Researching the History of a Home

By Alexis Bennett

Have you ever wondered about the stories a home can tell? Every home has a history, and researching it can be both practical and rewarding, especially for a new home you’re planning to move to.

Researching the history of a home you’re considering purchasing can help you identify any potential problems, such as past damage or structural alterations. This information can be helpful in negotiating a lower price or making informed decisions about repairs.

Learning about the history of your current home can also be emotionally gratifying. It can help you feel more connected to your community and the people who lived there before you. It can also give you a sense of pride in your home and a deeper appreciation for its unique character.

In addition to the practical and emotional benefits, understanding your home’s history can have safety benefits, too. For example, knowing about past flooding or fire incidents can help you make necessary repairs or take proactive steps to prevent future disasters.

So, why not take the time to learn about the history of your home? You might be surprised at what you discover.

What Do I Need To Begin Researching A House?

Are you ready to go all Sherlock Holmes on your home’s history? Here are the essential tools you’ll need to get started:

  • Address: Make sure you have the full and accurate address, including any old street names or historical street numbers.
  • Year of construction: This is your time anchor. Knowing when your home was built can guide your research chronologically.
  • Deeds, titles, and tax records: These can be treasure troves of information, hinting at previous owners, land disputes, and value changes.
  • Previous owner information: Even if it’s just names or vague details, any clue can lead to more comprehensive discoveries.
  • Photographs, maps, and other visual resources: Old photos can reveal architectural changes, while maps might show shifts in property boundaries or neighborhood development.
  • Architectural plans: If available, they provide insight into the home’s original design and any subsequent modifications.
  • Oral histories: Chat with longtime neighbors or community members. Their stories might offer a unique personal perspective on the house’s past.

With these tools in hand, you’re ready to begin your exciting historical expedition. Remember, every snippet of information, no matter how trivial it seems, could be the key to unveiling a captivating chapter of your home’s tale.

How Can I Find the History of a House Online?

Are you intrigued by the secrets of your house? If so, tracing its history can be a fascinating journey. Here are some online resources that can help you get started:

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

These maps provide a fascinating glimpse into urban growth, showing the structural footprints of cities and towns throughout history. They can be used to see how your house has changed over time and to learn about the businesses and industries that may have once operated in the area.

National Register of Historic Places

If your home is architecturally or historically significant, it may be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This designation can provide you with access to a wealth of information about your home’s history, including photographs, architectural drawings, and historical documents.

Died In House

This service can tell you if any deaths have occurred at a particular address in the United States. While it may seem morbid, this information can be important for understanding the history of your home and its previous owners.

Census Records

The U.S. Census Bureau keeps a trove of records, including the names of previous owners of your home. These records can be used to track down the life stories of your home’s former residents and learn about the social and economic history of the area.

National Flood Insurance Program

If you’re concerned about flooding, you can request flood loss data for your property from FEMA. This data can help you assess the risk of flooding at your home and take steps to mitigate that risk.  You can procure flood loss data for your property by either faxing an NFIP Loss History Report Request to 703-960-9125, calling 877-336-2627 or 800-638-6620, or e-mailing. Remember, such requests are typically limited to property owners.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

NARA is the guardian of countless historical, genealogical, and land records. These records can be used to learn about the ownership history of your home, as well as the history of the land on which it sits. is a free genealogy website that can help you trace your home’s lineage back to its previous residents. This can be a great way to learn about the people who lived in your home before you and to connect with your family history.

Cyndi’s List

Cyndi’s List is a treasure trove of links for genealogical research. The dedicated House & Building Histories page is a great place to start your search for information about your home’s history.

These are just a few of the many resources available to help you trace the history of your home. With a little bit of research, you can uncover a fascinating story about the people, places, and events that have shaped your home over the years.

Who Can I Talk to About the History of a House?

Photo by Abbilyn Rurenko on Unsplash

Unraveling the history of a house can be like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. Below are a few people and places that can provide valuable insights.


Long-term residents can be the living archives of a neighborhood, holding memories and anecdotes about past occupants, events, and the evolution of the area. They may be able to tell you about the house’s original owners, any famous residents it had, or any significant events that happened there. They may also be able to point you to other sources of information such as old photographs or newspaper articles.

Real Estate Agents

When considering buying a house, many people are curious about its past, including any deaths that may have occurred within its walls. A real estate agent can shed light on some of these details, though disclosure laws vary from place to place. It’s essential to consult your local real estate regulations for precise information. The agent may also be able to provide you with information about the house’s recent history, such as who the previous owners were and why they sold the house.

Local Library

Libraries, especially those in older towns or cities, often have a collection of historical records, old newspapers, and property documents. The local history section could become a mine of information, unveiling stories and facts about your house’s past. You may be able to find information about the house’s construction, its owners, and any significant events that happened there. You may also be able to find photographs, maps, and other documents that can help you visualize the house’s history.

Historical Society Archives

Dedicated to preserving the memories of a town or region, historical societies collect and maintain archives that can offer a detailed account of properties, significant events, and notable residents. Their repositories can include photographs, maps, blueprints, and letters that paint a comprehensive picture of a house’s journey through time. You may be able to find information about the house’s original design, its subsequent renovations, and the people who lived there over the years.

In addition to these resources, you may also want to consider contacting the following:

  • The county recorder’s office: This office may have records of the house’s deed, mortgage, and other property documents.
  • The tax assessor’s office: This office may have records of the house’s assessed value and property taxes.
  • The planning department: This office may have records of the house’s zoning, permits, and other planning documents.

By connecting with the right people and visiting local establishments, you can dive deep into your home’s history and uncover a fascinating story.

What Are Some Red Flags In A House’s History?

When researching the history of a potential home, certain red flags may indicate hidden problems or potential future headaches. Being aware of these red flags can help prospective homeowners make informed decisions. Below are some significant areas of concern you should be aware of.

Flooding and Water Damage

A history of flooding or water damage can suggest both visible and invisible problems. Beyond the obvious visual damage, there may be hidden structural issues or potential mold growth. These repairs can be both expensive and time-consuming.

Fire Damage

While a home may appear renovated after a fire, underlying damage, especially to essential structural components, can persist. Such a history can also affect insurance premiums or even the ability to insure the property.

Criminal Past

Homes that have been the scenes of notable crimes, especially violent ones, may not only have a stigma attached but can also be difficult to resell in the future. The emotional weight of such a history is a consideration for many potential buyers.

Environmental Concerns

A property located near former landfills, hazardous waste sites, or in areas known for environmental contamination can pose long-term health risks. Pollutants, toxic chemicals, or even harmful gases may permeate the ground, air, or water sources around such homes.

Structural Problems

Prior structural issues, such as foundation problems, roof leaks, or major wall cracks can be predictors of recurring problems. Even if repaired, the house may be more susceptible to these issues in the future due to inherent weakness.

Code Violations

A house with a history of code violations — ranging from unpermitted renovations to serious safety breaches like improper wiring — can be a problem. Such violations may not only indicate shoddy work quality but could also pose obstacles to obtaining mortgages or insurance.

A house’s history can serve as a roadmap to potential problems. By remaining vigilant and recognizing these red flags, potential homeowners can ensure they are making a safe and sound investment.

How Can I Use The Information I Find?

From a Buyer’s Perspective

  • Researching a potential home’s history can offer insights that can greatly influence a purchase decision. Unearthing red flags such as past floods, fire damage, or code violations can help you make a more informed evaluation of the property, both in terms of its structural integrity and its potential future costs.
  • Positive historical discoveries can add an intangible charm, making the property more appealing. For example, if you learn that the house was once owned by a famous person or was the site of a significant event, it may make you feel more connected to the property.

From an Owner’s Perspective

  • Diving into the property’s past might lead to discoveries of historical or emotional significance. For example, you may find old photographs, artifacts, or anecdotes that tell the story of the house and its former residents. Preserving these findings not only adds value to the home but also creates a trove of stories for future generations.
  • Documentation becomes key, ensuring that the house’s legacy and character remain intact and appreciated over time. By preserving these historical elements, homeowners become the caretakers of their home’s narrative, enriching its story for future dwellers.


Delving into the history of a house is a journey that extends beyond brick and mortar. It offers potential buyers a lens through which they can gauge a property’s worth and its future prospects. For homeowners, it’s a chance to appreciate and preserve the rich tapestry of stories their dwelling holds. Recognizing and utilizing a home’s history not only empowers decision-making but also forges deeper connections between dwellers and their abodes, ensuring that each house remains more than just a structure — it’s a testament to times gone by.


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