Researching Your House History

Researching the history of your house can often be an intriguing task. It also can be a time-consuming and challenging one. People who have undertaken research into their family history often want to use the skills they have learned to find out information about the history of the house where they themselves live, or those places where their ancestors lived.

Useful questions to start your research

When was the house built?
Who built the house?
Who designed the house?
Who were the earlier owners and occupiers?
Has the house been altered over the years?

Along the way to answering these questions, you are certain to discover fascinating information about the history of the house and also the local area.

Useful reading

How to Trace the History of Your House
Des Regan and Kate Press. Penguin, Ringwood, 1992.

The National Trust Research Manual: trace the history of your house or other places
Celestina Sagazio (ed.). Broadway, N.S.W., Halstead Press, 2004.

A Heritage Handbook
Graeme Davison and Chris McConville (eds.). St Leonards, N.S.W., 1991
(esp. Chapter 14 – How to research the History of a House).

These titles are all available for loan from Eastern Regional Libraries; please search the catalogue to find your nearest copy and place a reservation.

First steps

Look closely at the building itself – its style, shape and building materials. These should all give some indication of the likely age of the house. The chapter Physical Investigation of a Building by Miles Lewis (in The National Trust Research manual listed above) offers some useful tips.

It is also important to look at the building in context – is it similar to or quite different from its neighbours? What is the history of the area? Books and other resources in the Local History collection at your local library can provide a great deal of useful information. A local historical society may also be able to help.

As with family history, it is important to work back one step at a time and verify all information if possible.

Resources
Land Titles

Search back from the most recent to the earliest listed title. It is possible to work backwards from your present certificate of title to gain information about previous owners, mortgagees, etc. You will need to take note of the current volume and folio number of the title and then contact the Land Information Centre for further information on titles. There will be costs involved in this form of research.

Between 1839 and 1974, post office directories of Melbourne and Victoria were published by several companies, including Sands & Kenny, Sands & McDougall, Wise and Bailliere. Post office directories can be a useful source of information about the history of a house, as well as their more usual purpose of locating someone’s address. Generally, the directories providethe names, residences and occupations of the inhabitants.

The aim of using the directories is to find out when a house is first listed on a particular site and who was living there at that time. When a house is first located in the directory, pinpoint the exact location of the property by noting nearby landmarks such as a school, church, police station and the nearest cross streets. By following through year after year, it should be possible to plot the changing owners of the house.

When using the directories be aware that the information may not always be accurate, and remember that street names and particularly street numbers can change over time. Melbourne directories are useful for properties in the early inner-city suburbs, but many parts of what is now suburban Melbourne are listed in earlier directories under Country Towns e.g. Ferntree Gully, Belgrave, Lilydale. Information for these areas is limited to just an alphabetical listing of householders.

All these Victorian directories have been published on microfiche and Eastern Regional Libraries has copies of them all. Complete listing of microfiche holdings and locations. Council rate books are a good source of information about the occupiers and valuation of a particular property. Information that may be contained includes:

A description of the property
A valuation
Type of building material (timber, stone or brick
Owner and/or occupier
Occupations of owner and/or occupier

Rate books are not always easy to access and some are no longer available or accessible. Very old rate books may be fragile and some records have been lost or destroyed. Some rate books have been published in photocopied, microfiche, microfilm or CD-ROM format.

It is necessary to know the local government area in which the house was located as there have been many council amalgamations and changes over the year. Most rate books have not been indexed and are arranged by Ward or Riding, so it can often be a slow process to find the property you are searching for, but usually worth the effort in the end!

Useful links

Knox City Council
Maroondah City Council
Yarra Ranges Council
State Library of Victoria Map Collection
Land Information Centre