Updated by Saikat Basu on August 31, 2017
Did you know that in some parts of the world, the worth of a house goes up if it has a legacy behind it?
Your house may not be anywhere on the tourist map as a heritage building or a famous landmark. But rest assured every house has a history.
A legacy adds to the history of the house and its value. That aside, you should try to understand the history of your house as it is an exercise that can help you get to the roots of your entire family.
Even retrieving clues to boring information like who built it, what stood here before, or when was it built could reveal remarkable stories for a future fireside story. It is a fascinating project. If you are lucky, you will get it all in one place. That’s rare, so you have to dig around a bit.
So, take the online route to discover more about your house. Here are seven websites you can tap to trace the history of your house.
If you just stepping into uncharted territory, then this guide is a fast and simple read on tracing the history of your house. The focus is the U.K, but general principles remain the same across the world. There are a few pages and resources devoted to the United States too.
The helpful resource will handhold you through the step-by-step research process that starts with getting to know the building itself. But a big part of the process has to be offline. Web research is but a useful assistant.
We recommend that you 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 right house and the right road.
The rubber has to meet the road as you have to sift through public records and even take the help of newspaper archives, census records, old maps, and your local parish.
Again, for those in the U.K, the BBC Family History page also has a small but clear guide on how to kickstart your research.
The federal agency is the official keeper of records in the United States and that includes historical genealogical and land records. The land records section contains a wealth of information hidden in land patents, land case entries, farm ownerships, rehabilitation records and more among the ten million individual land records archived with the office.
The site is a complete guide to federal records and could be a useful jumping off point. NARA also links out to powerful search aids (and other databases) like Heritage Quest Online, Fold3, and The Ancestry Institution. Some indexes may be password protected and only for registered members.
Try The National Archives if you are in the U.K. Head below for a full description.
FamilySearch.org is a genealogical search engine that can help you trace your ancestral line to a few generations back. The search engine has a set of filters which allows you to set up multi-event and multi-relationship searches. Run a reverse trace with the place of residence and use the advanced filters to find the movements of your ancestors.
Family Search is a free website run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The site contains records and details spanning census data, birth and death certificates, church parish tallies, military enrollments, amongst other types of data. Use the Family History Research Wiki to not only get genealogical research advice but also find sources of record collections.
4. Cyndi’s List
It is one of the most comprehensive resources on the web that collates links to genealogy research and tools. You can use only this site to kickstart your house history search. 189 categories with 300,000+ links is a lot of research to dip into. Each U.S. state has its own page of links, along with individual pages for US county, Canadian province, and UK county.
On average I add 1,500 new links, update/correct 600 links, and delete 300 non-working links each month.
The House & Building Histories page could be your first port of call. Do say thanks to Cyndi for this one-woman show!
Forums still hold a lot of power in the age of social networks. Old House Web is a meeting ground for enthusiasts of old homes but its community forum packs a punch for discussions of all kinds (and not just old house remodeling!). Remember, remodelers often pick up knick-knacks from dilapidated homes, so they can be sounded out for clues too.
Then, there’s the Picture Forum here where you can post a pic and get it identified.
For those in the United Kingdom. Now, if you are in the United Kingdom, start with the two sites below…
If your house or your ancestors are in the United Kingdom or Ireland, then this online guide could be a good starting point. Jean Manco is a historian, so it’s pretty fair to assume she knows what she is talking about.
The resources on the sites are sequentially arranged. The first step deals with the basic research at the local library. Jean gives you a lot of external links too if you really want to dive into the history and heritage of British towns.
The National Archives is the UK government’s official archive, containing over 1,000 years of history. If you are tracing the history of your house, head to the Help with Your Research section. Their Discovery search engine can help you tap into 32 million descriptions of historical records and in more than 2,500 archives across the country. Over 9 million records are available for download. records are searchable by place.
Names may have changed, so try different variations or consult the A-Z Research guides. There is a Maps section which has more than six million maps and plans ranging from the fourteenth century to the modern day. The National Archives links to myriad sources like The Online Historical Population Reports website among many to give you a complete set of tools for your house history search.
Sharpen Your Research Skills
Tracing the history of your house will call upon your detective skills. Plus, add some online research sweat to it too. It is a painstaking search process but should be worthwhile because you will learn not only about a house but also a bit about yourself.
Also, these few online resources are just the tip of the iceberg
Do you have an interest in genealogy in particular and history in general? Have you ever tried to trace the history of your house? Tell us about your successes and failures.