How do people research a house history?

This thread made me wonder.

If you want to know what went on in a house, or the land the house was built on, how would one find that information?

Well a Google search of the address would be a good place to start.

If you know someone with Lexis-Nexis access, they could tell you about former owners who bought and sold it and you could cross reference those names, along with the address for criminal records. You could probably find a friendly librarian at a University library who would do it for you if you don’t have such a friend.

You could then go down to the County Registrar/Courthouse and I believe they’ll have historical records for the house/property (at least in California). As an added bonus, you’ll also find out if there is any undisclosed information about the property (like a lein) the seller neglected to mention.

Neighbors are another good source. We’ve learned a bunch of stuff about our house and the area around it. Sometimes we’ve asked questions, sometimes the neighbors just volunteer stuff.

If you’re in the US then “most” counties have a Registrar of Deeds and you could contact them to begin with and do a property records search. Plus, a lot of counties have information like this available on-line.

There will likely be back-references to prior deeds and prior owners and lawyers and surveyors, etc in the deed path. . . depends upon what you’re looking for. . . I would think you might be able to do some type of address search concerning criminal activies or arrest records if you contact your local law enforcement office, too.

In my state a Master Property Tax Search gives you all the owners and deed transfer dates.

The County Registrar of Deeds is a good start to find who owned the house or property. For many times and places, city directories will tell you who lived in the house. Once you have names, then newspapers or other county records can be a source for more information.

As specific examples of the kinds of resources that could be used to research a house, take a look at these two NRHP nomination forms I grabbed semi-randomly: the Wilkinson-Martin House in Pulaski TN, and the Haste-Crumpacker House in Valparaiso, IN (these are 3-5 meg pdfs). If you scroll to the bibliography section of each, you’ll see entries like “Holland’s City Directory,” “Sanborn Fire Insurance Map,” and multiple documents among public records.

Many counties have historical maps which you can browse through to see who owned what when, and sometimes get an idea of neat features on it. A friend of mine once did that and discovered a well which appeared on a map from the 1930’s, and when they went looking for it sure enough they found the well in their back yard, filled in with earth but still neat.

Going to your local library and doing newspaper searches can tell you things, such as events which might have been announced at the house (“Meeting of the Local Worker’s Collective of the Sword, tonight at 9:00pm, 742 Evergreen Terrace”) or infamous events which may have happened there (“police are still baffled by the murder-murder-murder-murder-murder-murder-murder-suicide at 2112 Olde Dirk Road.”)

In my state at least, any title company can perform a search, which should turn up all property records, including the names of all past owners, mortgages, etc., but not non-real estate info. Pretty much everything relating to real estate is now available thru computer document search, so a physical trip to the courthouse isn’t necessary (but fun!).

Title companies do this for free for real estate agents. I don’t know what they would charge to someone who walked in off the street.