How to Discover the History of Your Home

If you live in an older building or are in the process of buying one, there is always a curiosity about its history and the people who lived in it – if only walls could talk!

There are plenty of avenues to pursue to glean some information about the building and once you have started the hunt, you will find it fun and very compelling! If you would like to learn the history of you home, but don't have time to research, there are several specialist websites such as Historic England, that will complete the work for you – some charge for this service and others don't.

Before you begin your hunt

You will need to collect some key facts about your home to help you in your search:

  • What is the rough date it was built? This can be found out by talking to neighbours and reading local books.
  • Which administrative area covers your property? You will need to know the county, the parish and the registration district.
  • Do you have any vital clues? Is it a listed building, a converted pub, school or church? Does the name of the road it is in give any clues?
  • If you are living in London, does it have a blue plaque?

Armed with this information, you can begin your Sherlock Holmes impersonation!

Ask your estate agent

If you are in the process of buying the property – and even if you are not- your local estate agent is a good starting point because the staff will have a good in-depth knowledge of the locality and particularly the older roads and areas. If you are buying the property, ask the current owner too as they may well have been curious when they first moved in! Elderly neighbours who have lived in the area for many years usually know a surprising amount about all the different properties and their owners through the years.

Research if the building is listed

If you do not know whether it is a listed building, it is best to check early on. The National Heritage List for England (NHLE) contains information on all listed buildings in England including their date of construction and important architectural features.

Check out the national census

The national census is usually completed every ten years and contains information on the type of building, its occupants and their occupations. The national census has been completed since Tuesday 10 March 1801 and is a good source of information and a bonus is that much of the information is available online.

The 1939 census was particularly good as it was particularly in-depth with information about roads, areas and buildings that were destroyed in the Second World War that began the same year.

Pore over other old records!

The archives of local rates paid is a good hunting ground as the register will have a description of the house, its owners and the amount of rates paid. Old parish directories and old maps can be checked too - The National Library of Scotland holds a comprehensive collection for all areas in Scotland. The website Findmypast offers access to local newspaper archives (British and Irish) which can be useful if you know of a certain past event that will have been covered by journalists.

Your local library will have local history books and another source of information could be the local history society. You probably have the Title Deeds to the property and if not, your solicitor or mortgage company will have and these contain details of all previous owners. Your local Records Office will hold information on all building plots from the mid-19th century and the Survey Index maps held by your local Valuation Office may also be able to help you.

The National Archives are kept at Kew ( and you can visit to make your own research or pay to have the research done on your behalf.

Research online

There is a wealth of useful websites that will help with your research online including British History Online and The Genealogist as well as many local ones such as My House My Street which covers the Brighton and Hove area in East Sussex. You also have this handy visual quiz from House Buy Fast which lets you generally find out when your house was built. Many of the larger websites will direct you to other smaller ones which hold more information – Happy hunting!

Written by Chris Steven. This content has been provided to us by the writer. Whilst believed to be factually correct, we cannot accept responsibility for content contained within it.

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