Be A House Detective

By The History Detectives Team
24 July 2009
Category: DIY Investigations

Are you curious about the history of a building? Maybe you want to know the story lying within the walls of your home?

Your inquiry into the history of a building will pass through two stages, the first is investigation. Track down any clues, or quirks, related to the physical structure, construction or architecture, which can help you focus your investigation. For example, the year the building was constructed, any changes that have been made, names of the architect or builders, materials and cost.

Start your investigation from the ground up, check brickwork in the foundations or basement. Different brick sizes are a sign that your building was constructed in two cycles. Make sure you check inside the fuse box, on the sidewalk or your address plate for a manufacturing date. Remember the further you are from the original city centre, the younger your house could be. In a particularly old building you may want to consider a Timber Dating Analysis to determine age.

Investigating the local history of the area can help you to place your building in context. Newspapers from the construction year can shed light on some of the issues that may have shaped the way your building was constructed.

The second stage is corroboration, where you will have to collect and study facts that either support or disagree with the theories you have generated in the investigation stage.

You should be able to get a lot of reliable information from written documents relating to your house. These include researching land records (grants, deeds, mortgages, leases and tax records), building permits and contacting the contractor for work documents. More information can be found in our Building Background Checklist and Property Search page. 

Follow every lead that you can and back up your findings, there are a range of sources you can use to support your research. These include: fire insurance maps, rate booklets, architect and appraiser records, maps, photographs, county histories and old city directories.

It is important to consider the personal history behind a building; who lived or worked there, where did they come from, what happened to them? If you can, try and gain access to any oral histories, estate records, personal papers or census records.

Leave no stone unturned and chase every lead to the end and hopefully you will be able to get an insight into the story hidden within the walls of your home.

Have you investigated a building? Do you have any tips? We would like to know. Let us know in the form below.

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