Uncover Your House's Secrets: How to Trace Its History

A white Victorian house surrounded by a lawn and tree.

While newer homes provide the latest style designs and technological advances, older homes offer a great deal of character and charm. Homeowners living in older homes can enjoy the historical aspects of the space and often want to learn about the history of both the architecture and the residents of the building.

Visit Your Local Government Offices

Take a trip to your local courthouse and speak with a representative about your plans to research your house. You should be able to find out the lot number of your home and any official documents relating to the address. If possible, ask for a copy of the original permit for the building. This document may be able to tell you who designed the structure, which company built it, and the original dimensions of the spaces within it.

The original deed to the house would also be a valuable document to have. It will provide you with the names of the first owners of the building, the date the construction was completed, and perhaps the financial information connected to the purchase. Have the representative point you in the direction of any other government offices that might be helpful in getting more historical data about your home.

Inspect Your Home

Take a close look throughout your entire home. There are many clues that can be found in the design of the space that can give you details about its past. Rooflines, window placement, architecture style, and construction materials can all help in determining the date the house was built. If possible, get a peek between the walls and under the flooring — in many older homes newspapers were used for insulation. An old newspaper may be able to give you a great deal of information about the date of construction.

Original molding and bricks can provide clues about the history of your home, as can older water tanks and toilets. Check these items for manufacturing dates that might be helpful. Take a walk outside and check out the façade and exterior fascia on your home. Look to see if the sidewalk path is original. If it is, there may be an inscription along the edges of the pavers indicating when the stone was installed and who did the work.

Contact Previous Residents

Speak with your real estate agent about contacting the people who owned the house before you purchased it. Schedule a time to sit down together to talk about the history of the building. Be sure to bring a journal with you to record all of the information. The previous residents may have been the only people to own the house or they may be able to put you in touch with others who lived there in the past.

Research the Neighborhood History

Visit your local library and speak with a librarian about finding any books that detail the history of the neighborhood or town where your home is located. You may find that the community has many interesting facts that have been lost over time.

Check Through Old Newspapers

Once you have an estimated date of construction, look for old newspapers from that time period. Newspapers will provide you with historical information about the time and area. You may even be able to find an article related to your home in particular. If you are unable to locate old newspapers at your local library or newspaper office, do a search online. Be sure to start with a historical search of the local newspaper.

Research Personal Records

Using the names and dates of previous residents of your home, research their personal information to find out more about the birth, marriage, and other poignant events in their lives. This information will likely be available online. Remember, you will need the correct spelling of names and the birth dates in order to get the facts you want. There are several search engines and websites that will be able to provide you with interesting facts once you have the data you need to refine your search.

Maintaining Records

Once you've found most of the information you have been searching for, place all of the documents and photographs into a well-organized file for future reference. If possible, scan the papers into digital records so that you will have a backup file of all of the information.

By keeping all of the records together, you will make it easier to share your newly found information with family and friends. And, in the event you sell the house at a later date, you will be able to provide the new homeowners with a beautiful history of the building.