House history: How to research architecture

Our last house history post examined the “How to hire a house historian.” This week, we step back and look at architectural elements as they relate to a home’s history. If you like what you see, please let us know with a comment and spread the word about us. We sure would appreciate it!

What good is architectural information?: Architectural drawings can reveal a lot about your home, such as specific measurements of rooms, home mechanics and even hidden details you may not be aware of. Additionally, they may provide insight into materials used on your home, floor and electrical plans and even design techniques used to build your house.

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Finding the architect: Building permits can be a valuable source of information. If the records have not been discarded, they might be found at a municipal or county agency, such as the building inspection department, the planning commission’s office, or the city engineer’s office. They will often contain contact information for the architect.

Finding the layout of your home: Architectural drawings can be found in a myriad of places, such as with the current owner, in a storage space, in a library or archives, with the descendants of the original owner, or perhaps even with the family or alma mater of the home’s builder or architect.

Historical archiving: The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) was established in 1933. For Houstorians™, this is a good thing, as survey holdings include drawings, photographs and even building histories of selected structures around the U.S. Much of the survey data is permanently on file at the Library of Congress, and provides a database to compare building characteristics. Catalogues based on the HABS collection have been produced for some local municipalities. Historical societies or museums and libraries — in addition to preservation associations and city and state historic commissions — may have information about the HABS project. For more information:

For more information on how to research your home’s history, visit the Home History Book archival journal Research and Preservation Center at

Are you a house historian? Or, as we’ve cleverly coined, a “Houstorian.” 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