How to Unlock Your Home’s History

Have you ever wondered who may have lived in your Maplewood or South Orange home before you? Did you discover an interesting relic in the attic and would love to know where it came from? Are you thinking about buying an older home and want to know more about its history before you pull the trigger?

There are many reasons why you may want to research the history of a home. In case you are interested in unlocking your home’s past, here are some resources that will help you get started.

Look for clues in your home

The first place to start your search is in your home itself. Take a look at architectural details, layout and types of building materials used to give you clues as to what time period your home was built. You might also discover some areas that seem out of place, which may indicate they were added at a later date.  If you have the inclination, you might also try checking between walls and under the floors for items like newspapers or personal effects that may have been discarded and forgotten about at some point. It might even be fun to use a metal detector to unearth clues in your yard like old coins.

Talk to your neighbors

If you have any neighbors that have lived in the area for any length of time, they could have some valuable information about past owners. You may even find that there are details about your neighbor’s home that are similar to yours that could offer clues about its history. 

Research with the historical society

A great place to expand your search is with your local historical society. They can be a treasure trove of information such as permits and other property and building paperwork that may have been filed. You can find a list of historical societies by state here.

Visit the county courthouse

In addition to the historical society, you can find documents related to your home’s history at the county courthouse. A valuable document to have is your property abstract, which traces all the deeds and legal transactions for your home. If you weren’t given a copy when you bought your home, you can likely find it at the courthouse.

Check genealogy records

There are some helpful online resources to trace genealogy that can also help you trace the history of your home. Family Search is an online database that lets you search by residence to discover who may have lived at your address in the past. Cyndi’s List is another great site, with a page devoted to house and building histories. With the genealogy information you can expand your knowledge about previous owners and other occupants, and learn more about what their lives may have been like when they lived in your home.

Have fun and be respectful

You may stumble upon information on people who are still living who may have once resided in your home, but remember that they have their own memories associated with those times, which may or may not be favorable. Approach living people with caution and know that in some cases it’s best to compile your information without actually contacting anyone personally.

Allison Ziefert is a Maplewood, NJ based realtor and the #1 individual real estate agent at Keller Williams Mid-Town Direct in Maplewood, NJ. A local market expert, Allison specializes in Maplewood, NJ real estate and homes and South Orange, NJ real estate and homes as well as Millburn/Short Hills, NJ, West range, NJ and surrounding towns. Allison’s success as a Maplewood/S. Orange realtor is driven by earning great testimonials from sellers and buyers of homes in her marketplace. You can read her testimonials at