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How to Research the History of Your House: Examine the House Closely

A guide to help homeowners research the history of their home.

What to Look For

A careful examination of the property itself can provide a wealth of information.  The first thing that should be determined is the overall architectural style of the house.  Architectural styles have peak periods of popularity, and if a construction date has yet to be determined this can begin the process of narrowing it down.  Like with styles, materials have certain periods of popularity. 

The specific materials used in the property can give clues to its history.  For example, if lead paint is present then one can assume that the wall has not been painted since lead paint was banned in 1977.  Also, at one point in time animal hair was used as a binding agent in plaster.  If hair is located in the plaster of the property then the plaster is most likely original.  There are many things that give indication of the age of a property.  If the property is masonry check for uniformity in color and size among the bricks.  If there is a change along one portion of the house this may be a later addition.  The windows are another great indicator of age.  Are they single or double pane?  Are they operated by a sash cord and weight system?  Is the glass difficult to see through and contain bubbles?  All these are signs that the windows are historic.  Finally, check for old wallpaper in remote areas of the house.  The quality, condition, and design of the wallpaper can give indication as to when it was manufactured.  It also may give clues to the economic status of the previous occupants.

Subject Guide

Rebecca Torsell's picture
Rebecca Torsell
Architecture Building Room 120
(765) 285-8441