If you own an older home, you've probably at some point wondered who slept in your bedroom long before you, when your plumbing was last updated, or why that ghost keeps hiding your car keys. Researching the history of your house is not only an exciting trip into the past, but it can tell you how the house is built and give you clues as to how it should be maintained. You can research the history of your house by examining the house itself, looking at government records, and reading through historical archives maintained for your city or town. [1]

Method 1
Method 1 of 3:

Examining the House's Construction

  1. Over the years, many different types of materials and styles of craftsmanship are used to build houses. The types of materials used can give you some ideas about when the house was built and how long it has been since any changes were made.[2]
    • For example, one place you can look is under the water tank lid of the toilet. If there is a toilet in your house that is original to the house, the date stamp on the water tank lid will give you a good idea of when the house was built. If the toilet isn't original, that date will at least give you an idea when the bathroom was last remodeled.
    • If your house has a mansard roof, for example, it was likely built in the late 19th century. However, keep in mind that certain styles and housing designs were still being built in more provincial areas long after they had fallen out of favor in urban centers, so the location of your house will be important in identifying the era in which it was built.
    • Look closely both inside and outside your house, and try to identify building materials used. Bring in an expert if you're unsure what type of wood or stone was used.
  2. Go to your local library or research online to find out the design style of your house and when that style was popular in your area. This can give you some clues as to when the house was built.[3]
    • Keep in mind that old houses often have been updated several times to reflect changing trends or the desires of the owners. Your house may incorporate several different architectural styles.
    • Your house also may have been built at different times. For example, the original house may have been built in one style, and then the owners built an addition in a different style 40 years later.
    • Even with many decades of additions and renovations, you typically can uncover a core style to your house. This gives you a general idea of the era in which the house was built.
  3. Cabinetry and design styles go in and out of fashion through the years, and these details not only tell you something about the history of your house, but also give it a unique character.[4]
    • The types of nails and molding used can provide some important clues as to when your house was built.
    • You can review design books or look online to find other instances of original molding or cabinetry to help date your house. Even if these elements aren't original, dating them can provide clues as to when that particular room was remodeled.
  4. The walls of an older house may have 10 or more layers of paint. If you don't want to cause too much damage to your house, find an inconspicuous spot and scrape through the layers.[5]
    • A professional can help you analyze the age of the lower layers of paint. The colors used also can provide clues, since different interior colors go in and out of fashion through the years.
    • The composition of the paint also can be analyzed to link it to a particular era, since paint has been made using different chemical compounds over the years.
  5. Anyone who's been living in your neighborhood for a long time can help you understand more about the history of your house. Neighbors can be particularly helpful if you're new to the neighborhood.[6]
    • Ask them if they knew the people who lived in the house before you, and whether they can remember any renovations being done.
    • If they are amenable, you also can talk to them about the history of their house or ask to inspect its details. Since your neighbors' house may have been built around the same time as yours, this can offer you some important clues.
  6. You typically can uncover the names of previous owners by looking through the deed history of your house. In the United States, this information is typically available at the county recorder or register of deeds.[7]
    • Once you have a name, you can track them down on the internet for free, or through a commercial people-locator service.
    • Keep in mind that some people may not want to be contacted, and may not want to talk to you. The house may hold painful memories for them, or they may just not want to be bothered. Respect their wishes and avoid infringing on their privacy.
    • The best way to contact a previous owner typically is by sending a letter. Explain who you are and why you want to contact them. Provide them a means to contact you back if they're willing to talk.
  7. A metal detector can be a great way to uncover old coins and other artifacts that may add their own unique story to your house and help you learn more about the house's history and its previous owners.
    • Take care digging up artifacts in your yard. You may want to contact an archaeologist or local historian if you believe you've found something of possible historic significance.
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Method 2
Method 2 of 3:

Pulling Official Records

  1. At the courthouse, you typically can learn the official lot number or description of the property where your house is located. You may not find correct information using your street address, since these can change over time.[8]
    • Your local or county tax assessor also may have this information within the tax records for your property.
    • Keep in mind that official record keeping of land and properties typically uses a different system than street addresses with which you're familiar. This system allows you to track the history of your house from the moment it was built.
    • If you live in a place that has been continually inhabited for hundreds of years, even the property grid/lot system itself may have changed over time. In this case, you may also need to make a trip to your local historical society.
  2. The abstract records all deeds or other legal transactions associated with your property. These documents typically are located at the county courthouse, although you may have been given a copy when you purchased the home.[9]
    • Review the history of the purchase and selling price. A dramatic increase in the selling price over a short period of time may mean a building or room was added, or that the house was substantially renovated. You can cross-reference with any building permits for additional clues.
    • If you live in the United States, visit your local or county courthouse to look at the deed registry, usually found in the clerk and recorder's office. This information is indexed by a lot and block number in a city, and a section, township and range for rural property.
  3. The government office that issues building permits should have public records pertaining to your house. The building permit can contain a treasure trove of information including the house's original dimensions, construction dates and costs, and the names of the people originally involved in its construction.[10]
    • Keep in mind that you typically must pay a small fee to acquire these documents, including a search fee as well as a fee for your own copy.
    • If your house is hundreds of years old, you may need to visit the local historical society to find the building permit.
  4. If you live in a larger city or town, directories and atlases can help you uncover details about your house throughout the past. In many areas, these city directories and maps were in use hundreds of years ago.[11]
    • Directories and atlases also can help you identify changes in street names and other geographical details that you can use to target your research and find more information about your house.
    • These directories and atlases typically are available at the municipal planner's office. If they are not there, staff typically will be able to point you in the right direction.
  5. Survey maps and property field books are common sources of information about the history of a property. These typically are located in either local or national archives, and were maintained for tax purposes.[12]
    • Talk to someone at the property tax assessor's office to find out where historical records are kept and how you can access them. Keep in mind you'll typically need to pay a fee to have them retrieved.
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Method 3
Method 3 of 3:

Digging through Archives

  1. Your local library typically keeps archives of the local newspaper. If there's more than one branch, the central or main branch usually holds the largest collection.[13]
    • If you live in a rural area with no library nearby, try at the largest city or urban area, or maybe the county seat. That library typically will have archives pertinent to your area.
    • Search backwards, looking for mentions of construction in your neighborhood or the names of the house's previous owners.
    • Keep in mind that street names and numbers can change over time, so record any changes you see and the dates so you can construct a chronology.
  2. Most regions have a historical society that maintains historical records and information about your house and your general neighborhood. Larger cities often have their own historical societies, but if you live in a rural area you may have to seek out the historical society that covers a larger regional area.[14]
    • If you have an extremely old house, such as those commonly found in Europe, neighborhood information may be all you can find to research the history of your house.
    • If your house is less than 200 years old, the historical society may have a wealth of information, particularly if any of the house's previous owners were well-known in the community or the house was the site of a significant event in local history.
    • Take care handling delicate old documents, and follow the historical society's rules regarding the care and copying of these documents.
  3. There are many websites dedicated to preserving genealogical records and property history records, often available for free. You can use these resources to find information about your house as well as its previous owners.[15]
    • For example, if your house is in the United States, you might search for records at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) website. The NARA maintains all official government genealogical and land records, and also has links to other databases with a wealth of information.
    • If your house is in Ireland or the United Kingdom, you might start your online research at the Building History website, located at buildinghistory.org. This site is maintained by a historian and provides a wealth of resources for researching the history of your house, including deeds, wills, tax documents, and maps, as well as images and information about towns and villages.
  4. As you uncover information about your house, order it chronologically so that you can map the house's history from original construction to the present. Keeping your information ordered this way also enables you to identify gaps in that history where more research is needed.[16]
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Community Q&A

  • Question
    How do I find out if my house may be subject to sinkholes?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    Learn about the area surrounding the house and see if any houses near yours have had this problem. If you can, find a professional to take a look.
  • Question
    I would like to know the history of my house. How can I find it?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    Go to your town's courthouse and research the records there. It should all be there. If you're after a more personal view on the house's history, you can try to track down previous owners and talk to them. Their records of ownership should also be available at the courthouse.
  • Question
    How can I find out if someone died in my house?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    Search on local news sites, or ask neighbors. They will possibly know if anything happened in the past.

About This Article

Jennifer Mueller, JD
Co-authored by:
Doctor of Law, Indiana University
This article was co-authored by wikiHow staff writer, Jennifer Mueller, JD. Jennifer Mueller is a wikiHow Content Creator. She specializes in reviewing, fact-checking, and evaluating wikiHow's content to ensure thoroughness and accuracy. Jennifer holds a JD from Indiana University Maurer School of Law in 2006. This article has been viewed 1,568,394 times.
63 votes - 72%
Co-authors: 101
Updated: November 14, 2023
Views: 1,568,394
Article SummaryX

To research the history of your house, look at its design and the materials used to build it, which can help date it. Go to your local courthouse or county recorder and find your property’s abstract. That will give you a complete history of when your house was built and purchased over the years. You can also search online or at a nearby historical society for property history records and other information about your house and neighborhood. For more tips on researching your house’s history, including looking at atlases, maps, and field books, read on!

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