Every house has a history, but that doesn’t mean that every old house can be considered "historic"?
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. There are preservation organizations that grant historic status on the national level, like the National Register of Historic Places and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. On the state-wide level there is the Maryland Historical Trust and locally in Baltimore City the Commission for Historical & Architectural Preservation (CHAP).
Association with the lives of prominent people is one criterion often used to justify designating a property as historic. Other criteria might include its age (usually at least 50 years) and authenticity, association with historic events, archaeological interest, distinguished architectural qualities, use of distinctive construction materials and methods, its style or aesthetic value.
To see if your property or neighborhood has been granted historic status, try searching the National Register Information System database. The Maryland Historical Trust also maintains a list of National Register properties in Maryland and an inventory of state-designated historic properties. If you’re interested in seeing your property achieve historic status, you may contact your State Historic Preservation Officer. In Baltimore City contact (CHAP) to see if you are living in a designated historic district or qualify for local tax incentives.
Tax assessments 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 Real Property Data Search. Assessments provide information such as a legal description of the land and the building, referred to as the property "improvement", as well as records of remodeling. In addition, a record of the sellers and buyers is provided and in many cases the deed number and the date when the house was built. 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 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 MDLandRec.net. In the case of an older house, you may locate the deed at the Maryland State Archives Guide to Land Records.
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.
Sanborn Fire Insurance maps have been drawn and revised by the Sanborn Company since 1867. The earliest for Maryland go back to the 1880s and have been created for most cities and towns in the state. While the originals are drawn to identify the material that a structure was built from or the construction type for insurance purposes, these highly detailed plates divulge a lot of information.
Atlases may identify the creation of the lot in which the structure on your property was erected. There were a number of atlases published by some well-known companies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Maryland Department maintains a chart of these historical atlases and Sanborn insurance maps.
Plats are legal land descriptions shown in map form. These maps show the division of land into streets, blocks and lots. In showing these, the actual measurements belonging to each parcel of land are identified. They can be very detailed and show changes to the lot. The Maryland State Archives provides free access through Plats.net. You will need to register for access.
A limited number of real estate atlases are found in the Pratt Library’s Maryland Department collection. While not actual plats, these maps show the layout of streets and lots. Some contain zoning information or identify census tract boundaries. The Maryland Department has a collection of real estate atlases for Maryland counties.
Zoning maps, which are found in a variety of formats, can identify a number of characteristics regarding a structure, including historic districts.
Aerial photographs are a type of map and can be found county planning departments or historic area agencies. Also similar are birds-eye views, which are realistic sketches of a city or town as if drawn from a balloon.
What additional resources are there?
The Maryland Department also includes other resources for researching the history of a Maryland home. Contact the Maryland Department for additional information.