What is the History of Your Home?

February 7, 2019 Leslie Trichka Beery, VIS chair, Fort Morgan Chapter, NSDAR 

DAR is all about historic preservation that includes documents, artifacts, storytelling and historic buildings and places.  With a little detective work you can find out the history of your home or a building that is important to you!  With this information you can preserve your home history along with your family history.  

If walls could talk! 

Picture shared by Leslie Trichka Beery, this is her Great Great Grandfather and Grandfather as a boy on the family homestead in Crowley County, Colorado

Fortunately there are many ways to find out the history of your home and some of them are right in front of your eyes.  Most homes have a past appraisal that can be referenced for the age of the home but you can also tell a lot by the attic and basement of a home.  Many brick foundations had a date stamp by the builder in them or the size of the bricks can tell you which construction cycle it was built in and what year.  Closets are also great places to uncover layers of old wallpaper or paint, certain colors or paper patterns can be traced back to a certain period of time and the style that was popular.  Exposed wooden rafters, pine floors, built in cabinetry, trim and even the glass in your windows can give clues to start from.  

As new people move into homes one of the most popular ways to make a house your own is to put your own spin on the landscape of the yard. In older neighborhoods it is common to find buried treasures such as glass bottles, old toys, tax coins or other discarded items from days gone by.  These treasures can tell you a lot about the people who lived there, what the lifestyle was at the time and if the area was rural or urban.  Talk to your neighbors, they can give clues as to families who lived in the house before you or if the building was a business before it was a home! Explore your neighborhood and look for buildings that look the same. Does your house fit with the rest on the block? Is your house visually from an earlier time or later from the rest of the homes? Which way does your house face? Was your house on a farm and the rest of the neighborhood built later? Are you in the city? How far from the city core blocks are you? Learn about the city or town you live in, what major events took place? Was your home designed by a known architect or was it part of a movement like the Craftsman homes?  

A great place to start formal research is through your historic preservation office of the county or state. They will be able to tell you if you live in a historic district and may be able to tell you some information about your neighborhood or home.  Deed and title searches can tell you who owned the property and how the tax records changed over time.  You may also be able to access what is called a Sanborn Fire Map for your home. The Library of Congress has placed online nearly 25,000 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, which depict the structure and use of buildings in U.S. cities and towns. Maps will be added monthly until 2020, for a total of approximately 500,000. The online collection now features maps published prior to 1900.  The states available include Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Alaska is also online, with maps published through the early 1960s.  By 2020, all the states will be online, showing maps from the late 1880s through the early 1960s. These can show you the layout and floor plan of your house and tell you about how the home was used and zoned at the time the map was created. Sanborn maps can also give you a layout of the entire neighborhood or area. 

Look up census records, similar to genealogy searches for family history, this data can be used to find out about the lives of previous owners and who the neighbors were. Go to a nearby library and research any history they have for the area. Do the same at a local museum. Look at old maps and pictures. Read articles from old newspapers.  

A great website to follow instruction from is Researching Buildings on the Denver Library site.  Although this has specific Denver resources, you can follow the lead and contact the same type of agency or group to find information wherever you are located.  

Lastly, have fun researching. Read as much as you can about the area you home is located in. Put together a little history about the home and about your family in it – generations to come will love the treasure of a story about where they came from.  

Leslie Trichka Beery, Fort Morgan Chapter, NSDAR VIS Chair and webmaster

Photos courtesy of Leslie Trichka Beery.  Pictured is Beery’s Great-Great-Grandfather and her Grandfather as a boy in front with his head down.  This was taken in front of their home in Crowley County where they homesteaded in Colorado.