There are many reasons that people may want to learn about the history of their homes and other property. Some are looking for information because they need it for a title search or other legal reason. Others are seeking information about how their houses may have looked in the past so that they can restore a historic home. Whatever the reason, there are some tried and true methods that will help you research the history of your home and learn all that there is to learn about it.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
You can research the history of a property by looking at the register of deeds for the county to trace ownership. You can also check the local zoning and planning office, the local inspections office, local historical societies and old journals and newspapers to piece together the property's past.
Trace Property Ownership at the Recorder of Deeds
Trace the transfer of deed for your property at the recorder of deeds, sometimes called the register of deeds. The recorder of deeds for the county where the property is located can give you tips on searching for information on deed transfers for your property.
Many cities have transferred the information to a database that can be searched online. Make a note of the names of previous property owners for further research. The deed to your property may have the best information about the age of any structures on your property, including your house.
The recorder of deeds can provide information about plat records, deed records or property abstracts. Property abstracts can give you a wealth of information about your home, including the name of the architect who designed it.
Checking on Inspections and Violations
Check with the office of buildings and inspections for the city or town to learn about any inspections or violations of city ordinances in your property's past. These records can tell you about when specific improvements were made to your property. The zoning office may be able to tell you what the property is used for now and what it's been used for in the past.
Tax Assessor Records
Check for tax records at the city or county tax collector or tax assessor's office. In addition to information about the owners of your property, you can often surmise the date of various improvements to your property from the tax assessments and other records.
Probate Court Records
Check probate court records for references to the names of previous owners. The probate records will contain information on births, deaths, marriages and other legal matters that can help you construct a history of the families who lived in your home. Wills and estate inventory records may even tell you the history of some of the items that you may find in and around your home.
Other Ways to Research a Property's History
Do an internet search for the names of previous property owners. Many genealogy sites have remarkably complete records that include birth, marriage and death records, as well as former addresses and other relatives.
Check with your county historical museum for any information about your property. Older homes may be in the county's historical register, or may have been featured in old collections of photographs or writings about your town.
Research in local books and newspapers in your local library for your address and for the names of former owners of your home. Local newspapers are among the best sources of information about older properties. Old weekly newspapers and gazetteers may have information about those who lived in your home before you. Make use of resources compiled by genealogy and historical societies.
Talk to the Neighbors
Talk to neighbors and long-time residents. People often overlook one of the best sources of information about local history – their own neighbors. Older residents of your town may even remember having visited in your home as children and can help reconstruct details of decoration and construction.