your search. Learning the history of your city and your neighborhood gives you context for events that may have happened there. Determine the historic era in which your city and neighborhood developed, and find out what events have occurred there. The historical society should also be able to tell you where notable people lived and whether your house was one of those residences. This could lead you to great stories about your home.
Another good source is the public library, which may have books and old newspapers saved digitally.
Some tips for historical society and library research: Keep in mind that through the years, your street may have changed names and/or your home’s street number may have changed. Also, the home may have been known in past times by the name of its original owners, such as “the Haney house.” This information will give you more search terms to guide your research.
Note the architecture
Do online research looking at pictures of architecture matching your home’s design. Or find an architect knowledgeable about your home’s style to teach you about the era when your home’s architecture came to be. The trim around the eaves, the hardware on the doors, the balusters on the staircase, and other features can give a glimpse of a bygone era.
Putting it all together
Assemble the results of your research and begin putting it in historical story form. Start with the history of the city, then narrow the focus to the history of the house: when it was built, who built and lived in it first, then subsequent owners, especially people who may have figured prominently in local history. Create a pictorial timeline.
You can put your home’s historical story in a scrapbook, working in chronological order up to when you bought the house. You could create a second book to leave with a future owner if you like. What a cool housewarming gift to present to your buyers!
If you don’t want a physical scrapbook, there are software programs available to create a digital production you can save on a DVD, digital thumb drive or in the cloud. This spares you from storing a scrapbook that can yellow and disintegrate over time.