“You have to put aside the holy grail of the original photographs and original blueprints,” said Lipo, whose area is known as the home of Ernest Hemingway, Frank Lloyd Wright and beautifully preserved old houses. “If you can find some cool, interesting, useful things about people who lived there in different eras, it flushes out the story.”
Local government offices, public libraries and historical societies are good places to find documents that detail property ownership, as well as fire insurance maps, property tax records, Census records, city directories (precursors to phone books), old newspapers and historic photographs. Some of these documents are available online or in databases. But Days, of Santa Barbara, resists the quick, digital fix.
“For something that’s really as crucial as an early building permit or an early map, I happen to just love the original documents,” said Days, noting that there can be crucial details on them such as color codes and notes.
The original building permit, if it still exists, can be found at municipal government offices. Information such as construction dates, square footage, building materials, type of roof and the architect’s name may be on it.
Another way to date your home is to track ownership of the property back to when it was first built. This practice is called a “chain of title” search and often can be done at a county records’ office.
Online, good sources include:
• The National Trust for Historic Preservation. How to research your home’s history, among other information, at www.preservationnation.org/resources/faq/information-sheets/historic-home-full.html.
• The New York Public Library’s guide to researching the history of New York City homes, written by Philip Sutton: www.nypl.org/blog/2011/10/14/guide-researching-your-homes-history. Many of his suggestions apply anywhere.
• The Minnesota Historical Society’s www.Placeography.org collects information about buildings and neighborhoods around the country and shares it.