Building Background - Checklist

The #1 Rule of Architectural Investigations: lay the proper foundation. What you do in the beginning will greatly affect the final product of your research.

Create a research plan and take a methodical approach designed to hone in on the key facts. Use our list as a guide, and adapt it to your needs.

Get familiar
  • Learn the Local History 
    Get context. Read newspapers from the construction year. What were the big issues?
  • Do Home Work
    Scrutinize house details. Record all clues. Additions? Artifacts? Construction? Quirks?
Get it in writing
  • Chain of Title Research
    From first owner to you. 
  • Tax Assessment Rolls
    Watch for changes in value, indicating new construction/additions. Usually county level.
  • Building Permits
    Construction details for all new buildings, and additions. City/county planning and zoning.
  • Contractor (Mechanic) Liens
    Contains the contractor(s), detailed work description, cost. County or district court.
Get the support
  • Fire Insurance Maps/Rate Booklets 
    Sanborn maps of industrial areas; booklets for address, owner. Library or online.
  • Architect & Appraiser Records 
    Office blueprint copies; appraisals with photos, materials. Historical societies, et al.
  • Plats (lot drawings) and Maps
    See original plats for drawings; city planners for maps and aerials.
  • Photographs
    Interior and exterior. Ask historical societies, former owners, libraries, and county appraiser.
  • County Histories and Atlases
    May include photos, drawings; often city plats. Library, historical societies.
  • Newspapers
    Need construction/addition dates. May be fruitless or very productive. Local library.
  • Old City Directories
    Biannual, owner's occupation. Pinpoints construction date. Library, historical societies.
  • Site Files, Historical 
    Files on historic homes, may include photos, clippings, and inventories. Historical societies.
Get personal

Add color and depth to your research. Learn who called your house their home. What were they like? Where did they come from? What were their jobs? Families or single? What became of them?

  • Oral Histories
    Talk with neighbors, previous owners. Have your list of questions; record for transcription.
  • Estate Records
    Use to reconstruct contents, lifestyle; also activities for sale of property. District Court.
  • Personal Papers, Manuscripts
    Letters, journals, for clues to construction, furnishings. Library, archive, repository.
  • Occupation
    Are there business records? Accounts? Newspaper articles. Union memberships?
  • Vital Statistics
    Birth, marriage and death records, with county clerk. Also cemetery, church records.
  • Census Records
    State or national. Gives names, ages, relationships, work, more. Library and online

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