Researching what your old house looked like

terrypyAugust 8, 2014

I don't know that I've ever seen this information posted here and while replying to someones question thought I should just post this for everyone. If you'd like to see what your town looked like in 1910, etc. or your home in 1919...check out the Sanborn Maps (usually available through your state library sites online). Sanborn maps were done all over the US for fire insurance purposes. Someone actually went from home to home minimally surveying the structures and streets. They outline the town, the buildings, streets, etc. along with your home, including what its made of, its size and shape, etc. I've attached a simple one of my home a 1913 American Foursquare in Texas. D=dwelling, x=shingle roof, yellow = frame structure, 1-2=stories and the legend is extensive depending on structure. So this shows that our home has not changed other than the out building (now has detached garage). Dashed lines indicate open walls porch across the full front (1 story) and a 2 story porch on the back.

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I've been looking for something just like this...thanks!

    Bookmark   August 17, 2014 at 4:16PM
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I wanted to respond earlier to say how helpful the Sanborn maps were to me. But I wanted this thread to hang at the top for a while.

It is an extraordinary tool for house history buffs. And you realize how much work it took to compile and maintain - amazing!

    Bookmark   August 17, 2014 at 6:39PM
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I bought a Sanborn map of our neighborhood, framed, as a gift for my DH. It not only shows our house, but the name of the owner. With that I was able to find out lots of interesting info. A great resource.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 3:26PM
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Thanks for posting this info.

I was not able to find my house--apparently it was too far out from the city center to map, although the later maps did have my street shown.

But my parents' house is there, with the front and back porches, the bay windows and the bow window, and the symbol for "slate or tin roof." The house still has the original slate roof and all its porches, even though it's been sold. But apparently the garage was built long after the house was. And there was a "lane" between our house and the neighbor on the left side. Who knew?

Is it silly that I love finding out this stuff?

    Bookmark   September 7, 2014 at 3:33PM
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lov_mkitchenIOWA zone 6b

camlan, have you ever thought about doing your house history from the time is was wilderness up to you as the owner? I did my house a few years ago. I joined just to research the people. I found such fascinating stories it turned me on to genealogy!

    Bookmark   November 11, 2014 at 10:16PM
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gene calabrese remodeling and renovations (gdc)

hi im new to the site so bare with me. we are renting a home in new jersey that was built in around 1838. besides going to the county court house can ay one or does anyone have any good ideas. I want to find info on the house.we are thinking about buying.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2014 at 6:52PM
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NHBabs z4b-5a NH

Thanks for posting this information! I had no idea that this resource existed. My old house was in the same family until we bought it, and I have gotten information from some family members, but any additional information is also welcome.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2014 at 11:39AM
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Thanks! This is great info. We just bought an 1890s (best guess) this summer. We were fortunate to be given the property abstract. So we know who owned our property throughout the years but not have been able to confirm when the house was built here. I'm hoping this info will help. Thanks!

    Bookmark   November 18, 2014 at 5:23PM
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I do pretty serious genealogy research, and of course it took on a life of its own and has expanded to historical research and that includes the story of our property. I have finally fleshed it in from a lot of local oral history. It's part of a farm and I know the original owners from the time it was 'first entered' in 1805 when the N.W. territory was opening up. Since it was so old, it is mentioned in various local history books as a safe house to travelers, the location of a spring that the Amerindians, and first settlers used (we still use it for our water source), a road house, a coal company office site, farm. Various residents who have either lived in it or whose families had owned in in years past have shared old pictures of it (some dating from the Civil war) and I've connected on geneology forums with one of the descendants of the man who owned it longest and moved into it (or built the present structure ) in the early 1820s. She filled me in on family history and then I was able to learn more about it in the old newspaper files on microfilm. There are deed records in the courthouses and tax records and old county plats that help. Be aware when I researched it initially it is listed as built in 1900. I am laughing, because it was a default # they picked out of the air, since they normally would ask the owners how old it was and if they didn't know just list it as "older". Some official decided that they needed a more definitive number so they picked one out of the air. Those kinds of shennanigans can throw off people who don't know the ins and out of historical research and really set you off in the wrong direction. Old wills will often mention houses and properties too. Yes, I have a portfolio of information I build on our home, and add to it occasionally when I come across a previous owner's name I recognise when doing my primary research. Also be aware if you live in a city location, that streets and roads often changed names and even more often the numbering system on them changed. Old city directories helped to clarify exactly which old property you currently own, because they might describe it is 'the first house on the left past X street or NW corner of X and Y intersection.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2014 at 11:34PM
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lov mkitchen, I've done a tiny bit of dabbling about on the internet, but my house seems to fall into a gap between the really old records and the newer computerized records.

I think I have to get down to City Hall or the library and do some real research.

The house was built in 1900, and at the time would have been an average workingman's house, on the very edge of town, in a safe area, but not a popular one, as it is across the street from the main cemetery. Which probably means that the cost of the land was low. There are several similar houses in a row on the street.

I haven't been able to find out the names of any of the people who might have lived here. I guess that's the first place to start.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2014 at 4:42PM
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I started a thread last year about this same topic. I'll link it here in case you're interested in other avenues of research.

Here is a link that might be useful: How to find out about your old house

    Bookmark   December 12, 2014 at 11:31AM
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On this same note, If you have an account you can search the house number under keyword and just leave the name sections blank. This was incredibly helpful for us in our research because it showed census data of people whose names were either entered incorrectly or of people who were not the owners and wouldn't show up on the deed.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   December 17, 2014 at 5:24PM
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Does anyone know how to get access to the digital content? My local library does not have access...

    Bookmark   January 3, 2015 at 1:49PM
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NHBabs z4b-5a NH

I did a web search for Sanborn maps and my state. I found them at a large university and at the state historical society if I remember correctly.

Unfortunately my town is so rural that there weren't Sanborn maps for us.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2015 at 3:12PM
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Had it not been for the Sanborn maps, I never could have guessed that my house was moved back from the curb 20 ft in 1906.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2015 at 4:59PM
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That's great. Thanks for the info. Our house was finally included on the 1921 map, but we have an actual photo of our home from early 1900s. When we moved here we had a neighbor who was 105 and she was born in the house she eventually died in. The pic of our house was taken from her house and shown at a slide show at her 100th birthday party before we moved in. The neighbor that put the slide show together forwarded us the pic.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2015 at 10:39AM
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cm cm

Anniejeffbuffalo1885, Thanks for the tip about! I have been wondering exactly when my house was built. I plan to look into the Sanborn maps, etc. After reading your tip, I looked up my address on ancestry and found names for my house in 1928 (and later). Yippee!!

What a great way to know where to get started!


    Bookmark   January 11, 2015 at 8:31PM
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Inspired by this thread, I looked for my great-grandfather's house which he owned in 1910 in Cleveland. Found it! Interesting to see that it was a 2 story, with a 3 story turret and porches front and rear. Searching the address on Bing maps shows this area is completely different now, completely industrialized with several surrounding, formerly residential streets erased, and a rail spur running through what was Gr-grandfather's back lawn

    Bookmark   January 11, 2015 at 10:07PM
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