Researching Your Pennsylvania House
A Guide to Exploring the History of a House
Every house—especially an older one—has a story to tell. Discovering that story can be a challenge but an interesting one. This guide can help you find the resources you need to explore the history of your Pennsylvania house. So, where do you begin?
Deeds record the names of buyer and seller, the date of the sale, the date of the recording, the county and state of residence, the amount of money paid, a description of the property, and the terms and conditions. Deeds in Pennsylvania and most states are available at county courthouses. If your home is quite old, you will want to begin with the Pennsylvania State Archives’ Bureau of Land Records. There is a searchable Land Records index to locate records through the 19th century.
Property not quite that old? You can search many Pennsylvania deeds and county courts online in the Pennsylvania Land Records and Deeds Directory.
Online Resources to Assist Your Research
These guides to help you get started on your search:
Looking for a specific location?
What Does Architecture Tell Me about the House?
How can you
learn more about when your house was built, its original style and
composition? The first step is to
identify the era in which it was constructed.
You will also need to learn more about architectural styles and to
consult an architecture book or two, to identify the “core style”. Guide to Old House Styles and Architecture
It is also
helpful to learn more about architectural styles and terms. PHMC has developed a pictorial dictionary of Architectural terms. Since many older homes have undergone
numerous renovations or additions, you may need to consult an architect to
determine the general layout, as well as the styles of roofs, porches, windows
and doors. If you don’t wish to invest
the money to hire a professional, simply take a tour of the neighborhood to
discover houses similar to your own.
What Happened in my House?
What can I find out about the former
owners? Did anyone die in the
house? Is anyone alive who remembers
growing up in the house?
Historical Societies: Other important information about your house and its’ former
residents can often be found at your local historical society. Historical societies often provide the best
selection of sources—maps, city directories, newspapers, county histories and
genealogical records. Pennsylvania Historical Societies
City Directories: are
a great way to learn more about the people listed on your deed as previous
owners. Genealogy Research Associates' US City Directories
Newspapers: In addition, search through the local newspapers for mention of
the owners or the address of the house.
Check out the State Library’s collections of Pennsylvania newspapers to
help with this effort.