Resources for researching your home’s history

April 12, 2012

Here are some sources to get you started in researching your home’s history:

E-mail groups

●H-DC

www.h-net.org/~dclist/

A discussion list for those interested in preserving D.C. history and culture. Postings about classes and workshops. A helpful research guide is posted at www.h-net.org/~dclist/neighNew4.pdf.

●Historic Washington

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/HistoricWashington/

A Yahoo e-mail forum for those interested in or involved in D.C. history and preservation.

In general

● Heritage Quest

www.heritagequestonline.com

Includes online census records and other historical articles. Free access from home computer using your D.C. library card.

●Ancestry.com

www.ancestry.com

Online birth, marriage, death records; some military and voter rolls. Subscription-based service is available for free with D.C. library card.

●National Archives

www.archives.gov

Microfilm collection of D.C. permits from 1877 to 1949. Permits after 1949 are housed at the D.C. Archives.

●Library of Congress

www.loc.gov/rr/genealogy/

Much of the collection is indexed online, including vertical files. Maps are also online as part of the American Memory project.

●(Online) National Register of Historic Places

www.nps.gov/nr/

Information about more than 80,000 properties and historic areas, much of it digitized. Also has links to federal and local tax-credit information and requirements.

In the District

● DC Preservation League

www.dcpreservation.org/

Includes the online 2009 Historic Site Inventory. The organization holds workshops on preservation issues and offers frequent tours of historic sites.

●D.C. Public Library (●paper, microfilm and online)

www.dclibrary.org/research/collections

The Washingtoniana Division at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library houses city directories from 1822 to 1973 that include the occupation of each homeowner, permits to build homes and additions from 1877 through 1949 (permits to build after 1949 are at the D.C. Archives), more than 8,000 maps dating from 1612, daily newspapers from 1800, the Washington Star’s photo collection, and private family, neighborhood and organizations’ papers and records.

City directories from 1822 to 1973 are on microfilm. From 1914 on, there’s a crisscross feature in the back. In addition to names and addresses, the directory includes race and occupation. Building permits for the years 1877 to 1949 are also on microfilm.

The Washingtoniana Division includes Baist and Hopkins plat maps. Older plat maps are quite beautiful with painted water colors. (The Library of Congress has some of the early maps online, but some find it cumbersome to zoom and slide.)

The collection of the Washington Star’s clippings and photos isn’t digitized, but the index is in progress. With 1.3 million photos taken between the 1950s and 1981, there’s a decent chance that there’s a photo of your street or neighborhood.

The Peabody Room at the Georgetown Library holds materials about the history of Georgetown, including photos, maps and more.

●●D.C. Writers’ Homes

www.dcwriters.org/

Maybe a poet or a novelist once lived in your home or neighborhood. Check out this online guide to where famous (and not-so-famous) writers lived. You can search by city region to see who lived nearby.

● Historical Society of Washington, D.C., library catalogue

www.historydc.org/library/searchcatalog.aspx

Search the library’s collection for photographs, books and other materials. Searchable by street address and neighborhood.

Also available on the site is the Guide to Neighborhood History Resources. Although the materials themselves aren’t online, the index shows by neighborhood what materials (reports, maps, books) are available at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. There is also a Building History Resource Guide, a concise list of what’s available where, including maps, land records, city directories, available at www.historydc.org/UserFiles/file/Building_History_Resources(3).pdf.

Also part of the Historical Society’s collection is the Barrett photographic archive of Washington’s cityscape, more than 900 photos of city blocks and individual buildings in the late ’50s and early ’60s taken by William Edmund Barrett as part of Kiplinger’s “Vanishing Washington” project. The photos were included in the Kiplinger Collection recently donated to the society.

In Maryland

●Enoch Pratt Free Library

www.prattlibrary.org

Among the collection are city directories and neighborhood history files. The Web site also contains a guide to researching house history (www.prattlibrary.org/locations/maryland/index.aspx?id=17120) and a collection of Sanborn Fire Insurance maps (www.prattlibrary.org/research/database.aspx?id=2618).

Drawn and revised since 1867, these online maps include the dates structures appeared and show nearby commercial, civic and religious buildings. The updates are sporadic, but they are available online through the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. (Library card required.)

●Maryland State Archives

www.msa.md.gov/msa/homepage/html/collections.html

Online deeds contain such information as names of prior owners and dates of property transfers. A password must be requested through an online form.

● Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation

http://sdatcert3.resiusa.org/rp_rewrite/

Search online for deed information, including plat number.

●Montgomery County Historical Society

www.montgomeryhistory.org

●The Jane C. Sween Research Library’s collection includes cemetery records, church records, maps and more.

●Maryland Historical Society

www.mdhs.org

Collection includes city directories, maps, files about thousands of Baltimoreans and Marylanders, on microfilm and paper.

In Virginia

● Virginia Historical Society

www.vahistorical.org

Searchable online index of collection, including home and garden brochures, city directories, maps, photographs, family papers and more.

●Library of Virginia

www.lva.virginia.gov/

Has tax records, building permits and insurance records.

●Alexandria Library

www.alexandria.lib.va.us

Local history collection includes Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, deeds from 1783 to 1870, city directories and obituary indexes for the Alexandria Gazette.

●Arlington Public Library

http://library.arlingtonva.us/collections/local-history/

Has Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, county directories and census records.

●Fairfax City Regional Library

www.fairfaxcounty.gov/library

The Virginia Room houses deeds, census information, obituaries, wills and neighborhood histories. Online resources include historical photographs, genealogy and local history sites, historical newspaper index, Civil War records and some cemetery records.

— Laura Barnhardt Cech

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