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historic research

Research the History of Your House

The Indianapolis Marion County Public Library has more information about different ways to research the history of your house.

Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission offers instruction for home researchers and provides forms to help searchers get started.

1. Check the National Register of Historic Places to see if your house is listed.

2. Check with the Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Inventory to find a copy of the Interim Report. This report will have the survey findings of historic sites and structures in your county. It may have some information on your house.

3. Search for a copy of the abstract. The abstract is a summary of all transactions involving a piece of property. The abstract may be located somewhere in the house itself or in the possession of the previous owners or in the hands of the mortgage holder. This abstract will refer to the land rather than the house structure, but it will provide dates and leads to follow for more information.

4. If the abstract is unavailable, you will need to research the deed and trace the chain of title. For this, you need the legal description of the property or the current owner's name. You can find this at the County Tax Assessor's office. Ask for the property card that you can then take to the County Recorder's Office.

5. You can now search in the County Recorder's Office. Trace backwards in time, starting with the current owner. Using the transfer books, go from the grantee's name to the grantor's name. Keep repeating the process.
At the Marion County Recorder's Office they now have records back to 1964 available by a computer search using Laredo software.

They also have the original Plat Maps of the area dating back to the early 1900s on film that can be printed out.

The Recorder's Office records and preserves public records, including Deeds, Mortgages, Liens, Releases, Leases, Articles of Incorporation, Assumed Business Names, Military Discharges, Subdivision Plats, UCC's (Uniform Commercial Code filings) and other documents. However it does not generally include Court Orders, Decrees, Judgments, Wills or Death Certificates.

Marion County Recorder
Hamilton County Recorder
Indiana's County Recorder's Offices

Your local county library, which is usually located in the county seat, is a good place to start to find much of the following information. Most libraries have an Indiana Room that contains local history and maps.

6. Consult city directories to find the names of the home's occupants as opposed to the owner's names. Begin with the most recent directory and work backwards. Be aware that the street names and numbering system may have changed. These are now available online at IUPUI University Library City Directories.

7. Compare maps created for fire insurance purposes from 1867-1970 produced by the Sanborn Map Company. It will indicate any alterations in your house and/or outbuildings. The Indiana State Library has a collection on microfilm and can fulfill requests by mail. Many county libraries may also have local area maps available. These are now also available online at IUPUI University Library Sanborn Maps.

8. Check out county atlases. They will indicate ownership and sometimes show the position of buildings on the land. They will sometimes have the history of the county along with biographical sketches of the county's citizens.

9. Check the county histories. They will tell the history of the county and often have biographical sketches of some of its citizens.

10. Check the vertical files for pamphlets, news clippings, and brochures on historic buildings in the area.

11. Search the newspapers for the obituaries of previous owners of the house. Wedding announcements also might provide additional information and mention of the house. Perhaps, you will find an article that featured the home's architecture and/or décor.

12. Search for biographical information on the previous owners, builders and/or architects of the house. Family histories, scrapbooks, diaries, memoirs, and other such items might provide you with additional information.

13. Consult the census records that will tell you much information about the people living in the household beginning with the 1850 census.

14. Odyssey Antique Maps has unique maps for areas of old Indianapolis/Indiana counties & towns, USA, and select foreign cities and counties.

For more information, refer to the Historic House Research Handbook found in the verticle files in your local library.

This information was found, in part, in the Indiana Room at the Noblesville Southeastern Public Library, January 2001. UPDATED November 2012.

The Indiana State Archives has records of the General Land Office for Indiana, including tract books and the original plats and field notes made by federal surveyors. The Archives is the office of record for state lands such as Wabash and Erie Canal, Michigan Road, and Swamp Lands.

Over 100,000 aerial photographs are in the Archives, including some of the earliest ever taken in Indiana. Other significant photograph collections include the Indiana State Fair, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Corrections, and the Indianapolis Board of Public Safety. For more information on the many collections and the location and hours click here.

The Indiana Historical Society has photographs of architecturally significant sites from around the state based on the Wilbur D. Peat Collection - these photographs are arranged by address, as well as many other visual collections of historical sites.

Your local Historical Society is also a good place to find information.

*An Example of a legal description is JOHNSONS SUB ORIG IRV 63 L4, many times the property can be found using just the owner's name and current address. The legal description comes from the original plat map of the city and subsequent divisions, which can also be found at the County Recorder's Office.