Property history research gives you a picture of how the history of your property developed through the years. The history may purely serve to staunch your curiosity.
But you may also learn why some things were built as they were and—potentially—learn more information to help you fix or update your home.
If you’re embarking on a remodel, for example, you’ll need to understand the genesis of your home, how it was built and possibly added on to, and what might lie behind the walls or under the carpeting.
Plus, sometimes it’s just fun to know the provenance of your abode.
Property History Research Methods
Ask your inspector: If you’re buying an older home, check with the expert you’re paying to look at all the nooks and crannies—and about the history of those nooks and crannies. For example, an inspector might note a beautiful hardwood floor beneath modern carpeting or know where to look for a historic foundation stone in the basement.
Talk to your neighbors: Maybe also talk to the previous owner and others who used to live in the area—and their relatives. Many will be happy to share memories. Once land records are accessed, your property history search will yield valuable historical information about the house and its original owners, including when it was sold and to whom.
Visit the library: Old newspapers or local history publications may offer insight into events at your address or give you a sense of the neighborhood and town at the time the home was built. Try to go during a slower time of day—not, say, a raining weekend afternoon—and a librarian may have more time to assist you with this research.
Check the deed: You need to know the legal description of the property, the official address and the subdivision lot number. The legal description also includes the section number, portion of the section, township and range of the property.
Deed transactions are also recorded at local county courthouses in the Register of Deeds. These records may be on microfilm, computerized records or other physical publications. Most staff who work with deeds can help you find what you’re looking for off the address.
When you start your search, begin with the most recent deed transactions and work backward to earlier records.
Scour Porch.com: The online clearance center for home projects, design ideas and contractors also encourages owners and others to note a home’s history. You can check out past work permits, local stats, and who’s done what work on the house.
Other resources: The patent records of the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land office will show you when the federal government first sold the land parcel to a private owner and who that owner was.
You can find other documents online or in local archives or libraries. They include census data records, marriage and death records and insurance maps which show how a property changed over time.
There are commercial sites to help you locate and search online databases to get this information. Genealogical research databases can also give you valuable information to help you uncover your property history.
Updated from an earlier version by Wendy Dickstein.