It's easy to take your home for granted. But there's more to your house than the roof over your head. Who built your home? When did they build it? Why? Who were the first occupants and why did they choose to live in your house? Finding answers to these fascinating questions is what House History is all about.
Here's a brief guide to getting started.
The history of your house has two main elements - the history of the building itself and the histories of the people who have lived in it.
The first steps to learning more about both these aspects of house history can be taken right outside your front door. Talk to your neighbours about the area you live in and your house in particular. They may be able to tell you quite a bit about your road, previous occupants and the history of your house - especially if their homes are similar to yours. It may also be possible to locate the title deeds to your house. Your mortgage provider may have them but it's also worth asking local solicitors or estate agents.
Within these walls
Look at your house in a new light. Try to see beyond the surface decoration and concentrate on the fabric of the building. Compare your house with its neighbours. Are there similar features in nearby homes that have already been reliably dated, for example? Get up into the roof space - or down into the cellar, if you have one. These areas are more likely to reveal original building materials. How big are the bricks? Generally speaking, smaller bricks are older. But be aware that builders often recycled material when they constructed houses. In order to iron out possible misperceptions, you need to cross-reference architectural pointers with documentary evidence.
On the shelves
Once you've developed a feel for your area and a rough idea of how old your house is, you can get down to some serious research. Your first port of call should always be the local library. Many libraries incorporate a local studies centre. You might get lucky straight away and discover old photographs of your street. Even if you don't, you can amass valuable information that will help you when your search becomes more detailed. Has the name of your district changed over the years, for example?
Reading the map
Many libraries have old maps of the local surroundings. Study them, starting with the most recent and working backwards. You may find that your house - or your road - "disappears". This is an indication that you're looking at a map that may pre-date the time when your house was built. Again, take care: throughout history, houses have been demolished and new ones built in their place.
Among the archives
Use the online National Archives ARCHON Directory to locate public records offices in your area. You may need to make an appointment to use these resources, so check before you visit. Public records offices hold parish records going back centuries but they often offer other resources, too, including large-scale maps, building plans and rate books.
If your property was built during or before the 19th century, you can search census records from 1841-1901 held online by The National Archives. This is a rapid route to learning more about your house and its previous occupants but always double-check what you discover online with primary sources that you have viewed yourself. There's nothing like uncovering a fascinating entry among dusty records to set your heart racing!