You can have fun digging up the history of your house, especially if it's an old one with a long list of former occupants. Perhaps someone famous grew up in the house, a scandal unfolded within its walls or an epic romance blossomed (with or without vampires). You may also need to know your home's history for more mundane reasons, such as establishing the exact boundaries of your address or finding out what the former owner paid for the house. Whatever your motivation, there are several key tools you can use to explore the history of your house.
Use your favorite search engine to search for your home's address. Enter the number and street name in quotes, such as "123 Main Street", along with the name of the city. Don't use zip codes if you're searching for information prior to 1963, when the zip code system was first established. Repeat the search several times by varying abbreviations, such as "St" for "Street" or "Blvd" for "Boulevard". Also try searching without the specific house number. You can include a cross street with your search to find items that may mention your house without reference to the number. For example, a report may refer to a house at Main Street and First Avenue, rather than actually using the "123 Main Street" address.
Old newspapers are wonderful sources of information on social gatherings, crimes, emergencies, property sales or other notable events that may have occurred at your address in years or decades past. Search the online newspaper archives at Google News Archive and at NewspaperArchive. Your public library may offer access to other newspaper archive services, such as Proquest or Newsbank. Vary your search strategy, the same way you would with a Web search. In addition, search for newspaper-style phrases, like "the 300 block of Liberty St."
Real Estate Sites
Online real estate site often include historical information on sales of a home. At Zillow, for example, a straightforward search on your home's address often turns up surprisingly detailed information about past sales, changes in the home's value, property taxes and even some photos of the house from a bird's eye view as well as a street view.
Tax and Property Records
Your county or city government keeps pretty careful records of property sales. It has to, because that's information it needs to collect taxes. The records, known as real property records, are publicly available and, in most jurisdictions, you can search them online. They'll reveal who owned the house, when it was purchased, when it was built, the prices paid and the taxes assessed. You may also find original plats, that is, legal maps of the property that establish boundaries. Your local government real property office or tax assessor's office (or both) is the place to go. You can find lists of property record offices online.
If you really want to dig far back, say, a century or more, then sites like Ancestry, Genealogy Bank and other family history sites are the place to search. These services (which also may be available at your library) include old town directories, early telephone books, census records and other sources that include specific house address information. You can enter your home's address in the "keywords" field to see what information is available.
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images