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House Histories (Property)

Nature of Source

Documents and records that assist in the research of a property's history. The exterior of the dwelling should be examined especially the materials used in the construction which could provide clues of the date of build. For example, brickwork became widespread by the early 16th century. Internally, fireplaces and floors can offer clues for dating the property. The presence of a date plaque should be treated with caution as many are inaccurate and misleading.

The 1901 online census allows a building search but be aware that enumerators often invented their own numbering system. Earlier in the 19th century, houses were mostly identified by their owner and not by house name or number. The 1836 Tithe Maps and Apportionments provide early house details.

Also look for the sales catalogues which were produced by estate agents to market property or land being sold. The catalogues could contain detailed information with plans and photographs. Local newspapers often carried adverts for sales of properties.

The following sources could assist in researching a property and its inhabitants:
Census Returns (England, Wales, Channel Islands & Isle of Man)
Census Returns (Scotland)
County & Local Histories
Directories, Trade, Professional, Telephone & Street
Electoral Registers or Burgess Rolls
Enclosure Maps and Awards
Estate Records & Maps
Feet of Fines/Final Concords
Fire Insurance Registers, Plans and Maps
Hearth Tax
Land and Property Records including Title Deeds
Land Tax Assessments & Returns
Maps & Gazetteers
Photographs, Prints & Postcards
Rate Books
Return of Owners of Land
Tithe Award Records
Valuation Office Field Books & Maps
Valuation Rolls & Stent Rolls (Scotland)
Wills and Inheritance. Letters of Administration
Window Tax

Where Found

County Records Offices
The National Archives
Historic England Archive (The Archive is the public archive of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission and holds research material on buildings and places, social and local history and archaeological sites including many historical photographs. See below for details of online catalogues and digitised content)
Land Registry England and Wales (Holds the register of title to land in England and Wales)
Registers of Scotland (RoS is responsible for compiling and maintaining registers relating to property and other legal documents)

Period Covered

1200 - Onwards

Genealogical Value

Names of vendor and buyer. Address and location of property. Description and boundary of property and land. Names of tenants and occupiers. Date of construction and previous sales.

Further References

Adolph, Anthony. Tracing your Home's History: Collins, 2006

Alcock, Nathaniel Warren. Documenting the History of Houses: British Records Association, 2003

Alcock, Nathaniel Warren & Hall, Linda. Fixture & Fittings in Dated Houses 1567-1763: Council for British Archaeology, 1994

Austin, David & Dowdy, Mac & Miller, Judith. Be Your Own House Detective: BBC Books, 1997

Barratt, Nick. Nick Barratt's Beginner's Guide to Your Ancestors Lives: Pen and Sword Books, 2010

Barratt, Nick. Tracing the History of Your House: PRO Publications, 2006

Barratt, Nick. House History Starter Pack: The National Archives, 2002

Barratt, Nick. Greater London: The Story of the Suburbs: Random House, 2012


Bell, Yvonne. The Edwardian Home: Shire, 2005 (Preview available from Google Books)


Blanchard, Gill. Tracing Your House History: A Guide For Family Historians: Pen and Sword Books, 2013


Brittain-Catlin, Timothy. How to Read a Building: Collins, 2007


Brooks, Pamela. How to Research Your House: Every Home Tells a Story: How To Books, 2007


Colin and O-lan Style. House Histories for Beginners: Phillimore, 2006


Cox, Alan. Sources for the Study of Public Housing Guildhall Library, 1993


Davidson Cragoe, Carol. How to Read Buildings: A Crash Course in Architecture: Herbert Press, 2008


Goodenough, Richard. Researching The History of a Country House: A Guide to Sources and Their Use: Phillimore, 2010


Hall, Linda. Period House Fixtures & Fittings 1300-1900: Countryside Books, 2007


Iredale, David. Discovering This Old House: Shire Publications, 2002


Jones, Will. How to Read Houses: A & C Black Publishers, 2013


Laws, Bill. Nails, Noggins and Newels: An Alternative History of Every House: The History Press, 2006


Myerson, Julie. The Story of Everyone Who Ever Lived in our House: Flamingo, 2004


Stewart, Rachel. The Classic English Town House: New Holland Publishers, 2006


The Story of Where You Live: Reader's Digest, 2005


Thom, Colin. Researching London's Houses: Historical Publications, 2005


Yorke, Trevor. The Victorian House Explained: Countryside Books, 2005


Yorke, Trevor. The Edwardian House Explained: Countryside Books, 2006


Yorke, Trevor. The 1930s House Explained: Countryside Books, 2006


Yorke, Trevor. Georgian & Regency Houses Explained: Countryside Books, 2007


Yorke, Trevor. British Architectural Styles An Easy Reference Guide: Countryside Books, 2008


Yorke, Trevor. Tudor Houses Explained: Countryside Books, 2009


Yorke, Trevor. Timber-Framed Buildings Explained: Countryside Books, 2010


Yorke, Trevor. The 1940s and 1950s House Explained: From Blackout to Sunlight Nostalgia: Countryside Books, 2010


Yorke, Trevor. Arts and Crafts House Styles: Countryside Books, 2011


Yorke, Trevor. Tracing the History of Houses: Countryside Books, 2011


Woodforde, John. The Truth About Cottages: A History and an Illustrated Guide to 50 Types of English Cottage: I. B. Tauris, 2007 (Preview available from Google Books)


Woolf, Alex. Past in Pictures: A Photographic View of Home Life: Wayland, 2013  

Websites (Land Registry England and Wales) (Registers of Scotland) (How to research Your House) (Help for researchers: Cartographic Sources for Dating Houses in England and Wales) (Using Written Archives to Discover the History of your House, by Nick Barratt) (Trace My House. The site aims to guide you through the process of finding out more about a house with suggestions and practical advice and links to useful sites, books and records) (TNA Guide: Looking for a place) (TNA Your Archives Guide: House history research - an introduction) (The Online House Detective)
(The Pevsner Architectural Guides: Guide to The Pevsner Architectural Guides begun in 1951 by the architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, 1902-1983) (Looking at Buildings: An introduction to architecture with pages on building types, architectural styles and traditions and building materials and methods of construction. The site includes a glossary and timeline of British architecture) (Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies Research guide: House history) (Bath Record Office: Records for House History) (Oldham Local Studies and Archives: Property and buildings history: Sources of information you can use to trace the history of a building) (Researching Historic Buildings in the British Isles. The online guide by Jean Manco includes hints on planning a research programme, and clues to finding and understanding useful sources. There are introductions to a wide range of building types and architectural styles, the development of towns and villages and ecclesiastical sources)
(Researching Historic Buildings in the British Isles: Using wills and probate inventories in building history)
Tracing the History of Your House (Lincolnshire County Council Guide) (Property histories for five parishes in the central Cheapside area. Archival sources for the history of property holding in London from the earliest times until 1666) (Guides to dating and researching Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian properties) (Landed families of Britain and Ireland: Results of long-term research into the landowning families of the British Isles and the country houses which they owned. Each post will concern the history and properties of a particular family, making it possible to trace both the links from families to houses and from houses to their owners over time) (The Lost London Street Index) (London Street name changes) (The House Historian blog by Melanie Backe-Hansen)

Online Databases

Online Catalogues (Listing of online catalogues for the partial whereabouts of records including Access to Archives [A2A], National Register of Archives [NRA])
Historic England Archive (Historic England. Online descriptions of over 12 million historical photographs, documents, plans and drawings of historic buildings, scenes and archaeological sites, reports and publications on architecture dating from the 1850s held by the Historic England Archive)
Britain from Above (Historic England. Online access to over 95,000 oblique aerial photographs consisting of the oldest and most valuable photographic negatives in the Aerofilms collection, dating from 1919 to 1953. The collection itself holds over 4 million aerial photographs covering the whole of England and dating from the early 20th century to the present day)
ViewFinder (Historic England. The online archive contains images relating to England's industrial heritage, social history and architecture including towns, villages, scenes and buildings held in the Historic England Archive. The entire range of images can be researched at the Historic England Archives in Swindon The site hosts a number of specialist collections including the Nigel Temple Postcards collection. To access the collection, first click on 'Advanced Search' and then select 'Nigel Temple Postcards' from the drop-down options in the 'Collection' box. The site also features a series of photo essays many dealing with trades and occupations)
Pastscape (National Record of the Historic Environment/Historic England. Over 1 million catalogue entries [with digitised content] describing photographs, plans and drawings of England's buildings, archaeological sites, monuments and historic sites held in the Historic England Archive from prehistoric times to the present day)
Images of England (Historic England. Photographic library of England's listed buildings based on the statutory list as it was in 2001as well as other designated heritage assets. For an updated version of the statutory list, visit the National Heritage List for England)
National Heritage List for England (Photographic library of England’s listed buildings)
Heritage Gateway (Historic England. The Heritage Gateway allows you to cross-search over 50 resources, including Local Authority Records and national heritage information resources for contemporary and historic photos and records of listed buildings) (ScotlandsPlaces: Inhabited House Tax Rolls, 1778-1798. The tax rolls include all houses valued over £5 per annum with the names of the householders)