Family History Research

Your House Has a History

on June 24, 2010

I recently wrote an article about tracing family through street addresses and am now interested in finding the history of some of those houses. While the PDF file mentioned here, Your House Has a History, is specific to Chicago research, some of the tips included can be used in any city.

This booklet is composed of six steps. Step One – Checking the Chicago Historic Resources Survey. Step Two – Finding a copy of the building permit filed when your house was constructed. Step Three – Research information on the construction of your house (and any additions), its architect (if known), and its builder. Step Four – Finding information on the previous owners of your house. Step Five – Finding early or original plans, drawings and photos of your house.  Step Six – Your Neighborhood’s history.  The end of the booklet contains an extensive list of resources to find records.

In our collection of old family photographs, there are probably a few of the homes in which our ancestors lived. Does that home still exist today? One way to find out is to go on Google Earth and enter the address. The program will pinpoint the address and you can zoom in to look at the area. Sometimes a street view is also available. If I enter 2122 W. 18th Place, Chicago, IL, Google Earth will take me to 18th Place and the closest address, which is next door. 2122 does not exist. It was a wooden home, as tall as the ones on either side of it, and is no longer there. Instead, an empty lot filled with grass and trees is where the home stood. The houses on either side of the lot are brick. It will be interesting to find out what happened to the house. Did it burn down? Was it purposely taken down?

What about your current collection of family photographs? Does it include the house where you parents grew up? Where you grew up? Do you have a photograph of the house as it looks today? We can never forget to continue to record our current family history.

For more information specific to Chicago you may visit the Chicago History Museum’s webpage on Architecture.  http://www.chicagohs.org/research/resources/architecture

The Smithsonian has a great booklet online Finding History in your Home.

The Internet Public Library also has an extensive listing of resources on their Guide to Researching the History of your House page. 

Have you traced the history of any homes? What interesting things did you discover?

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2 responses to “Your House Has a History

  1. Hi Jennifer, I traced the history of our 1902 home in Webster Groves, which is just outside of St. Louis. Putting my genealogical skills to the test ultimately led me to the great-granddaughter of the original builder of the home. I visited her in Chicago and she showed me the obituary for her great-grandfather. It mentioned that he had lived for 38 years at the home he built at 213 S. Maple Ave. Eureka! I have since set up a website to serve as a resource for others searching for the history of their own home or that of an ancestor. Please visit my website at http://www.myhousehistory.net.

    • Hi Kim,

      How interesting! I did check out your website. I’ll look into your books. I added house histories into my business this year and did one already. I am familiar with some St. Louis burbs. Finished my BA in Rolla and spent many years growing up near Springfield. Hope to spend a weekend in St. Louis early December with my best friend and visit the MO History Museum.

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