How Do You Search for the History of a Property?

search-history-property Credit: Tom Merton/OJO Images/Getty Images

The history of a property is researched by examining its deeds, building permits, mortgages, leases, utilities records, insurance records and tax records. More information is obtained by tracing its owners through city directories, phone books, census reports, church records, newspapers and obituaries.

Although some information on property deeds may be available online, historical searches necessitate a visit to the county recorder's office. Using old deeds, the chain of title or history of ownership, of a piece of property is traced backward through transfers of ownership to date of construction. Locating the building permit yields the original dimensions, materials and possibly a blueprint used by the architect. This allows a comparison with the original state of the building to determine any extensive renovation that was done. Utilities and insurance records also sometimes yield diagrams and construction details.

Sometimes long-time neighbors have information on the former owners of a piece of property. Reverse telephone directories and old newspapers in public libraries may yield details on former residents, but a search through microfilm or microfiche documents may be necessary. Census and church records may have information on the number of residents, their ancestry, how many children they had, their occupation and the value of the property at the time. Birth, marriage and death records provide more details, possibly even the names and addresses of living relatives who can give more information on the history of the property.