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Where To Start

May 2024
1min read

Tips for unearthing the history of your home

City Historian or Preservation Board

Is there a historic preservation program in your town? The office may have a list of local research resources.

Date of Construction

If you don’t know when your house was built, you might be able to deduce the date from tax records. A sudden, dramatic increase in value between one year and the next could mean that an empty lot acquired a house at that time.

Property Records

Tax records, deeds, and grantee and grantor indexes can help you establish a chain of title. These are public records, usually stored at the county seat. It helps to know the legal description of your property (the official location, distinct from your street address, as described in the property title) and the tax parcel number (from your local property tax statement) before you start.

State Archives

Tax rolls and birth, death, and marriage records can hold clues. Some states have satellite archives offices outside the capital. Larger public libraries may also have statewide vital-statistics indexes.

Census Records

Federal census rolls through 1910 are available at regional National Archives centers and at some libraries.

Public Libraries

Check here for city directories, local histories, and old newspapers and magazines that might mention previous owners.

Special Collections

Some museums and universities have regional research collections. At the University of Washington in Seattle I found both a magazine story on Marie Dunbar and a newspaper interview with John Dunbar’s pioneer mother.

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