One of last weekend’s Family Tree University Virtual Conference live chats I was really interested in was Marian Pierre-Louis‘ house histories chat. Researching my great-great-grandfather’s cigar store and home in Cincinnati is on my genealogy to-do list.
In addition to hearing fascinating tales of participants’ old family homes with kitchens constructed from peach crates, cheese packaging used for insulation and old newpapers as wallpaper, I got tips for researching the cigar store and other ancestral homes, such as my great-grandparents’:
And I smuggled some tips from the chat to share with you all! (The conference participants can download chat transcripts to keep.) Here they are:
- If the house is relatively new, Marian suggests starting with deed research. “I’ve researched every house I’ve lived in, even one built in 1985,” she typed.
- Start with the book and page number of the property deed in county or town records. Many areas have property assessor records online, where you can search by address. Then you’ll trace the deeds to find out names of the previous owners.
- City directories are a great tool for house history research, especially for multifamily dwellings or those with with renters.
- Most Sears and other “kit” homes are near railways, because that’s how they were delivered. Most were built in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Check your local library for books on kit houses, such as Houses by Mail: A Guide to Houses from Sears, Roebuck and Company by Katherine Cole Stevenson.
- You can get a historical contractor to walk through your house and ‘read’ it. “That is your best shot for knowing when the various parts were built,” Marian suggests.
- One participant asked whether it’s possible to research a house that’s been torn down. “Absolutely,” Marian replied. “The deeds and tax records never disappear (well unless there’s a fire in the courthouse or something).”
- A chat participant named Helen shared a link to the New York City Department of Records website, where you can order a photo of any home on the tax rolls in 1940.
- Another chatter named Barry mentioned how he found online Sanborn fire insurance maps for the area where he lived in San Francisco. These maps have details about the businesses and types of structures. Sanborn maps exist for many areas; they’re also online for Cincinnati.
- Marian provided links to the Library of Congress’ bird’s-eye view maps and to her blog post about the top 10 best places to find old photos of your house.
- She also suggested looking for old photos at local historical societies and in the Images of America books by Arcadia Publishing. (I was lucky enough to find my great-grandma’s house in an Arcadia book.)
And if you’re particularly interested in house histories, we also have a digital download guide to researching houses in Family Tree Shop.