Help to Trace the History of your American House
Most of the steps required to research the history of a home are the same wherever you live and this website covers the general principles. However some of the terms used and research establishments in the U.S are different and so some of the key issues are set out here.
Lets get going...........what information do you have already?
Work backwards from what you know now; taking a step at a time and making sure at each stage you are satisfied that you have the correct information
Examine any old documents deeds, registration documents,photographs or old sale particulars that you may hold or that your legal representative when you bought the house may have. Speak to neighbours and check with your local library to see if anyone has already done some research on the history of your neighbourhood.
DEEDS- CHAIN OF TITLE SEARCH
The chain of title Is the list of people who have owned the house - details of which can be found in the deeds. The deeds contain information about the owners, construction dates, and changes made to the house often with maps of the plot. It is a legal document required to be completed at each transfer of the property so it is vital to locate these.
These can usually be found in the Register of Deeds office at the Historical Society, or sometimes they are available on microfilm or even on line.
Locating Historical U.S. Deeds Online is a very useful site at About.com
Retracing the Trails of Your Ancestors Using Deed Records by William Dollarhide provides good advice.
Building permits often provide information on the homes type of structure, details of when and how it was built with notes about the architect as well as the owner. Sometimes these are filed by address, but can be found in a chronological order and this can make it difficult to find the appropriate ones. They are to be found at the city or county planning or zoning office or sometimes county offices.
Details for older buildings may have been lodged with permits at the local library or historical societies or archives. Usually filed by street address, building permits can be especially useful when tracing a house
Mechanics Liens are designed to ensure that a contractor is properly compensated for work that has been carried out on a house. Liens list the names of the owners and the contractor and a detailed description of the work with estimates. These can be found in clerk of the recorder of deeds in the county office where the home is located.
TAX ASSESSMENT ROLLS
In the US the value of properties are assed annually to determine the rate of taxation which is used to support the community's annual budget. Sometimes the assessors are known as listers or property appraiser.
The information is kept on a Tax History Card which contains a brief description of the building, details of previous owners, date built and date of deeds.
International Society of Appraisers will help you find appraisers
County Government Property Appraisal web sites hold a wealth of information about the sales history of your home and those homes around you.
The Public Records Online Directory is a portal to official state web sites, and those Tax Assessors' and Recorders' offices that have developed web sites for the retrieval of available public records over the internet
Historical fire insurance records contain information about the nature of an insured building, its value, contents, and, possibly, even floor plans. You will need to search for all the insurance companies who have been active in the area of your house. There is an excellent article providing more information at This Old House
Digital Sanborn Map Collection In 1867, the Sanborn Map Company of Pelham, New York, produced a collection of maps of American cities and towns to aid fire insurance companies in their assessment of properties.
PHONE and STREET DIRECTORIES AND BOOKS
Directories provide information about who lived in your house but also by looking at street lists you can see how the neighbourhood was set out. Old phone books can also be helpful for tracing people who have lived in your house. The local library or heritage centre is the best place to start although there are some links on line.
City Directories of the United States of America provides a register of known city directories, their years, and repositories for the United States
A link to on line directories can be found at the Online Historical Directories site
HISTORIC AMERICAN BUILDINGS SURVEY
The Historic Buildings survey (HABS) which was started in 1936 and is still in progress could provide useful information. The surveys can be examined by State, County and Municipality.Information to be found consists of historic name, description of the building, a statement setting out why the building was chosen to be of architectural or historic merit as well as its overall condition.
Local libraries and record offices contain many maps which might be helpful in locating your house. Some of the most common can be found in the large scale Plat Books some of which date back to the 19th century.Maps help you see changes to the district as well as perhaps your plot before the house was built.
Some online resources can be found at -
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As with the UK a Census is taken every 10 years but the earliest was taken in 1790 although they are most useful since the 1850 set. It provides information about occupiers where they came from, how many children they had, the value of the property, and more.
Census records can usually be found at libraries and archives.
There are many paid and subscription sites.
Useful links -
some may be subscription some like Find My Past have many free records to look up.
Find my past Census, land & survey Records