Researching Your Old House: A How-to Guide

Why?

  • National Register of Historic Places
  • Local historic districts and landmarks
  • Tax credits
  • Preservation Durham plaque program
  • For fun

Beginning

  • Know your house
  • Inspect
  • Photograph
  • Examine the neighborhood
  • Talk to long-time neighbors
  • Points of reference
  • Street address
  • Name of owner
  • Age

Someone else may already have done it!

  • Durham Architectural and Historic Inventory
  • Book
  • N.C. State Historic Preservation Office, Raleigh
  • Durham County Historic Inventory
  • National Register of Historic Places nominations
  • Accuracy

Quick confirmation

  • Maps
  • Field guides
  • Inventories
  • Tax records – Old County Courthouse

Brass tacks

  • Using Hill’s city directories
  • By occupant name
  • By address
  • Occupations and businesses
  • Advertisements
  • City limits and the 1925 problem
  • Street names and area names
  • Rental properties
  • Accuracy

Using the newspaper

  • Two newspapers
  • Obituaries
  • Real estate ads
  • Articles

Other references

  • Durham and Her People
  • City and county histories
  • Durham Historic Photographic Archive
  • College and high school yearbooks
  • Planning documents
  • Odd bits

Outside the Library, but not too far

  • Tax Records, Land Records and Tax Offices – Old County Courthouse
  • Listings
  • Maps
  • Register of Deeds Office – Old County Courthouse
  • Plats
  • Indexes, Deed and Mortgage books
  • Estates Office, Clerk of Court – Durham County Judicial Building
  • Shortcomings

Permissible inferences and interpolations

  • Identify your guesses – it’s OK
  • Trust what you see on the ground
  • Trust contemporary primary sources particular to your property
  • Architect’s plans
  • Diaries, letters, first-person accounts
  • Use references together logically – none are perfectly reliable
  • Remember, a house may be older that the maps, plats, directories, and other records say it is. However, it will almost never be younger.