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How to Research Your House's History

Updated on January 31, 2013

Did you know that you can research the history of your house to find out:

  • Architectural Facts
  • Historical Facts
  • Real Estate Tax Information
  • Prior Sale Information
  • Who owned the house before you.
  • Plans
  • What was there before your house.
  • When your plumbing, electrical, roof, or HVAC systems were replaced.

There are many resources available to help you find the information you need.

Compile Available Information

To start your research there are a few basic pieces of information you will need. First, you need your address, which should not be a problem. Second, you will need the Legal Description of the property. The Legal Description can be found on the Title Commitment you received when you purchased the property. It will look something like this:

Lot 2 of St. Louis Peyton Place #5, a subdivision in St. Louis County, Missouri, according to plat thereof recorded in Plat Book 6, Page 247 of the St. Louis County Records.

Of course, the above Legal Description is a fictional location. However, the format with the Lot, Subdivision, County, State, Plat Book, and Page Number are in the correct format.

If you live in a rural area, your Legal Description may look different than the one referenced above. Your's may look something like this: T144W - R25E - S26 (NW 1/4)

Once you have the address and legal description you can begin your search in earnest. Begin by putting together the information that is easily available to you. Many counties have property information available on line through the County Assessor's Office. A hub on how to access the County Assessor's online information is listed above and to the right and named "Locate Property Information Online." The Property Assessor's online tools can help you find a lot of information including the name of the current and previous owner's, what it sold for, the size of the property, what the real estate taxes have been each year, and a basic drawing of the property boundaries and structure.

If your county does not have the information online you can go to the County Assessor's office and request the information.

Talk to Neighbors

Talk to neighbors who have lived in the neighborhood for a long time. Find out what they know about the house, the area, and the former occupants.

Check with your City

Your city may be a helpful resource. Call your planning and zoning department. Tell them about your research and see what information they have to offer. Depending on how old your house is and how long they keep their records they may have permits, certificates of occupancy, and building plans. Some cities already have some information on historical homes in the area.

Land Deed
Land Deed | Source

Deeds & Surveys

Visit the county clerks office. Request copies of deed's and surveys for the entire history of your property. These can provide insight into the history of the property and it's changes over time.

The deed copies you received from the count clerk should include the legal description of the property. The legal description of the property probably changed over time. As farms became subdivisions the property would have been subdivided into smaller pieces and the legal description changed.

The deed will also include any encumbrances or easements on the property. An encumbrance is a right or interest in the property. A mortgage is an example of an encumbrance. An easement is a right to use or cross someone's land for a specific purpose. Utility companies often have easements to run utility lines under the ground. They usually exist along the edges of a lot. Owner's should not build permanent structures over the easements as the utility companies may need to access their utilities below ground.

A land survey plat is a map of your property. A surveyor uses measurements and legal documents to locate boundaries, easements, improvements, and utilties. Surveys are used to resolve property disputes and obtain building permits. A survey is normally completed when a property is purchased. The county clerk often has copies of the property surveys as well as the deeds. If you have trouble reading them or tying them to older documents they may be able to assist you.

Look in the Attic & All Around the House

Look in your attic and all around your house. The architecture of the house may provide you with information. For instance, bricks in older houses were often stamped with the manufactuer's name. Once you see when the company operated this will give you insight into the age of the building, if you do not already have the age.

Also, look in the attic, closets, cellars, garages or anywhere else former residents may have left information about the property. Plans for the property or old pictures could have been left there.

Geo Names

Geonames.org is a great resource for maps. If you look up your town it will provide you with a map as well as longitude, latitude, elevation, and population. The link is below.

Gazetter

Over the years, cities and towns develop and change names. Find out what your town used to be called by looking in a Gazetter for the area.

U.S. Government Land Records

The United States Government offers a free search of all the land that was sold directly from the government to private citizens beginning in 1785. This search is available online through the General Land Office, U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The link is below.

Newspapers

Don't forget to check local newspapers for information about your home. Many old newspapers archives are now available in pdf format with OCR (optical character technician) technology. This allows you to search the text for key words. Contact your local newspaper to find out if this information is online or available to search at their headquarters.

These resources should help you on your way to finding out more information about your property. Good Luck!

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    • Kimberly Vaughn profile image
      Author

      Kimberly Vaughn 5 years ago from Midwest

      Thanks Om Paramapoonya! I hope it helps. And, good luck with the home buying!

    • Om Paramapoonya profile image

      Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago

      Thanks for these helpful tips. My husband and I are planning to buy a house in a few years, and it would probably be nice to learn a little bit about the history of the house we're buying.

    • Kimberly Vaughn profile image
      Author

      Kimberly Vaughn 5 years ago from Midwest

      Thanks Mary! That's fascinating! I would love to have an old house. Mine is only about 25 years old so it doesn't have the rich history that yours does.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 5 years ago from Florida

      Very interesting and informative Hub. My house is around 100 years old, and I had such a great time researching its origin. It was built as a guest house (back before motels), and I can only imagine all the families that stayed in my old house. I have written Hubs about how I moved and restored my old house.

      I voted this Hub UP, etc.

    • Kimberly Vaughn profile image
      Author

      Kimberly Vaughn 5 years ago from Midwest

      Thanks midget38! I enjoyed writing it!

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 5 years ago from Singapore

      This is a great and useful write. I believe that research on checking of houses is important, because we do not want to be caught in a situation of buying one only to discover this or that issue. Thanks for sharing this, and I share as well!