Researching the History of Your House

old rowhouses in Hampden, baltimore

Where do I Start?

Every house has a history, but that doesn’t mean that every old house is considered "historic." There are many reasons a house might be deemed "historic."  Some of the criteria used to make the determination are:

When we say that a house is "historic," we mean that an official agency has designated that building, its site, or the area where it is located, as being worthy of preservation.  If you’re interested in seeing your property achieve historic status, you may contact your State Historic Preservation Officer.  Official preservation organizations that grant historic status to houses are:

Nation wide:

State and city wide:

To see if your property or neighborhood has been granted historic status, try searching:

What are tax assessments, titles and deeds?

A tax assessment is the calculated value of a property, which is used to determine the necessary rate of taxation to support the community's budget.  In Maryland, the Department of Assessments and Taxation is responsible for assessments.  These records are useful in establishing a chain of title from the original owners of a property to the current owner. Recent Maryland tax assessments are available for all of Maryland's twenty-three counties and the City of Baltimore online at the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation's Real Property Data Search. Assessments provide valuable information:

Earlier tax assessments may be located in the County Circuit Courts or at the Maryland State Archives.

The term title refers to the actual right of property ownership.

A deed is a physical record of land ownership and transactions; proof that a piece of land is owned by a specific individual who has the title. The information in a deed may vary, but it will provide a name, location and period of ownership. In Maryland counties and the City of Baltimore, deed books and deeds are located in each county’s Circuit Court, usually in a land records division. Deeds in Maryland can also be accessed online using (you will need to register for access).   In the case of an older house, you may locate the deed at the Maryland State Archives Guide to Land Records.

Sanborn map detail

Why are maps valuable?

Street maps can help identify when your street was created. Don’t overlook searching for the ordinance or bill that created the street. It is also not uncommon to find that your street was known by a different name at one time, or that some other structure would have been found on your property.  If you're researching a Maryland home, the Pratt Library's Maryland Department have a number of maps that might help you:

What can I find in historic newspapers?

Historic newspapers are a great resource for finding out what your house or property might have been used for in the past.  You may find obituaries, party announcements, classified ads, and news stories that give you glimpses into the people and activities that were in your home. If you have access to an online indexed local newspaper through your library, search for your street address, making sure to try it both abbreviated and spelled out.  If you are researching a Maryland property, you can try searching the Baltimore Sun Historic Archive (1836-1900) (you must have a Pratt library card to access the database).

Contact the Maryland Department for additional information or resources.