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House History – What to Look For and Where
Compiled by Ann Waidelich


Howe, Fleming, Kemp & Overbeck, Houses and Homes: Exploring Their History, American Association for State and Local History, 1987

Weber, How Old is Your House? A Guide to Research, Pequot Press, 1978   

Green, Discovering the History of Your House and Your Neighborhood Santa Monica Press Books, 2002

Speltz, “If Ordinary Walls Could Talk: Piecing Together the History of My House” WisconsinMagazine of History, Spring 2008 p. 2-17.

1. Former Owners/Occupants

Start with you and your history in the house: purchase date and price, remodelings, special events, etc.  Identify your own pictures of the house  - exterior and interior
Who owned/lived in the house before you back to who built it & who owned the land before that

Abstract of the house – a document received at closing from the mortgage company that lists all the previous owners, not done any more, could pay Dane Co. Title Co. or a genealogist to do the research
Madison City Directories     listings by address as well as by name 1858 – 1923   on-line   http://uwdc.library.wisc.edu/collections/WI/MadisonLocHist
1924 – date   in hard copy are at Madison Public Library  - 2nd floor
Dane County Register of Deeds Office -- Real Estate Records   Grantor (seller) / Grantee (buyer) Indexes  give you document numbers that you   can use on their computer to see the actual document which can be printed for a fee
Obituaries a way to learn about the people who lived in your house and names of  descendants to contact for stories and photographs
Death dates can be found by calling the Dane Co Register of Deeds, Room 110 City- County Building , and making an appointment  to search their computer records - 267-8810 (if the person died in Dane Co.)                                                             
Forest Hill Cemetery records are online at: http://www.cityofmadison.com/parks/parks/cemetery/search.cfm
Obituaries can be found/read/copied by using: Newspapers Index to obtain citations to obituaries 1958-date on Madison Public Library LinkCat web site and then using microfilm of WSJ and/or CT at Madison Pubic Library or WHS 
NewspaperArchive – an on-line database available free through Madison Public Library LinkCat web site  - click on Databases on the general search screen, Click on NewspaperArchive, type in your library bar code number for access.   Full page and fully searchable text of newspapers from around the country – not complete, but useful
Census Records,  every 10 years, now up to 1940  on line through Ancestry.com or Heritage Quest available free through Madison Public Library LinkCat Databases and at Wisconsin Historical Society Reading Room.   Once you know the names of people who lived in your house you can find out family relationships,  race, state or country of birth, year of immigration, occupation, etc.

2. History of the Structure

Read about Madison history/ neighborhood history / subdivision history:
David Mollenhoff’s book and Stuart Levitan’s book
Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood: A Walking Tour booklet, among others
“Custer Cards” – Wisconsin Historical Society, 4th floor, Archives Room.  Frank Custer CT newspaper reporter cut up newspaper articles and pasted them on 3x5 cards, arranged by subject , people and business names
Read about house architectural styles:
McAlester, Virginia & Lee A Field Guide to American Houses,  Knopf, 1991.
Walker, Lester,  American Shelter: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Home, Overlook Press, 1981
Schweitzer & Davis,  America’s Favorite Homes: Mail Order Catalogues as a Guide to Popular Early 20th Century Houses, Wayne State U. Press, 1990
Architecture and History Inventory – Wisconsin Historical Society  online database            http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/ahi/
Identify the legal description  - Looks like this: Fair Oaks Subdivision, Block 16, Lot 9 and parcel number (251-0710-053-0109-0) for the house
Look on your tax bill or assessment notice or use City of Madison Assessor’s Office web site http://www.cityofmadison.com/assessor/property/index.cfm  gives property details, sales details, Legal description, tax details and special assessments
Dane County Plat Maps for townships in Dane County showing land ownership in rural areas with black spots for houses   Published every 2-3 years until 1960s then every year.
Sanborn Insurance Maps for City of Madison exist for the following dates: 1885, 1892, 1898, 1902, 1908, 1919, 1923, 1939, & 1942 They show an outline drawing of the building/s on a piece of property and by comparing the property from year to year you can see changes  
Both are available at the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives Room, 4th Floor in hard copy and on microfilm
Subdivision Maps  when rural land is divided into building lots – available in Dane Co.  Register of Deeds, Real Estate Division, Room 110 City-Co. Bldg.
Tax Rolls  (annual) on microfilm at Wisconsin Historical Society 4th floor Archives Room.  Was the land that you house sits on “always” in the City of Madison or when did it get annexed into the city, where was it before: Blooming Grove, Burke, Town of Madison ?  What was the subdivision name?
Tax rolls document the acreage, valuation, owner’s name and name of the person paying the tax.  The records can help determine the age of the house by noting changes to the property’s value from one year to the next and develop a chain of ownership similar to that found in the Register of Deeds Office.
Building Permits  (back to the 1920s but not required until later)  Madison Building Inspection Unit  - on computer, temporarily located at 126 S. Hamilton St.                          
Assessment Records   Madison Assessor’s Office, Room 107 City-County Bldg.  Ask office staff to request the “assessor’s field notes” from storage (it will take a coule of days)  They will make copies for you at 25 cents per copy.