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How can I research the history of my house?

Researching the history of a house or other building can take you on a fascinating journey. This page provides a guide to get you started and provides information for you to continue your search.

The first task when researching the history of a house is to ask some basic questions, such as:

  • When was this house built?
  • What did it look like originally? and
  • Who lived in the house before us?

If you own the house you can begin by checking the deeds. These may be held by a solicitor or mortgage company and may give a description of the house; its position; the dimensions of the plot; and names of the recent owners.

You can also talk to the estate agent or the neighbours and find out any anecdotal information about the building. Oral history, especially from residents of the same street or village, can give some leads. The previous occupants of the house may be willing to help.

Further research sources

For more in-depth research, you will have to search local records. These can be found at your local library or the North Yorkshire county record office. Use their catalogues and indexes to search for information and ask the staff for advice.

Some of the resource material held at the local libraries or the county records office includes:

  • Books and pamphlets on how to begin researching the history of a house;
  • Histories of architecture show how building styles can date a house. There may be dating evidence on your house if you know what to look for;
  • Local and village histories could identify a house or its inhabitants;
  • Surveys of historic buildings;
  • The "Buildings of England" series by Nicolas Pevsner describes public and private buildings;
  • The Department of the Environment statutory list, the national record of listed buildings reports on the architecture and the historic interest of notable buildings of every decade;
  • Periodicals, local and national illustrations;
  • The Builder illustrations index 1843 -1883, compiled by Robert Thorne and Ruth Richardson (1994) may be useful. A county index is available;
  • The local press often contains sale notices detailing property for sale or rent. It can also include auction records, advertisements by developers and estate agents and planning application notices;
  • Trade directories published in the provinces from the eighteenth century may be useful. These are guides to local towns and villages, their inhabitants and businesses. Trade directories can be helpful in tracing the history of houses and commercial establishments through the names of the residents and owners. Some directories are arranged by street;
  • Census enumerators' returns, 1841 onwards. These are listed by local parish, with street indexes for some larger towns. From the census the researcher can examine in greater or lesser detail the history of families, where they lived and in what circumstances;
  • Sales catalogues and particulars. These give a description, often with an illustration, of a property at one particular moment. If the same house goes on the market regularly the resultant sales catalogues can become a social history of the building; and
  • Illustrations. From the 1840s onwards professional photographers photographed towns and villages, country landscapes with houses and cottages in the background scene. Also, postcards from the late 1890s onwards often depict homes and official buildings, as do some aerial photographs.

In addition to the resources above, major libraries may hold:

  • Ordnance Survey maps and plans. Six inch maps were introduced to Britain in the 1840's. The first edition 25 inch Ordnance Survey plans, published from 1853, can indicate land use, field names and acreages. Over the next 40 years survey plans were produced of British towns with populations of over 4,000. These show house plans in some detail and can give an approximate date of construction; and
  • Partial runs of local electoral registers. Longer and more complete runs will be found in the county record office. Electoral registers will list occupants. Before 1928 not everyone was qualified to vote so earlier lists (starting in 1832) should be used carefully, remembering that house names and numbers are not always noted.
This page was last updated on 10 March 2014