House history - ?

graywings123June 25, 2010

For those of you who have researched the history of your house - were there any on-line sites that were helpful? I was considering since it has census records. But from a brief look at the site, it's unclear to me whether you can search by address or not.

Before I subscribe, I'd be interested in hearing how others went about this. I've done some basic work with the city plats, but I think there may be more out there.

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Most of the information I dug up on this house came from: the library in the way of microfilmed documents, old newspaper articles, deed transfers, local history books, personal accounts from people whose relatives have lived here, county atlases, genealogical research on former owners.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2010 at 9:06AM
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The best way I've found is to find as many of the former owners COMPLETE names AND if possible occupations and go from there.

One of my homes PO was a pastor at a local church and a Boy Scout leader........the church still had some info on him and the local press had some info on his troop, they planted taters in the fields out back as part of the war effort!

Another PO was married a wealthy woman from NYC. Finding out about her father and his business helped solve a few questions on why a house in NY state has cypress boards on it.

AND sometimes if you are lucky the answers will come to your door. One PO had boarders at one time that helped with the antique business they ran. One of the boarders came here a few years ago wanting to reconnect with the PO's, When he found out they were gone we got to talking. I got a whole lotta of unexpected info from that chance

Knowing the people who lived in your house and knowing the history that was going on around them when they lived in your house is going to tell you alot. Have ya checked your abstract for names? Talk to neighbor's?

Generally census doesn't give you much. IF you are lucky you might get a age, number of kids, maybe occupation BUT there are several years census records are missing due to fires AND there's alot of misinformation on the census from years past as well as poor spelling to deal with. Going local if you can is best.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2010 at 5:12PM
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I began my search at the county property tax office: spent hours pouring over deed transfers, etc. and learned all the previous owner's names. At that point can help somewhat. I found my local history center extremely helpful as well; city directories, for example, listed many owners with their occupations as did census records, and I could research state birth and death certificates,obituaries, etc. I also contacted surviving relatives of some former owners. It is a hunt and peck process, but having names is the first step.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2010 at 5:35PM
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I think it depends on where your house is. There are some city directories (with addresses in some directories) online at Ancestry, but it is more geared to focusing on human history than on old house history.

As noted above the best source of accurate ownership history data is usually in your county or city deed record repository. There may be some states where the info may not be publicly available (Texas?), but in all other areas, that's where the mother-lode of data is. Although it may seem very confusing to search, at least at first, there is generally a pretty comprehensible organization to the files and often the office staff will be willing to give you a quick course. In most offices they will not do the searches for you, just show you how to use the data-bases and old ledger systems.

Most areas only have computerized records going back a few years or decades. Anything older than that has to be located by using the grantor/grantee indices, then the individual deeds looked up in the ancient files. (Suggestion: plan on it taking way more time than you expect and wear easily-washed old clothes since the old records are often very dusty, or affected with red leather rot.)

There is a very good book on "chaining" titles (doing a house history in general). I am away from home, but I can look it up for you if you'd like.

There are different deed index systems around the country, but the principles are the same. The grantOR is the party selling the property and the grantEE is the one buying it.

Most deeds (esp. early ones) are stuffed to the gills with long, seemingly repetitive words and have hefty boiler-plate preambles and closes. You'll quickly learn to focus on the main points: who, what, where, when, and how much - paid and number of acres sold. The Grantor (seller) is always the party of the FIRST part and the Grantee (buyer) is always the party of the SECOND part. There can be more than one person in any of these roles. And there can be more than one individual deed when there is more than one person in either of these roles, but especially when there are multiple sellers who for various reasons couldn't (wouldn't?) be gotten together to sign a single document. Some sellers only hold a certain percentage of the whole interest (e.g. if two brothers inherited property per stirpes, or equal shares, then each could only convey a half-interest; multiple generational heirs sometimes have tiny and uneven fractions of interest to convey.) When that happens it's not uncommon to find multiple partial deeds filed over long periods, many executed in far away places.

There's another useful stream of info relating to any mortgages on the property, who gave them (generally the buyer, but could be someone who already owned the property, like the common HELOC of today) and who took them, i.e. the lender. (Don't be confused by the modern concept that you "get" a mortgage from a bank. It's always been, and still is, true that though the bank gives you the money, what is really happening in that case is that you really are giving/granting the bank an interest in the title of what you own in exchange for that money. That's why the borrower is the grantor in mortage matters. See also: Great Mortgage Meltdown 2009-2010.) That can be confusing because in the case of a purchase money mortgage the grantor of the mortgage is the buyer who is simultaneously the grantee in the deed transaction. Confused yet? Well, think about when the transaction involves a buyer and seller who are also entering into a loan agreement to cover the purchase price. In that case the "grantor" and "grantee" roles are both doubled, and reversed.

You asked about the census records: in most cases they are not very searchable by address, which often is just a secondary census data category, and often in older areas the street or place names will have changed over time, rendering the search moot anyway. It may be better in well-developed cities with tighter control of space, but in rural or thinly settled areas addresses, at least as we use them today, were much more fungible. And many rural areas -like mine for instance in upstate NY - only got "real" street numbers as recently in the late 1990s when the 911 address systems came into vogue. Before that whatever address this farm may have had was geographical (west side of such and such road, beyond the old XXX place) or the rural delivery route (not street) box number.

All that being said, I do use Ancestry quite a bit in my long-running research project on the farms in my town. But only to expand (or resolve confusing ownership history) by sussing out who the named buyers and sellers were - and with what relationship to each other, if any, - after I've pulled those names from the county deed (or probate) records. And there, census data (especially after the mid 1800's when realtionships began to be noted within households) is invaluable. Unfortunately there is a big gap in 1890, because those census documents were mostly destroyed for that year.

Some states also did a census, especially in rural or farm areas, on fith year intervals, so that may be another source, usually held within the state records.

I'd start with a simple buyer to seller search, working backward. If you get balked, remember each seller was also, once, a buyer. So if you can't find a particular person in one role, then look for him or her in the other role. This is helped by the fact that most deed books are arranged by role, in addition to name and/or period of time. This holds true unless a buyer later died owning the property, then the heirs would be sellers. That's generally where things get a bit sticky. Who were the heirs and what names did they, or their agents, use in the transaction as conveyors, grantors or sellers? Ancestry can help at this point by helping you figure out the decendents' names. And you can also get some of that info by checking the probate files where wills and estate dispositions are recorded. In many states you are entitled to see those records even if you're not an heir. I used to be shy about even asking that, but the clerks never batted an eye when I finally gathered my courage up to ask.

In some areas, really old deed records have been transferred to the local historical society, which in my experience makes them somewhat less accessible than city or county clerks' offices which are open during most busines hours. Occasionally you'll find a deed room that's open in the evening, and often those hours are full of people doing exactly what you are. If you ask for help at those times, you'll almost certainly get a good steer to where (and how) to search.

After you have some names, then I would take up Ancestry's try it for free for 30 days offer and see if you think it will be useful. For deed chain searching here in the US, you most likely won't need to purchase the expanded European records, so you can skip that extra fee, for now.

Fair warning: this stuff is really addictive. If you get hooked, you'll have to give up your other hobbies.

One other thing: if you find that purchase price info is not noted, that's not uncommon. Sometimes the deeds are coy about it. Look for tax stamp data on those deeds. Taxes were often based on the amount of money being paid. If that's the case, and you can find the tax rate, then you can figure back to purchase price.

Have fun, and good luck!

    Bookmark   June 26, 2010 at 2:19AM
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Lots of good information - thanks!

My house is on the main city street of a historic city. The oldest house on my block was built in the 1770s, then several in the 1860s. The accepted records show that my house and several others on the block were built in 1919.

If the 1919 build date is correct, I want to figure out what if anything was going on there prior to that time.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2010 at 8:34AM
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OK this is getting sort of off-topic but...
I have never been to so I thought I would check it out. I put my own name in there just to see--and it brought up my SENIOR PICTURE from my yearbook in High School!!! I find this very disturbing--I guess since it was put in a yearbook, it's not exactly private, but what right do they have to be putting it on a website?? And especially wanting to charge me to see it??
I'm astounded, really.

Carla in Sac

    Bookmark   June 27, 2010 at 8:13PM
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