How to hire a house historian

So you’ve decided to enlist some help when it comes to researching your home’s history, and want to hire a house historian.

Surprisingly, house historians — in the purest sense of the phrase — are not as prevalent as you might think. Houstory (fittingly pronounced “House-Story”), has been around several years now (since 2007), and we’ve made it our business to track down a growing collection of house historians to add to the company’s house historian search engine.

house historian, hiring


These are individuals we have entrusted to help owners of our product, The Home History Book archival journal, fill in the details of their home’s past. For real estate agents seeking a unique closing gift, or bed and breakfasts trying to share their historic property’s background, time is often of the essence and help researching this history is well worth the cost.

A house historian can be employed to write your entire home history, track down just your old tax records, find information about a particular owner — or something in between. Before you hire a home historian, do your research. The Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) have developed a handy checklist for the hiring process, as has historian Dan Curtis.

Are you a house historian? Or maybe you’ve worked with one you can recommend? We’d love to connect with you. Leave a short comment, send an e-mail to info (at) houstory (dot) com, or say hello on our Facebook page or send us a Tweet.

House history: 11 tips to research a home’s interior

Our last house history post examined the “Top 12 House History Research Supplies” for house historians, or “houstorians,” as we like to refer them. This week, we will take a peek inside at what it takes to learn about a home’s interior history. 

Facelifts: Try to notice alterations, such as mixed materials or material scarring that may indicate structural deletions. Finding this evidence can be challenging for Houstorians – especially considering modern construction practices that make telling the difference between an original material and a substitute difficult.

house history, research, home interior

Notice the subtleties: Aside from more obvious modifications – such as new room additions – focus on more minor clues, such as signs of wallpaper replacement. This kind of detail may help indicate a room’s previous use.

Get familiar with interior design trends relating to your home’s beginnings: Houstorians should try to research interior design, using books and older publications, such as magazines and newspaper advertisements, if applicable. For example, advertisements may provide insight into a variety of interior-design issues, ranging from costs of materials and goods to appliances, heating and cooling systems.

Line things up: To get a full picture of a houstory, take a bird’s eye view of how your home’s rooms are laid out. Are the dominant line features curving, horizontal, or are they vertical? For example, many 18th- and 19th-century rooms emphasize vertical design by utilizing high ceilings, towering windows and oversized doors, whereas other styles may have more rounded features.

House plan books: These types of books have been around since the mid 1800s. They contain sketches or photos of homes, complete with floor plans – which can be invaluable from a Houstory perspective. Homeowners would simply send away for blueprints, and give them to their builders to construct. Libraries and some larger bookstores may have copies of the original books. Newspapers — and perhaps even some lumber companies, who produced the wood needed for homes — may also have the information. For example, from 1908 to 1940, Sears, Roebuck & Company marketed and sold approximately 100,000 homes by catalog.

Get in there and get dirty: Get up close and personal with your walls – which may give clues to the timeframes of the building. Houstorians may have differing moldings in the same room for example, which may help to indicate modifications. Clues can be everywhere. For example, holes in walls may lead to observations about locations of paintings or lighting; unusual window shapes and sizes may help to clarify the locations of decorative windows.

Look at things in a different light: Original paint colors and wallpaper can be difficult to ascertain for Houstorians, as rooms can transform shades on a fairly regular basis. Often, outer fabrics – and sometimes even the wall itself – must be removed or disturbed to make these discoveries. However, sometimes – when walls are examined during various times of day in differing lighting conditions — different clues can become apparent.

Look to the pros: While you may be able to discover a lot on your own, paint chip removal should be done with extreme caution by Houstorians – not only in terms of home damage, but also information accuracy. Light, aging, pollution, glazes – all can alter the look of the paint. In many cases, professional conservators are needed for final evaluation.

Clues at your feet: Floors and floor coverings are often pages in the life story of your home. Details about furniture locations and room uses can be revealed to Houstorians by carefully examining floors for things like marks, burns, scars, and water damage. However, sanding, polishing and waxing floors – or replacing older carpet – can destroy or greatly compromise the accuracy of this information.

Apply your knowledge of appliances: Appliance styles – particularly in bathrooms, utility rooms and kitchens – can really help Houstorians gather valuable insight. These rooms are nearly always the first locations in a house to receive the latest and greatest in technology. Leftover clues, such as capped gas lines, electrical outlets, switches and lighting fixtures can also tell a tale.

Using public utilities: If permits are not available or accessible for some reason, public utility connection dates can help Houstorians to verify construction dates and potential improvements that may have occurred. Utility companies may have access to records and maps showing approximate times of when gas lines were laid, or electrical lines were put in place, for example.

For more on how to research your home’s history, and effective ways to make sure these stories are saved for the future, please visit

Top 12 House History Research Supplies

Researching your home’s history is a lot of fun, but you don’t want to be caught flat-footed if an opportunity to research and collect value information on your property presents itself. In an effort to help out our fellow “Houstorians,” we’ve come up with a list of the top 12 supplies for house history research.

House History Research


Notebook/laptop computer: To keep track of everything, of course.

Tape measurer: Try to have one on-hand at all times. Whether it comes to creating a map for your home, or measuring a room – accuracy is of paramount importance.

Camera: A picture is often worth a few thousand words.

Recording device: When conducting interviews, it is helpful to have a device on hand — whether it is a tape recorder or something more sophisticated, such as a digital recorder — that will allow you to record (with permission) the people you speak to along the way.

Large folder: During your research adventures, you’ll likely run across a slew of loose papers/documents that need a home. Eventually, many of these documents can be showcased in your Home History Book, but in the meantime, a folder will do.

Magnifying glass: Tiny print — common in the types of documents you will likely be examining, such as maps or government documents — can strain the eyes.

Tracing paper: For those times when you can’t copy some of the truly historic and fragile documents, or perhaps they are too large.

Pencil: Oftentimes, libraries and historical archives will not let you use a pen on the premises if the documents they house are too fragile or old.

Stapler: Keep the loose stuff organized.

Flashlight: The home historians sometimes has to follow the research trail to dark nooks and crannies in a home to dig up elusive information.

Sharp knife: Need a sample of wallpaper, or paint? This can help.

Mirror: If you are trying to explore hard-to-see areas, such as under an appliance or behind a wall – mirrors can be invaluable.

Is this list complete? What do you like to use when you research your home’s history? For more information on researching your house histories, visit

Zillow: Top 10 Haunted Houses in the United States

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Director

The next time you take a walk down a street in your neighborhood, take a close look at the houses and imagine the stories that have taken place within their walls. For most, it would probably be easy to envision relatively happy tales: newlyweds moving in to their first home, holidays around the table, etc.



For other homes, especially dilapidated buildings in a state of disrepair and decay, the stories envisioned may be darker by nature. In fact, some may be downright scary.

Today, in honor of Halloween, we will examine the top 10 haunted houses in the United States, as presented by Zillow — “a home and real estate marketplace dedicated to helping homeowners, home buyers, sellers, renters, real estate agents, mortgage professionals, landlords and property managers find and share vital information about homes, real estate, mortgages, and home improvement.” The site boasts a database of more than 110 million U.S. homes.

Last year, they developed a list of the 10 most haunted homes in the U.S.

On a related note, do you own a haunted house? A recent Wall Street Journal article says it may be a tough sell. Let us know your creepy house stories — and have a Happy Halloween!


houstory halloween

Good things — and houses — do come in ‘Tiny’ packages

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Director

What do you get when you combine a love of cabins with an adoration of small spaces? Tiny House Blog, of course! If you have any kind of curiosity regarding unique living spaces, you’ve probably already heard of  this popular blog. However, in case you are interested and you haven’t, you’re welcome. Be warned, though: time will pass and you may neglect your family for hours on end.

tiny house blog, houses, unique houses, house history

Image from Tiny House Blog

The site was started by small space/cabin lover Kent Griswold in 2007. According to the Web site, “The goal of the tiny house blog is to discover the different options available for a person looking to down size into a tiny house or cabin. I will be looking at different type of construction, from logs, to yurts to modern and the unusual. I will also do book reviews, look at alternate energy for heat and electricity. I also want to hear your story so please contact me with your pictures and your own experiences in living simply and small.”

If this universe sounds interesting to you, and you enjoy hearing about people living the “tiny house” dream (in addition to seeing a ton of cool photos), check it out.

As the co-creator of The Home History Book  archival journal and a self-proclaimed house history nut, it may seem ironic that what draws me to the Tiny House blog is my belief that many people have too much space, and too much stuff. Admittedly, a lot of the houses that I have grown to admire are huge, and much bigger than I would ever prefer to own. However, I don’t hold it against anyone with a 6,000 square foot home — that’s their business.

With that said, I do think we would be well-served, as a culture, to live simply in terms of resource conservation, environmental protection and our day-to-day mindset. There is a lot to be learned from this ‘tiny’ sub-culture.

What do you think? Did you know about the Tiny House blog? Do you think people can — and should — live with less? Do you own a tiny house? So many questions, and you’ve got answers. Let’s hear em!

Home history central: A collection of news stories for researching your historic home

It’s been a few weeks since we’ve written anything relating to house histories, so this week we are going to dedicate a few minutes to showcasing some of the more prominent news stories we’ve seen over the past six months on researching a home’s history. It’s not meant to be an authoritative list — but rather articles that have caught our home history-seeking eyes.

home history, historic home, home history book, historic bed and breakfasts

Photo courtesy of The Atlantic Cities; Photo credit: Thomas Barrat /Shutterstock

(1)Researching your home’s past could pay off

Publish Date: Feb. 3, 2012

Source: Chicago Tribune

(2)History in the house: How to discover your home’s past

Publish Date: April. 13, 2012

Source: The Washington Post

Special note: One of our favorite home historians, Paul K. Williams, is featured in this article!

(3)How to dig up your house’s history

Publish Date: June 29, 2012

Source: The Seattle Times

(4)  “Unravel Your Home’s History

Publish Date: July 31, 2012

Source: The Atlantic Cities/ National Preservation for Historic Trust

For more information  on researching your house’s history — and free home history research PDF downloads — please visit the Home History Book Research and Preservation Center.

If you know of any other valuable news articles on home history research that you’ve recently come across, please share then with our readers. Hope you enjoy!

Real estate expert: Recording, sharing love of your home can help sell it

We recently came across an article, written by real estate expert Tara-Nicholle Nelson, that we thought really tied into concepts we believe in: legacy and love of home. In her piece written last month, she talks about the importance of sharing the stories that make a house a home, and how that can positively impact the home-selling process. In the past few months, we’ve seen a few articles that touch on the value of knowing a home’s history, such as this one (“Researching your home’s past could pay off” — Chicago Tribune, Feb. 3, 2012).

house history, legacy, home history, real estate

A love letter, Tara-Nicholle Nelson explains, expresses the love the seller’s family has had for the home, and explains the facts and events underlying that sentiment.

“As someone who has been inside probably thousands of homes with buyers over the years, I’ve always thought there was one super-simple, vastly underrated marketing technique for homes that are having a hard time standing out from the rest of the market: the seller love letter. A seller love letter is a note, personally written or typed up by the home’s seller. Among other things, it expresses the love the seller’s family has had for the home, and explains the facts and events underlying that sentiment,” she wrote.

She continued: “If the power of staging lies in depersonalizing the property so buyers can picture their own family living out their own lives in the home, the power of a seller love letter is that it leaves buyers with a warm feeling that the home has a positive energy and history, which is especially desirable on today’s distressed property-riddled market.”

To read the full article, please visit her Web site at

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of “The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook” and “Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions.” Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website,

We’d love to know your thoughts! Let us know — do you think knowing a home’s story can add value?

If you have knowledge in a topic our readers may be interested in — such as historical preservation, home genealogy or homes in general — and are interested in writing a guest column for us, please let us know! Contact us at

Houstory visits new — and old — friends in New England

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Director

The past few days have been good ones for Houstory.

As Mike and I forge ahead, we are more excited than ever at the possibilities. In the coming months, we look forward to exciting developments and partnerships — which we’ll let you know more about in the near future. In the meantime, we wanted to share some of what has happened during our trip to Massachusetts over the past few days.

houstory, marian pierre-louis, maureen taylor, home history, house history

(left to right)  Mike Hiestand, Maureen Taylor, Marian Pierre-Louis and Dan Hiestand

First, we had a chance to visit with two people who have been very important to our company’s young development: Maureen Taylor, ‘The Photo Detective,’ and ‘The New England House Historian‘ Marian Pierre-Louis. Mike and I had a chance to sit down for lunch with both of them, and discuss a few ideas. More than that, it was great just to finally meet them in person after reading their blogs, monitoring their Tweets and chatting with them on the phone and via e-mail.

Maureen has been instrumental in helping Houstory produce an archival-quality book. From our first telephone conversation in 2008, she has helped us to build a product of the highest quality through meticulous selection of materials — specifically helping to guide us in our choice of acid- and lignin-free paper, and our archival-safe photo sleeves. In other words, she was our ‘preservation guru’, and has even authored an article on the topic for our Web site.

We have only recently connected with Marian, but have watched her work from afar for quite some time and learned a ton about home history research from her along the way. In the world of home historians, she is among the best, and obviously we are quite fortunate to have connected with her.

Additionally, we attended the 2012 New England Conference & Trade Show, hosted by the Professional Association of Innkeepers International in Hyannis, Mass., on Cape Cod. Along the way, we re-visited old friends, made a lot of new ones and took a trip to Provincetown to take in the scenery. While in ‘P-Town,’ Mike and I were lucky enough to attend a huge community party at The Red Inn, built in 1915.

Provincetown, Cape Cod

A beach house with a bright yellow door and colorful boats on Cape Cod.

The evening, which took place in cozy confines and in the shadow of the historic homes and lighthouses on Cape Cod, was magical. Complimentary appetizers included lobster bisque, bacon-wrapped oysters, incredible bread pudding and lots of new friends — all in the comfort of a beautiful historic building. Thank you to The Red Inn for your generosity!

Provincetown, Massachusetts, Cape Cod

Located on beautiful Provincetown Harbor, in one of the world’s most spectacular settings, The Red Inn has welcomed guests since 1915.

Home History Book to be donated as prize during Connecticut house history workshop

Houstory is very proud to be a part of the festivities at an upcoming presentation/workshop by house historian Marian Pierre-Louis. Below is a press release outlining the event. Thank you, Marian, for all your help!


Simsbury, Conn. — Houstory Publishing, LLC, publisher of the original Home History Book™ archival journal, an heirloom-quality house history book, will donate a copy of the book as a door prize during an upcoming May 1, 2012 talk by house historian Marian Pierre-Louis at the Simsbury Free Library. The book, which retails for $300, will be custom engraved for the winner.  Audience members will be able to use the research skills learned during the house history talk and then record the information they uncover in a book such as Houstory’s Home History Book.

Marian Pierre-Louis

Thanks to the program being offered by the Simsbury Free Library (SFL), Bob Maxon, weatherman for the local NBC affiliate has enlisted the help of house historian, lecturer, and writer Marian Pierre-Louis.  In a special evening event at the SFL on Tuesday, May 1, 2012, Pierre-Louis will use Maxon’s home to demonstrate how to conduct house history research, including where to find deeds, how to chain a deed, how to locate other sources of information such as US Federal Census records, as well as teach some tricks to help people get the most out of house history research.

The program begins with a reception at 6:30 p.m., followed by the presentation at 7:00 p.m.  Pre-registration is required.  Cost for the event is $5 for members; $10 for non-members.  Memberships are available for $20.  Call (860)-408-1336 or email to register.\

About Houstory Publishing, LLC

Believing that every house has a story, Houstory Publishing — started in 2007 by brothers Mike and Dan Hiestand — has designed its book to serve two important functions: First, it provides homeowners who wish to research the history of their home an attractive and lasting medium to record and share their findings with others. Second, it helps them document and record their own stories — their living history. This includes information about both the home’s physical structure and changes that may occur over the years and — perhaps more importantly — about their own family’s time in the home. It is this personal history — the stories of a family’s everyday life and/or significant events that occur while living in the home — that give a home its unique character and feel. Unlike a family’s personal scrapbook or photo album, the Home History Book is meant to stay with a house as a permanent record of its past history and present stories.

About the Simsbury Free Library

The Simsbury Free Library (the Simsbury Genealogical and Historical Research Library) opened on the second floor of the Hopmeadow District School in 1874.  In 1890, the Library’s collection was moved to its present location at 749 Hopmeadow Street in Simsbury.  Today the Simsbury Free Library (SFL) seeks to promote interest in genealogy and history by providing access to research material and expertise, artifacts, and educational and cultural programs.  It seeks to help patrons connect with the past and to learn from and be inspired by those who have gone before them.  The SFL provides a relaxed setting in which people can pursue family research history at their own pace.  For everyone from seasoned genealogy veterans to beginners, the SFL has the staff and resources necessary to help visitors develop the skills required to create family trees, search local histories, look up census records, explore vital records, etc.

The Simsbury Free Library – the Gracious Yellow Lady – is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and the second and fourth Saturdays of the month from 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. as well as by appointment.  For more information, visit or call (860) 408-1336.

About Marian Pierre-Louis

Marian Pierre-Louis is a house historian, lecturer and writer.  Specializing in the histories of New England homes, she frequently speaks at libraries, societies, and conferences throughout New England on house history and genealogical topics.  She is the author of the popular blog, The New England House Historian (  For more information about Pierre-Louis and her work, visit

Home History 2.0: Genealogy meets technology at RootsTech

One of our self-appointed jobs at Houstory is to appeal to all skill levels of home genealogist — from beginners to seasoned veterans. This week’s entry isn’t so much for the avid genealogist or home historian — who undoubtedly already know about a ‘little’ conference called RootsTech — but rather the aspiring or occasional researcher.

For those not familiar, the RootsTech conference — which started in 2011 and recently completed its second show last month in Salt Lake City, Utah– has already grown into a wildly popular event for the genealogist community. In fact, as genealogist Dick Eastman wrote last month in his newsletter, Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter:”The RootsTech conference kicked off this morning in Salt Lake City with more than 4,100 attendees. No, that number is not a misprint. More than four thousand, one hundred genealogists pre-registered. However, when I walked past the registration desk in mid-morning, I saw a long line of people waiting to purchase tickets at the door. Unofficially, I was told that the number of attendees had risen to more than 4,400 by late afternoon. That number certainly will rise further during the next two days of the conference. RootsTech is now by far the most popular genealogy conference in North America.”

So, after just two years, it’s obvious something is resonating with folks. So, what is RootsTech exactly? And why should home genealogists care?

“RootsTech is a leading edge conference designed to bring technologists together with genealogists, so they can learn from each other and find solutions to the challenges they face in family history research today,” says the RootsTech Web site, “At RootsTech, genealogists and family historians will discover emerging technologies to improve their family history research experience. Technology developers will learn the skills to deliver innovative applications and systems. They will also have the opportunity to receive instant feedback from peers and users on their ideas and creations. Attendees will learn from hands-on workshops and interactive presentations at the beginner, intermediate, and advanced level.”

Obviously, what makes the conference special are the many presenters who shared their expertise. What makes this year’s event even more exciting is that RootsTech has posted these presentations online, free of charge. So, if you have some spare time here and there, we would encourage you to take a look at the RootsTech 2012 Videos.

This marriage of technology and genealogy has grown dramatically in recent years, and — as events like the upcoming digital release of 1940 census records indicates — will only get stronger.

So, why should it matter to you, the home historian? If you think about it — for most of us — researching a home’s history is simply researching another family’s genealogy. Even if you are not looking into your lines, understanding the principles of sound genealogical strategies (or technologies) is more than a benefit. In this day-and-age, it’s a necessity.