Researching the history of your house or building

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Every house or building has a story, but many of these stories have not yet been recorded. Some buildings have been extensively researched and may even be the subject of a book or article. Most buildings have all kinds of stories that come from the people who designed, built, renovated, and lived or worked in them. There are happy stories of births, marriages, inventions, family gatherings, artistic endeavors, and other activities. Other stories may be more difficult, covering deaths, decline, and disaster. All are worth exploring and sharing. How do we uncover these stories? There are a variety of sources from former owners and occupants, from official records, and from a variety of written documents and publications. Creating a building history is like making a quilt, gathering and piecing together bits of information and visual documentation.

Start with what you know. In the case of your home or building, you have an address, which is key to finding other information. You may also have property tax statements. If you don’t have the property tax statement, you can in many cases find the information online. Using a web search engine enter the name of the county where they property is located and the term property taxes. Many counties have online databases of property records. Often you can search by your property identification number, which appears on property tax statements, or by entering the house number and street name or city. Property tax databases often include legal description, property valuation, year built, current owner, property description, and recent sales data.

If you are fortunate enough to hold the abstract for your property, it can be a gold mine of information about the owners of the land and buildings over a number of years. Entries for mortgages can be indications of construction of buildings, valuation, and the property changing hands. Deaths, divorces, and unpaid bills can show up as entries about probate, district court orders, and mechanics liens. Names from the abstract can be helpful leads for further research in city directories, census records, and vital records. If you don’t have an abstract, the torrens certificate will contain information about the most recent owners as well as the legal description. Records concerning property ownership are maintained at the county recorders office or other government agency.

Building permits are often the best single source for starting your building history research. One document offers information on the cost, dimensions and materials of the original structure, the date of construction, the name of the architect and contractor, and the first owner’s name. Building permits are often located in the city building permit office. Some older permits may have been preserved in archives or libraries. Many newer cities and suburbs may not have records for buildings when the area was undeveloped or unincorporated

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