How to Learn More About the History of Your Home

Don Allison has been restoring an 1835 house in northwest Ohio for 15 years. Mr. Allison, who was a daily newspaper editor, has spent time digging into the house’s history. He looked through area library files, read local history books and pored through county tax and property records. Along the way, he learned that his home is likely the oldest brick house in Williams County, Ohio, and was built by John Perkins, a War of 1812 veteran and one of the initial circuit judges appointed to the region.

“Learning this rich history about our home has been extremely rewarding,” Mr. Allison said. “I often sit in the various rooms and imagine the previous occupants going about their lives. I feel very connected to them, and there is nothing our search uncovered that we in any way regret learning.”

Here’s how you to start researching your house’s history:

Establish a chain of title. The first thing you’ll want to do is trace the owners of the property. Start at your local assessor’s office. You can ask for the information contained on the property card, which will include your name as the owner, the name of the person you brought it from, the property address and an assessor’s property map. In many towns, this information is available online.

Follow your house’s past. Most town clerks’ offices keep copies of property deeds, which you can follow back. Start with the person you bought the house from, trace who they purchased the home from, and so on. Again, much of this information, especially recent records, is available online, but at some point, you’ll likely need to call the town or county clerk to find where property deed records are kept. Sometimes this is in a town hall, other times it might be with a local library or historical society.

Ask for help. You’ll likely encounter everything from land records to probate records — court documents that show how an estate was distributed after an owner’s death, to warranty deeds — which guarantee clear title and the right to sell a property, to quitclaim deeds — which are often used to transfer property between family members, and more. Making sense of these documents can be tedious. You’re looking for records that show the people and families who lived in the house and anything that shows how old it might be. Chances are you’ll get stuck at a certain point.