Researching the History of Your House
One of the joys of owning a historic home is what you can learn from it about the history of your community and the people who have lived there. Your house has survived decades or even a century, and with a little research, you can find out who lived there and how your neighborhood has changed over time. The library has a number of resources to help you get started.
A great place to start is by interviewing your neighbors. There may be someone on your street that has lived there for years and can provide the names of previous owners or other memories of the neighborhood. In addition, many libraries have oral history collections that might provide helpful information.
City directories are a wonderful tool for learning who previously owned your home. You can look up an address and find who lived there during a given year, or look up a name and find their address that year. The library has most KCK and KCMO city directories on microfilm from 1889 to the present.
The Federal and States census are invaluable tools for all kinds of research. Census data can provide information about the people who lived in your house as well as other families living on your street. Information such as occupation, level of education, and country of birth, as well as the names of all people living in a particular household. The Federal census can be found online at nara.gov or through Ancestry or FamilySearch.
Register of Deeds
Most of the records in the Register of Deeds office are open for public inspection, and they can assist you in tracing property ownership and locating other recorded documents. Records do not pertain to the structures on the property but to the land itself. These records can tell you if there were any deeds involving a builder to determine an approximate construction date of your home. County records can also uncover all kinds of information such as property deeds, previous owners, any encumbrances on the house, lawsuits, etc. By appointment only, 913-573-2841 or wycokck.org
If you are lucky enough to find a building permit for your home, it can provide valuable information about its construction, such as the year it was built, the first owner, and an architect (if there was one). Cities will often send old building permits to the landmarks commission or historical society. Check to see if such an office exists in your area.
Maps of all kinds can provide a wealth of information. The Sanborn Fire Insurance Co. produced maps beginning in the late 19th century and manually updated them every few years. They are useful for determining roughly when your neighborhood was platted when your house might have been built, and if any additions were constructed. Although many of these maps have been digitized or microfilmed, it is worthwhile to try and view the original map in person if you are able, as some details do not appear in facsimiles. An online version can be found here. Plat maps are wonderful tools for determining how cities and towns were platted and if a structure existed on a property in a given year. The Wyandotte County plat maps show how neighborhoods looked in 1887, and existing structures are visible as an outline. Plat maps can be found online (Kansas Historical Society) or in the Kansas Room at the Main Library.
City street maps can provide useful information such as when a street was constructed or if its name changed over time. KCK street maps can be found in the Kansas Room.
Local newspaper databases can provide historical information about your neighborhood and the people who lived in your house. You might find articles about events that may have occurred at your home, including weddings and other social events or obituaries of previous owners. The library subscribes to several newspaper databases, including the Kansas City Star Archives and African American Newspapers.
The Kansas City, Kansan, Wyandotte Herald, and other Wyandotte County newspapers can be accessed in the library on microfilm, but they are not indexed.
BPU can provide water meter installation dates, giving clues as to when a particular house was built.
Ancestry and FamilySearch are also great tools to uncover information about the people who have lived in your house. Both provide access to digitized census and city directory information.
For more information on researching the history of your house, contact the Kansas Collection librarian at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 913-295-8250 x 1108.
Books at the Library:
A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia McAlester
American House Styles: a Concise Guide by John Baker