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Articles on the History of Essex, Researching your Ancestors,
and British History
Tinker? Tailor? Soldier? Sailor? Who lived in your house?
From the the grandest mansion, to the smallest cottage,
each has a unique history.
Researching the history of your house.
Who lived in my house? When was it built? What is its history? Discovering the history of your house can be a fascinating challenge. The house does not have to be grand or large, even the smallest cottage can be researched. However, it may not be possible to find its complete history, nor even the date it was built. Nevertheless, it will be possible to find out a little about who lived in your house and who owned it.
The first step is to set out what you know already. Then try the title deeds to the house which may contain some information. If you do not have them, they may be at your solicitors or building society. It is unlikely they will go back many years, but they may give some recent information on the house owners. They may also give any indication if the house has changed in its function. i.e from a commercial premises to residential.
Ask your neighbours, if they have lived in area for some time they may know a little of the previous occupiers.
Look at the house for architectural evidence. Unfortunately, a plaque with the date of the house "built 1826" is always to be taken with a pinch of salt until you can prove it in documentary sources. An old house will probably have undergone many alterations, extensions and renovations which hide or confuse the evidence. Architecture styles of different periods are described in the many books availble in your local library.
Having carried out a review of the physical evidence, now is the time to turn to the archives. The first is maps. As to the types of maps available, have a look at our article on maps. The most important for your purposes are the Ordnance Survey and tithe maps. Locate your house on each of these maps. If yours was built in the Victorian period you may be able to date its approximate construction by its lack of appearance on an earlier map. These maps will also allow you to place your house in its surrounding area and allow you to plot the route of the census enumerator. You may have to note the names of surrounding houses or farms as these may be referred to on the census by name if yours is not.
In Essex, the Essex Record Office will have some electoral returns and rate books for the 20th century and a trawl through these may give you some names of the occupants of your house.
Next you need to gain access to the census returns for 1841 - 1911. Unfortunately online suppliers of the census returns such as Ancestry.co.uk have concentrated on indexing the names on the census and not the house names. However, it is possible to download the entire return for a village or town. Alternatively, go to the record office and view the returns on microfilm or through their internet access points.
With the aid of the maps, identify your house from the census return. You may find the house name already stated on the return. The returns will show who was in your house on the night of the census. It is not a guide as to who lived there all the time. However, if you are lucky, the same family may be living in the house over several decades.
Now you have identified the 19th century occupiers, you can go back in time and use other records, some parish based, some manorial, some based on different tax returns. The Essex Record Office has a more detailed guide on the types of records available in their collection: History Of My House.
Discovering the history of your house is a fascinating journey of exploration but is sometimes frustrating; however, it is worthwhile, and through it you will learn that you are only the temporary owner of the house and its guardian for future generations.
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