If walls could speak, oh, the stories your house would tell… If you own an older home, you’ve probably at some point wondered who slept in your bedroom long before you, when your plumbing was last updated, or, maybe, why that ghost keeps hiding your car keys. Want to get a glimpse into the secret past of your abode? Try these steps.
Inspect your house closely. You can learn a lot just by looking. Check out how your house was built and what type of building materials were used. Examine the walls and moldings. Look for original materials, such as the bricks of the fireplace. Housing design has changed dramatically over the years, and you may be able to find some clues as to when your home was built, what substantial changes it has endured, and how well off the original inhabitants were. If you don't know how old the house is, try looking under the water tank lid on the toilet. Toilets are usually date-stamped under the lid, giving you a rough estimate of when the house was built, since the toilet would presumably have been installed shortly after it was manufactured. You can also get a good idea of how long it has been since a room was remodeled. Different styles of kitchen cabinets and appliances, for example, go in and out of vogue every few years.
Talk to your neighbors. If you’re new to the neighborhood and want to find out about the recent history of your house, your longtime neighbors may be able to help. Plus, asking about your house and the neighborhood is a great way to break the ice.
If you live in the United States, visit your local or county courthouse to look at the deed registry. The registry is usually found in the clerk and recorder’s office. Ask for the registry of deeds for your particular property. In the U.S. this information is indexed by a lot and block number in a city, and a section, township and range for rural property.
Track down previous owners to find out what improvements were made. The owner information can also be accessed by tracing the deed history. Once you find out who the previous owners were, track them down by searching the Internet or using one of the many commercial people-locator's services available. Speaking with those who came before you may allow you to get a better image of the original house. Of course, this is easier said than done if the owners you’re looking for died a hundred years ago.