Your Place in the Past: Researching the History of Your Home

Who lived in your home before you did? What’s the history of your condo conversion? What was the land used for before your house was there?

If the answers to those questions intrigue you, you may want to research the history of your house, building or the land it’s on. You may be surprised at the interesting information you uncover. Here are a few ideas to help you get your research started:

Check the structure, style and materials of your home

Style can give you a rough sense of when it was built. Look for original hardware, wallpaper or flooring for further clues. If you’re renovating, check inside the walls for old newspapers, which were often used as insulation.

Open up your filing cabinet

Your deed, assessment notice, and tax bill can give you clues about the history of your property.

Talk to your neighbours

Long-time area residents are a great resource. Talk to them – they’ll probably enjoy sharing their memories. Find out if they have old photos of the neighbourhood. You can even track down the former owners of the house and see if they’re willing to chat.

If you live in a newer neighbourhood, check if there’s an older house nestled in among the newly built ones. Talk to the owners – they may have insights into the neighbourhood and the people who once owned the land where your house now stands.

Look online.

Google your street name or neighbourhood. You could find old photos, information about former residents, and details about the properties in your area.

If you own a recently built house or condo, visit to your developer’s website or contact them directly. Condos that have been converted from heritage buildings often include information on the building’s history. You may also find information on suburban developments built on former farms, and urban infill projects may have some interesting history as well.

Visit your local library, archive or museum.

Look for information about your neighbourhood as well as your house or building. Check these resources:

  • Fire insurance plans: Includes info about the date a house or building was built, modified or demolished, what materials were used and the lot size and shape.
  • Property tax assessment rolls: Contain the name and occupation of the owner(s) at time of assessment, as well as a list of occupants, a description of the property and its assessed value.
  • City directories: Listings include the name and occupation of the owner(s).
  • Photographs: Look for images of your home, street or land, or aerial photos of your neighbourhood.

Also look for census record, building permits, and voters lists. Talk to the people that work in the library, museum or archive – they may know about great local resources not mentioned here.

Call the land registry office

They can tell you how to search for titles to your property, which indicate who built your home and who has owned it over the years.

Finding about your home’s past can be a fun challenge – learning about your property and the people who lived or worked there before you is a great way to get a sense of history, find details to make your restoration historically accurate, get to know your neighbours, and appreciate your home in a whole new way.