If you have come across this site as someone interested in undertaking research on the history of your own home, you might find it helpful to have some initial guidance and suggestions about where to find more. The project team are not experts in this ourselves. Our interests are in the people’s sense of the past of their own home – what sort of past, what it means and how it shapes our relationship to our home. But we include some basic advice below.
Researching your home’s history
There are a huge number of records and resources to help you piece together the history of your home. Before you start, it is useful to develop a research plan and to ask yourself what it is you want to find out. Are you interested in finding out more about previous inhabitants? Or do you want to know the age of your home? If your home was quite recently built, are you interested in what stood on the site beforehand? Like most forms of research, there are different levels of enquiry; the most detailed exploration requires a lot of time and commitment, but a more basic or focused investigation can be done relatively quickly.
Once you have decided on the scope of your research and the questions you are most interested in answering, the next stage is to gather together what you already know about the history of your home including any obvious clues or pointers to its history. Writing this down can help you to see where the gaps in your knowledge might be. You could have information, for example, from title deeds or surveys if you own your home. Externally, you can explore the distinct style of your home and others in your street, and internally you might have noticed fixtures or fittings left over from the past. You might also have inherited trees or plants in the garden. If you live in a modern house or flat, you might notice old trees in the surrounding area which could offer clues to the previous use of the land. It is also useful if possible to talk to previous inhabitants, neighbours, people who have lived in the area a long time, or local historians. They might provide information or anecdotes about changes to the area.
Once you have laid the groundwork for your research, you are ready to hunt out a number of official records which will help you find out about the history of your home. These are held at local study centres (often attached to libraries) or borough archives, with national records held at the National Archives at Kew. The London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) offer London-wide records. Archivists will help in your search, but for a comprehensive understanding of the process, there are many recent books written (some listed below).
Melanie Backe-Hansen (2011): House histories: The Secrets Behind Your Front Door
Gavin Weightman (2011): Restoration Home: The Essential Guide to Tracing the History of your Home
Nick Barratt (2006): Tracing the History of Your House: The Building, the People, the Past
Colin & O-Lan Style (2006): House Histories for Beginners
Anthony Adolph (2006): Collins Tracing your Home’s History
Sue Andrews (1990): How to Begin Tracing the History of your Home