House History Search – How to Find the History of a Home

Elevenses with Lisa Episode 20 Video and Show Notes

Live show air date: August 13, 2020
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history.

How to Find the History of a House

 Researching the history of a house takes a special combination of records and we’ll cover them in this case study.

Whether you want to learn the history of your own home, research for a friend, or find out everything you can about your ancestor’s home, this episode is for you.

Home is where the heart is, and each home has a history waiting to be discovered. Watch the video and follow along with these show notes.

My Guest: Kathy Nielsen

Kathy Nielsen is a reference librarian and an educator.   She has a masters degree in History and in Library Science.  Kathy is currently a popular genealogy speaker on  California’s Monterey Peninsula.  She incorporates her skills as an historian, a storyteller and a librarian in her search for her family’s history.

Reasons for Researching the History of Houses and Land

  • Every home where your ancestors lived has a story.
  • Every home where you lived has a story.
  • This is where  your family lived, loved, laughed, cried, and maybe even died.
  • These homes left their mark on your family and perhaps on you.
  • And you and your family left your mark on that house or that land.
  • Learning about the house and land can give you insights into the daily lives of your ancestors.

What prompted Kathy to research her great grandparents land?
“As a child I visited Prunedale and Castroville and the dairy farm of my aunt and uncle frequently. I heard stories of the ranch house down the road…even visited it between renters….played an important role in my mother and aunt’s lives and their story.”

Questions to Ask When Researching Your House

  • When was the house built?
  • What is the architectural style of the house?
  • Who was the architect? The builder?
  • Who was the original owner?
  • Who else owned and lived in the house?
  • How has the house changed over the years?
  • How does the house fit into the history of the area? Of the time?

Architectural Styles of Houses

Identifying the house style can help you narrow time location and time frame.

Recommended Reading: A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia Savage McAlester
Get the book here:

U.S. Architectural Styles

  • Colonial 1625-1840
  • Sod prairie 1800s
  • Folk Houses 1850-1930
  • Romantic Houses 1820-1880
  • Victorian Houses 1860-1900
  • Craftsman 1905-1930
  • Spanish Revival 1915-1940
  • Monterey House 1925-1955
  • Minimal Traditional 1935-1950
  • Ranch House 1950s
  • Mid-Century…Organic 1950s

Records that Help Pull the Story Together

  • Census
  • Voter Registration
  • Directories
  • Maps
  • Deeds
  • Wills
  • Newspapers
  • Photos
  • Local Histories


A timeline can help you identify the gaps in your knowledge and pinpoint research tasks.

The Prunedale Family Timeline

  • c1874 Marriage, Helen Georgina Ross and George Kemsley
  • 1891 Divorce
  • 1891 Trip West
  • 1891 Marriage
  • 1892 Purchase of Prunedale property
  • 1931 Construction of Highway 101
  • 1931 Death of Great-Grandfather
  • 1941 Death of Great-Grandmother
  • 1967 Death of Grandmother
  • 1960-1980 Accident on Highway 101
  • 1982 Sale of Prunedale property
  • 1986 Division of property into two lots

Research Log

Click here to download Kathy’s simple yet useful research log for land deeds.

The Prunedale Property History:

  • Purchased from Hiram C. Tuttle and his wife Rebecca, July 11, 1892
  • Hiram was an upholsterer and had nine children
  • Land purchased for $3000 in gold coins
  • Tuttles originally had 138 acres and they sold 50 acres to the Collins family
  • Tuttles remained neighbors

The property was part of the original Rancho Bolsa Nueva Y Moro Cojo land grant:

  • 31,00 acre Mexican Land Grant given to Maria Antonia Pico de Castro
  • Mexican Land Grant extended from Moss Landing to Prunedale and south to Castroville

Finding and Reading House Deeds

The deed that Kathy found described the Metes and Bounds. Learn more about metes and bounds here at the FamilySearch Wiki.

Check the county courthouse website for access information and to see if perhaps they are digitized and available online.

The Prunedale House

The house in Prunedale was a of the Folk House National Style:

  • Gable-Front-and-Wing Family Home
  • A shed-roofed porch placed within the L made by the two wings
  • Small windows in the attic
  • Common in rural areas
  • With the development of the railroads…abundant lumber and balloon framing

Kathy used the book Monterey County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary by Donald Thomas Clark. Check, Google Books, or your local library to see if a similar book is available for your county.

Excerpt from 1893: [Carl] Bates grandfather came to Prunedale in 1893 and ‘this place was orchard at that time,’ he says. ‘There was no prominent person to name if after, or any prominent features; so they just called it Prunedale.’

Using Census Records to Research a House

Kathy traced the home through the U.S. Federal Census:

  • 1900 census – no address, but we see the neighbors
  • 1910 census – more neighborhood changes
  • 1920 census – the street name is written in the margin.
  • 1930 census – The family owns their farm and a radio. The street name is written in the margin.

Census research tip: Always look at the page before and after the page of interest.

Record: Voter Registrations

Found at the Monterey County Historical Society:

  • 1900 – John F. Collins
  • 1904 – John F. Collins listed

Record: Telephone Directory

Directories can often be found at the public library or online. Kathy found the 1906 Telephone Directory found at the Monterey Public Library. J F Collins is listed but no address.

Find Photos of the House

Check with your local library reference librarian to see if they have local area photo collections.

Weather History

Try the (U.S.) National Weather Service: This Day in History Archive

The Timeline Continues

1931: Highway 101 Began Construction

  • Collins family sold the Right of Way, 2 and1/2 acres, to the State of California
  • March 6,1931
  • Received $2000
  • Deed of sale Monterey County Recorder’s Office, Salinas

Newspaper Obituary: John F. Collins passed away June 3, 1931

Record: Death Certificate: Helen Collins passed away December 1, 1941. The address is listed: 171 Prunedale Road (Prunedale District.)

The Property was Inherited by Kathy’s Grandmother and Great Uncle

  • Kathy’s aunt, Helen Lyons, managed the rental property because her grandmother and her brother lived in Tacoma.
  • In 1950 Helen Lyons married James Lyons. His family had a dairy ranch on Blackie Road. So it was convenient for her to look after the Prunedale Ranch.

Found in the Home During a Return Visit

Many years later upon returning to the house for a visit, Kathy found a book from the Grand Union Tea Company, New York, 1889!

1967: Kathy’s Grandmother Dies

  • The property then went to Kathy’s aunt, her mother and cousins (the children of her grandmother’s brother, Ray).
  • They continued to rent out the property until the accident on Highway 101

Find the Property Title

Address listed: 9575 Prunedale Road South, Salinas, CA 93907

Virtually visit locations by searching the addresses you find in Google Earth (free software.) There may also be Street View available. Click and drag the yellow peg man icon in the upper right corner of the screen over to the location on the map. Wait a moment to see if blue “Street View” lines appear. If they do, then Street View is available. Drop the Street View icon on the blue line and you will be able to look at the location from the street level.

Return to the Timeline – 1986:
The Property was Divided into two properties: 9575 Prunedale Road South and 9585 Prunedale Road South.

Survey & Tax Rate Area Maps

Check with the County Recorders and Assessors Office. You can also get the history of permits on your own home.

Additional Sources to Search

  • Architectural References
  • Zillow, Google Maps (sq. feet, year built)
  • Historic Surveys
  • National Register of Historic Places,
  • State Register of Historical Resources
  • County Local Register of Historical Resources

Maps that Can Help with House History Research

  • Plat Maps
  • Survey Maps
  • Sanborn Maps

Learn more about finding and using maps from Lisa’s Premium video classes and handouts.

Canada: Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps Canada

More Resources

  • Census
  • Local Newspapers
  • Directories
  • Voter Registration
  • Yearbooks
  • Wills
  • Monterey County Recorder and Assessor’s Office
  • Local History…library and local history society
  • The neighbors

More on How to Trace the History of a House

Read Tracing the History of Your Monterey House (Monterey Public Library, California History Room.) Although it’s focused on houses in Monterey, it includes many ideas and strategies applicable to all homes.

“Facts get recorded. Stories get remembered. So, what’s your home’s story?” Kathy Nielsen

Free Webinar by Lisa Louise Cooke

How to Use Photo Discoveries, Photo Enhancement and Colorization at MyHeritage by Lisa Louise Cooke.
Watch it here on the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel.


Live show chat log

Premium Members: Download the show notes handout

Source: Genealogy Gems

Posted On: August 16, 2020 at 06:05PM