How to See If My House Is Historical

A Victorian house is one common type of historical home.
A Victorian house is one common type of historical home. (Image: victorian house image by Nini from Fotolia.com)

If you've just moved into a new-to-you home or you're thinking about selling your current home, you might want to think about its history. Older, lived-in homes may have rich pasts or unusual features, and a home with a particularly long or impressive history can make you feel more connected to your new community or become a selling point for potential buyers. To discover whether or not your house is historical, you'll need to hit the books and do some research.

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Look up the original building permit for your home. According to Jim Sazevich, a leading house historian in St. Paul, the building permit is the best place to start if you want to research the history of your home. The permit will include information such as the date of construction, the architect and any contractors, as well as the original dimensions, cost, and owners of the house. In some areas, the permits for older homes may be owned by your local historical society, so you may need to contact them to access your house's building permit. A small access fee may apply if the collection is not open to the public. If you cannot find the building permit through your local historical society, your home may either be much newer than you thought, or much older, built before the local permit system was established.

Look up the original abstract or the deeds of your house. A house's abstract records all legal transactions associated with the property, so you stand to learn a wealth of information about the history of your home, including whether or not it has ever undergone significant renovations and who has owned it over its history. It's also a good starting point for finding out more about your home's former owners and whether or not they were historically significant. You may be given access to your home's abstract when you purchase the house, but if you need to locate these records, contact your local property records or property tax office.

Look up census records to find out more information about the people who once lived in your home. The census has been taken every 10 years since 1790, so unless your home is extremely old, you should be able to find the complete history of its residents. You can find out the names of everyone who lived in your home as well as their ages, birthplaces, and occupations. Your local library should offer federal census records on microfilm or through an online database.

Research newspapers and photographs. Your local library may have resources available as well as your local historical society. Find local community papers as well as the larger regional or city-wide newspapers. You may find out more not only about the owners of your house, but about everything your home has lived through. Photographs will document how your home and the neighborhood around it have changed over the years.

Tips & Warnings

  • Once you've discovered the history of your home, you may want to register it with the National Register of Historical Places. You'll receive benefits such as tax incentives, protection from federal or state initiatives, and possibly even grants. To find out if your home qualifies, visit the registry's website.

References

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