How to Find the History of Your House

What's in a House History?

What can you find out about your home in researching its history? Maybe your kitchen is where the living room used to be, helping to explain the odd angles and ill-placed window. Or perhaps you hear things that go bump in the night with no explanation and think the old owner may be paying a little visit. There are many interesting reasons to take a trip down someone else's memory lane and learn more about the house that you call home.

Renovators who wish to return their home to its original grandeur could benefit from knowing their house's history. It can be a challenge to include original details if you're not sure quite what it looked like when it was built. Years of carpet over hardwoods, drywall over fireplaces and tile over tile have left it looking worse for wear. A room added here, a wall moved there, and suddenly your floor plan no longer resembles its former self. If you're fortunate enough to track down someone who has photos of your house in its early years, the guesswork is done.

If your house is an architectural masterpiece, you might want to get it listed on the National Register for Historic Places to ensure that it's preserved long after you're gone. One of the criteria is that the house is associated with events that have made a contribution to history. For example, if a notable historical figure ever lived in your house or even visited, this fits the bill. But you have to be able to back it up, so in comes those hours of combing through microfiche.

Whether or not you believe in ghosts, some people actually do claim to have them in their homes. Unless you live in California or Hawaii, which require disclosure of unearthly visitors or ghostly activity, you're pretty much on your own to get to the bottom of it. If odd and unexplainable events send you running out the door on a regular basis, neighbors may be able to offer some insight. But if not, you might want to head over to your local library and start your own research.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Colclasure, Dawn. "Haunted Houses: How to Investigate Your House's History."
  • East Lake Neighbors Community Association Website - neighborhood website.
  • Heida, Jeanne. "Be an Old House Detective and Find the History of Your Home.", July 30, 2007.
  • "House Detective: Finding History In Your Home." The National Museum of American History.
  • "How to research your San Francisco building." San Francisco Public Library.
  • "How to Research the History of Your House (or Other Building) in New Orleans." City Archives, New Orleans Public Library.
  • Marvin, Betty and Sturm, William. "How Old Is My House?" Oakland Heritage Alliance.
  • National Register of Historic Places - company website.
  • "Researching The History of Your House." Colorado Historical Society."
  • Rosenberg, Charles. " How to Find Out the History of Your Boston House." July 23, 2008.
  • Sanborn Maps - company website.