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.

house history, home history book, architecture

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

POLL: When was the last time you received a handwritten letter?

How would you feel if one day, wandering around your home’s attic, you stumbled upon a box full of documents belonging to the home’s former owners?

Inside the box: plot maps, deeds, census records and stories – documented in handwritten letters (revealing a cherished piece of the author’s personality) – of what life in the home was like day-to-day, as well as significant events that may have occurred.

Handwriting: An endangered species?

Most would call this discovery a treasure — particularly the handwritten letters. In this age of digital media, tweets and blog posts, the simple beauty and depth a handwritten letter conveys is in many ways priceless because of how seemingly rare it is.

One of the things that makes a Home History Book archival journal different from digital media, such as software and Web sites, is the ability to display the handwriting — and in turn — the personality of the people who use it. While raw genealogical information in the form of spreadsheets, digital records and maps are fascinating of course, there is an added dimension of personality and texture that handwriting conveys.

In honor of National Handwriting Day earlier this week (Jan. 23), we are asking you a poll question. We’d be very interested to see what you have to say.

Five easy resources for unlocking your home’s secrets

I recently came across this article in Old-House Online’s newsletter. It’s a nice, bite-size tidbit on researching your home’s history.

Old-House Online: How To Research Your Home’s Past

The article highlights, “five easy-to-find resources can lead you to a whole new understanding of your old house.”

Additionally, the Houstory Publishing Research and Preservation Center has loads more information available. Happy home history hunting!