How to Find Out the History of Your House

How to Find Out the History of Your House

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Who doesn’t like a good mystery? Every house has a history and it can be fun to explore the secrets behind yours. Of course, the older your home is, the more intriguing the history of your house may be. Oh, the tales those walls could tell! Here’s how you can start the detective work yourself.

If you’re dealing with a very old house, consult the National Register of Historic Houses or your state or local preservation society. They may even have historical photos of the property.

Visit 9 National Trust houses with royal backgrounds.

Work with the town historian to learn about the history of your house. They may have records you can look through—or at least will know where to direct you.

Look for clues about your house’s age. Check the attic and basement (often these unfinished rooms have conspicuous clues), compare the architectural style with a reference guide, peel back wallpaper and carpet to see what’s underneath. Sometimes you can get an idea from period-specific materials or unique accessories that are still in place. Here’s one old home feature that provides a clue to the house’s age.

Talk with neighbors. They may know more about the more recent history of your house. If you have elderly neighbors who’ve been there for a long time, there’s a good chance they can take you back much further.

Check out these 14 things your neighbors will never tell you.

Research land and property records. Your local assessor has tax records that can illuminate how the property has changed over time. Simply input your county name, state and the word “assessor” for an online peek and better idea about the history of your house.

Consult census records for a more complete picture of the history of your house when it comes to former residents—including such details as the number of children in the home!

Visit the library. They may have historical maps and other materials to shed light on the history of your house. Ask your reference librarian for assistance.

• Is your house new construction? You can make it easier for future generations to track the history of your house by jotting down some of the specifics and leaving them behind when you depart. You might write down the name of the builder, when ground was broken, when construction was finished, photos of newly planted trees, and any other pertinent information a future owner might find interesting (including architectural plans, if available).

To learn more about exploring your home’s history, visit the University of Maryland Library’s helpful Resource Guide.

And, if you’re really into history, check out this excellent exposé on the history of the toilet! Bonus: take a look at historical keeping rooms, which are being redesigned and imagined today.

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Luke Miller
Luke Miller is an award-winning garden editor with 25 years' experience in horticultural communications, including editing a national magazine and creating print and online gardening content for a national retailer. He grew up across the street from a park arboretum and has a lifelong passion for gardening in general and trees in particular. In addition to his journalism degree, he has studied horticulture and is a Master Gardener.