Not sure when house was built - deed reading confusion!

jlc102482August 15, 2011

I am trying to figure out when my home was built and who built it. However, my deed is really confusing and I don't have any other info on my house besides it. I've gone to my local historical society, but they had no information and couldn't help me.

My deed is confusing me for several reasons. First, it doesn't differentiate between land and a structure - the only phrase it uses is "premises and more". The deed begins in the 1830s but I was told my house was built in 1857. I don't know where that number came from and there is nothing happening on my deed in 1857. Furthermore, my deed lists a mortgage for $22,587 in the 1840s, which supposedly before the house was built. That is an astronomical amount of money for back then! It doesn't make sense.

Does anyone have any tips or ideas to share for researching the history of an old home?

* I remember an Old House Journal from years ago having info on how to research your old home, but I can't recall what issue it was. If anyone remembers, please share! Thanks. :)

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The records room in your county/city & the Archives/State Library will become your best friends - the internet is a wonderful resource but it won't be as good as time spent where knowlegeable people can assist you!

In some places, old real estate tax records remain & will identify whether the land was 'improved'.

Sometimes old plat maps are also found that may show buildings.

Did you check the wills of any of the older owners?

Did the Civil War enter into your region - there are Union maps that are very detailed & to scale.

Of any of the individual land conveyances from the 1830's forward, are there any attached property sketches?

If 1857 was determined by the Assessors office, it very well may be an incorrect date. Around here, the City picks dates out of thin air!

Does your house have traits of the 1850's or an earlier period? Your location may make a lot of difference in building style. Mine is 1858 in a city neighborhood of upper mid-level 1850's - it was a time of architectural transition but around here Greek Revival still held its own with a nod to Italianate. It IS in the South, though, so a little behind the rest of the country, LOL.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2011 at 10:37AM
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"First, it doesn't differentiate between land and a structure - the only phrase it uses is "premises and more"."

You have run into a common thing.

You do not actually purchase houses for the most part, but the land they sit on 'with all improvements' being a common phrase.

There are simply thousands of pages of land records in many places that have never been scanned and remain as plain old bound volumes of land records.

The only way to access them is by looking at the pages.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2011 at 12:06PM
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Welcome to the club, jlc. My abstract goes back into the 1700s because the land was part of grants to revolutionary soldiers, though my house was built in 1908. $22k sounds like an astronomical amount--how much land was this for?

You might see if there is mention of a 'mechanic's lien' at a later point--this could indicate when the house was built, or see when the tax/sale price jumped more than it ought.

If your house is part of an addition, you could look it up in the city's plat books--my abstract has a plat book number and parcel number. Also, you can search the county auditor's page by address and that might give some clue as to the age of the house--it will list previous owners--at least it is available here in Columbus, Ohio.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   August 15, 2011 at 5:33PM
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Thanks so much for all the help! I appreciate you all pointing me in the right direction. I found out that my central library location has librarians who are trained to help people research just this, so I will start there.

columbusguy, I thought that mortgage was huge, too. So far as I know, it wasn't for much land at all - just a city plot, well under one acre. I guess I'll find out when I do some more research!

    Bookmark   August 16, 2011 at 11:03AM
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Christopher Nelson Wallcovering and Painting

22K? you could have bought half the state!

    Bookmark   August 17, 2011 at 4:38AM
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I'd hope the $22k is a neighborhood had restrictions that a house had to cost a minimum of $2,500 around 1905...and most houses are nice brick two storey ones, with the rest being shingle and some frame.

I think the figure for my house and lot (standard city size corner) was around $3,400!

    Bookmark   August 17, 2011 at 1:04PM
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My Grandfather bought a 160acre working dairy farm with house, barn, shop & outbuildings, machinery & livestock in N.E. Ohio in 1936 for the whopping sum of $41,000.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2011 at 7:20PM
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Okay, I'm glad I'm not alone in thinking a 22k mortgage in the 1840s would be utterly impossible. That is one heck of a misprint! Makes me wonder if there are other misprints, too...

    Bookmark   August 19, 2011 at 9:00AM
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I just wrote a lengthy note on ladyvixen84's foundation post about this very thing!

I'm pretty well into doing the same thing you are doing. One thing I did was get the original deeds from the courthouse and look everybody up on If you go to the abstract company they can give you the book and page of the missing transactions. You will have to go to the courthouse and look them up. My original land grant was 160 acres and it was sold back and forth for a few hundred dollars. then in 1928 it went for $26,400. BUT -I presume this is what you ran into- there was a blank from 1856 to 1928. I thought there should have been something going on in that time. My house is listed as being built in 1880 - and maybe it was- but who built it? I still don't know for sure but I'm working on it. I have a complete story for several families and an incomplete story for a few more. Fascinating and a great time waster! If you want to compare sleuthing notes email me from my page. I'm a LOT smarter now than I was last year at this time.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2011 at 10:50PM
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Did the Civil War enter into your region - there are Union maps that are very detailed & to scale.

Antiquesilver - do you have any suggestions of where to view these maps?

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 9:07AM
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Check with some of the Civil War associations in your area - they can be a goldmine of information.

The Library of VA has a special section for Maps & Photos & I suspect other States do as well. If I remember correctly, the original Union maps are housed at the Nat'l Archives in MD(?) and the State Library had copies of local areas but these were not allowed to be photocopied.

Apparently, the Union made detailed maps (even the outbuildings) of the enemy & my house happened to be surrounded by the White House of the Confederacy, the South's largest Army Hospital, the port leading to the Atlantic, & a major munitions foundry. I saw a portion of the map in a book & started from there, only to find out I needed to go to the National Archives to order a very specific section of a specific page of a specific map & I've never spent the time nor the money to do it. Because Richmond was the Capital of the Confederacy, perhaps the residential maps were more detailed but I suspect a lot of areas were covered - maybe not so many north of the Mason-Dixon. Try googling Civil War maps, National Archives, & your area & see if anything pops.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 2:53PM
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Thank you, Antiquesilver! It helps to know where to start.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 7:18PM
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Don't forget the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps... They can be an amazing resource, they've been around "forever", & have very detailed maps - they wanted to know "what", exactly, was "where", & "when".
I've never gotten around to contacting them for myself - I assume they aren't cheap enough for me (free, lol).
This is the Wiki-link for them, not their site - just for the sake of disclosure & unbiased info. (Which may or may not be accurate, I guess). It does have a great example of late 1800's Boston map. They began surveying & mapping property in 1860's, I think?

I've always wanted to get mine - going to try soon. Back when I was doing land surveying, we had occasional need for purchasing these, but hadn't needed to in 15 years or so.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 9:58PM
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I ran into the same problem and found all the answers in the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps that toolgirl mentioned. I was able to access them for free through my library's genealogy department - before budget cuts eliminated that part of the program. My house's footprint was shown on the 1904 map with a notation "from plans" - indicating that construction was incomplete. The notation was gone by the next map, 1911. Then I used the city's deed record, census data, and telephone/address directories at the library to narrow it down to 1904-1906. It was a lot of work, but I'm much more confident in my estimation of 1905 the city auditor's record of 1870!

    Bookmark   September 11, 2011 at 12:55PM
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i would ask around locally, especially if you are in an area where that are a lot of houses build like yours. so you have tried the library?

    Bookmark   September 17, 2011 at 11:09AM
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