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House Histories

Who Lived in My Home? Researching the Owners


Once you've explored the historical records of your home, one of the best ways to expand on the history of your home or other building is by tracing its owners. A variety of standard sources exist which should help you learn who lived in the house before you, and from there it is just a matter of using a bit of genealogy research to fill in the gaps. You should have already learned the names of some of the previous occupants and, possibly, even the original owners from the chain of title search covered in part one of this article. Most archives and libraries also have pamphlets or articles available which will help you with the specifics of searching for the previous occupants of your home and learning more about their life.

Some of the basic sources for tracing the owners of your home include:

Phone Books & City Directories

Begin your search by letting your fingers do the walking. One of the best sources for information about the people who lived in your house are old phone books and, if you live in an urban area, city directories. They can provide you with a timeline of former occupants, and possibly provide you with extra details such as occupations. As you search, it is important to keep in mind that your home may have had a different street number, and your street may have even had a different name. City and phone directories, in combination with old maps, are usually the best source for these old street names and numbers. You can usually locate old phone books and city directories at local libraries and historical societies.

Census Records

Census records, depending upon the location and time period, may tell you who lived in your home or building, where they came from, how many children they had, the value of the property, and more. Census records can be especially useful in narrowing down birth, death, and even marriage dates which, in turn, can lead to more records about the homeowners. Census records can usually be found at libraries and archives.

Church and Parish Records

Local church and parish records can sometimes be a good source for death dates and other information about former occupants of your home. This is a more likely avenue of research in small towns where there aren't a lot of churches, however.

Newspapers and Obituaries

If you are able to narrow down a death date, then obituaries can provide you with a wealth of details about the former occupants of your home. Newspapers can also be good sources for information on births, marriages, and town histories, especially if you're lucky enough to find one which has been indexed. You may even find an article on your home if the owner was prominent in some way. Check with the local library to learn which newspaper was in operation at the time the former owners lived in the home, and where the archives are located.

Birth, Marriage and Death Records

If you are able to narrow down a date of birth, marriage or death, then you should definitely investigate vital records. Birth, marriage, and death records are available from a variety of locations, depending upon the location and time period. Information is readily available on the Internet which can point you to these records and provide you with the years they are available.

The history of the homeowners is a big part of the history of a house. If you're lucky enough to track former owners all the way down to living descendants, then you may want to consider contacting them to learn more. People who have lived in the home can tell you things about it that you will never find in public records. They may also be in possession of old photos of the home or building. Approach them with care and courtesy, and they may be your best resource yet!

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