1. Are you looking in the right state and county?
2. Are you looking in the right locales?
If you’ve found an ancestor’s property, use deed or patent descriptions to identify the town’s original name and gather other location clues. A few municipalities and counties have online databases of deeds and property descriptions, but most don’t (or they may include only recent transactions). You may be able to research deeds in microfilmed indexes and deed books. To find these, run a place search of the FamilySearch online catalog and look under the Land and Property heading. Click to borrow the film for a fee through your local FamilySearch Center (if you’re lucky, the catalog will link you to digitized records on the FamilySearch site). If you don’t find microfilm for your ancestor’s town or county, check with the local historical society. You may need to research deeds in person or hire a local researcher. See our deeds research guide for more.
3. Did the street name or address change?
If you’re trying to trace an address backward in time through name changes, try these steps:
- Find the property description in the deed recording the property transfer. Look for the lot and block number and subdivision name. Older deeds very often didn’t list street addresses.
- Look for old plat maps created by the local or county assessor showing property ownership, lot boundaries, block names and neighborhood developments. Ask for these at town or government offices, local historical and genealogical societies and libraries. Search online in your favorite web browser with the city, state and the phrase plat map. Browse major online map collections such as David Rumsey Map Collection and the Perry Castañeda Library Map Collection.
- Check Sanborn fire insurance maps or historical atlases such as Baist’s real estate atlases (search for Baist real estate atlas and a city name) to see building structures and possibly street addresses.
- Look for a guide to local street name changes in the local history or genealogy section of your local library, or an online database such as that hosted by the New Orleans Public Library. Local genealogical society websites often have information on changes, and you may find them detailed in city directories published that year.
4. Can the neighbors help?
General Land Office online patents
Touring ancestral homes
Researching deeds from afar
Online Historical Maps quick guide
The Family Tree Historical Atlas of American Cities
Use Maps to Solve Research Problems on-demand webinar