27 May 2020
#StoryOfOurStreet project partner Sticks Research Agency share their top tips for finding out more about your house's history.
Have you ever wondered how old your house is, or who lived there before you? Have you heard a story and want to find out more? You can always undertake your own research in official archives, libraries and using online sources, to uncover the rich social history of your property.
Here are a few top tips…
Gather key information
Bring together everything you know about your house and start to plot key dates on a timeline. You may want to see if there is a local historical society – they may already have conducted research on your house, street or village – and chat to older residents in the area who may have stories, documents, or photographs.
Find key administrative areas
Identify the key administrative areas in which your house stands, or once stood – these will change over time. The key ones are electoral ward, parish, poor law union, manor or estate. This information should be available online, but you may need to go to your local study centre or main library to research this. Archives often arrange material by administrative district, rather than by the name of the house or street.
Explore historic maps
You can trace how the local area changed over time by looking at historic maps. You can download old Ordnance Survey maps from various commercial sites, though print copies are usually available at your nearest local study centre or archive (where you might also find old photographs). If your house appears on one map but not on an earlier version, this suggests it was built in the intervening years.
Compare architectural styles
Compare the style of your house with others in the same area to see if it is similar or dramatically different. The location is also a clue – older houses are often nestled near the centre of a town or village, with subsequent phases of development radiating outwards. Properties evolved over time and may be harder to ‘analyse’. The core of a house will be the foundations, so check for handmade bricks – a sign of age. However, watch out for building materials that were recycled in later refurbishments, as well as retrospective or mock building styles mimicking an earlier period. Check to see if you can find any discarded items in your garden – ‘backyard archaeology’ can reveal clues about how people lived. You can research how your house might have been decorated inside, analysing old wallpaper or paint samples that you find.
Discover key records
We use a wide range of historic sources to trace the property through time, and tell the story of people who lived there before you. Most are not available online, so you’ll need to visit archives and libraries. Key records include electoral lists, street directories, rate books, national property surveys, census returns, title deeds, estate and manorial records, land tax returns, personal correspondence, sale notices in newspapers, insurance records, local authority files – the list is very long!
When researching, always work from the present day back to the past to ensure that you are tracking the right property; house numbers or even street names will change over time. You should therefore tackle these resources in the order in which they have been listed.
How can Sticks Research Agency help you?
Established in 2007, Sticks Research Agency can help you with this process. We have a team of professional archive researchers and architectural historians who provide high quality ‘house detective’ and genealogical services. Our findings are presented in an illustrated report, and we can also provide digital images of the records we uncover – a wonderful way to celebrate the history of your cherished home!
Sticks Research Agency are official partners of the #StoryOfOurStreet challenge.