We have been uncovering layers of history in this house. From learning about modern codes and building standards, Old building methods and standards, to uncovering artifacts from the various occupations. We had talked about digging deeper into the history of the house so Tricia signed us up for a class given by the Clark County Historical Society taught by Bradley Richardson.
Most cities now have a GIS (Geographic Information System) online. Ours is http://gis.clark.wa.gov/gishome/. You can glean quite a bit of info from this site alone, but at the class I learned of a few more resources for discovering a deeper history of your house and the surrounding city and county.
What data should you gather? Any names of people who have owned your home in the past or the names on the original land grant. You will need to also gather Build date, effective build date, Township-range-section, Plat records, survey records and assessment documents if those are available. You may want to utilize a spread sheet to help you sort the information.
One tip I picked up from the class was not to use exact dresses but rather be vague and pick from a list otherwise you may miss the record you want. EX: Type 200 78th instead of 200 NE 78th Street.
One of the most obvious is the Assessors office where you will find Deeds, titles, Grantee, and Grantor information. Most sites still require you to physically go to the assessors office and use microfilm to get this information. While this can be fun and nostalgic for some of us it can also eat up your entire day. Luckily there are quite a few online resources you can tap to flesh out your house history.
Your first search should be with your local GIS but it shouldn’t end there. In Washington we have WISAARD (Washington Information System for Architectural and Archaeological Records Data), http://www.dahp.wa.gov/learn-and-research/find-a-historic-place. This is a great web resource that I could spend far too much time on. There is a tutorial in the link provided. Your state may or may not have a similar resource. The cool thing about WISAARD is they have PDFs of the original hand written documents that you can save if you want to collect this into a folder or book that you can put in your library. How cool would it be if you sold your home and could provide a brief history of your house and the surrounding area.
FamilySearch.org is also a great place to dig deeper into the records of the people who have lived in your house or finding out more about who were original homesteaders of your particular area. Family Search may also have some of the info you will find at the assessors office so it may be worth while to search there before making the trek to the assessors office. You can sign up for a free account or check with your local library to see if they maintain an account you can use. Ancestry.com is another resource that is similar that you may want to check.
One thing Bradley Richardson emphasized is the use of Maps. There are quite a few resources available the most important being Sanborn maps. These are not free but you can call your local library and ask if they have a subscription to them. Multnomah County library in Portland maintains an account and you can also check with the Washington state library (https://www.sos.wa.gov/library/sanborn/) to see if they have your particular area in the map data base.
There are also places to visit like local county and city historical societies and museums that may have resources you can find more information. Our local resource is the Clark County Historical Museum. They will have city and county directories like Polk directories, or Pacific coast Directories. Newspaper archives are also great places to go to build a narrative of the various time periods or people who occupied your home or events that shaped your community.
With old homes comes history. Discovering and building a narrative can be a fun part of a renovation.