House History Aid
For the beginner, writing the biography of your home is a challenge. The steps in this guide will help you get started and will open the path for further exploration.
When starting your investigation, check for information already compiled by earlier researchers. The Indiana Historic Sites and Structure Inventory has been completed for Marion County. This is a survey of historic properties, published under the name Interim Reports. Consult the Interim Report (See related catalog search link below.) to see if your house has been surveyed. If your home is included, the Report will provide very basic information. You may want to contact the Indiana Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology to look at the site card. It may contain more architectural history of your home or building. The Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission can provide architectural and historic research aid to those involved in revitalizing historic areas and rehabilitating historic properties.
Indiana Landmarks assists with restoration questions on historic structures. They also respond to groups needing help in preserving individual buildings and historic neighborhoods. The Foundation publishes the booklet Historic House Research.
Your home or neighborhood may have been featured by local newspapers or magazines. The Central Library maintains a clipping file that includes articles on noteworthy local addresses, well-known homes and other significant buildings, historic areas and neighborhoods. With research you may discover your home was built or associated with a notable person or family. The clipping files also have articles on prominent local and state citizens.
After you have checked for published materials, what are your next steps? There are many avenues to follow.
The Indianapolis Public Library has city directories dating back to 1855, with suburban directories added in 1957. Publication of city directories ceased in 1989; suburban directories ceased publication in 1991. A Marion County Directory was published in 2001. (See related catalog searches below for these links.) Using these, you can trace the ownership or occupancy of your home over the years. Information given includes not only the name of the owner, but the owner's occupation or place of employment, and spouse's name. Before 1914 however, directories list persons only by surname and not by street and address. Also, some of the early directories are poorly organized and are unreliable as to the spelling of names.
Baist Atlases (See related catalog search link below.) are available in microform at the Central Library. Editions held are 1901, 1908, 1909, 1916, 1927, and 1941. Similar years are also available at the Indiana State Library and the Indiana Historical Society Library. These atlases contain plates which show structures and lots, give subdivision and lot numbers, and addresses of properties. By comparing editions, it is possible to follow the development of a neighborhood.
For structures built from 1887- 1950, Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps on microfilm can also be used. The Sanborn maps provide valuable building information including size, shape and construction materials. The maps also give street names, house and block numbers. In addition to the Indianapolis Public Library, (See related catalog search link below.) they are also available at the Indiana Division of the Indiana State Library, and the Indiana Historical Society. Please check with each of these institutions individually since their holdings of these maps and atlases may vary widely. Street addresses were changed in Indianapolis in 1887, 1899, and again in 1916; the Baist and Sanborn maps allow you to look up the different addresses for a specific property.
Plat books allow you to trace the ownership and development of a home or lot; property boundaries and easements are also shown. These records can be seen in the Marion County Recorder's Office in the City-County Building. Their records date back well into the 1800's; deeds may be researched in this office as well - however, to locate records prior to 1963 you must know the exact date of the deed.
The Genealogy Division of the Indiana State Library has some deed records for Marion County for the years 1822-1865.
The State Library's Indiana Division maintains a picture file of homes and areas of Marion County and Indiana. Pictures may be found by family name or by street address, though pictures of specific homes are primarily limited to those with a significant history. But there are many pictures of businesses and of street blocks in which private homes are clearly shown. Remember to make your search wide enough to include whole neighborhoods in case your particular home might be visible on pictures of a large geographic area (you might even catch a glimpse of the backyard of your house!) The Indiana Historical Society's visual collection includes pictures and postcards of many scenes of Indianapolis streets. They also have "Archie" (Architectural Index Computer) with which pictures of buildings may be accessed by street name or style of architecture. The local historic Bass Photo Collection (some 25,000 prints) is located at the IHS - these photographs may be reproduced for a fee; many are available online through the Historical Society Library's catalog. The architectural drawings collection contains representations of major buildings and some homes - please allow them 48 hours to verify and locate these documents. The IHS also has photographs of architecturally significant sites from around the state based on the Wilbur D. Peat Collection - these photographs are arranged by address.
Discovering the History of your House and your Neighborhood (907.2) by Betsy J. Green, and House Histories: a Guide to Tracing the Genealogy of Your Home (728.37) by Sally Light are available to lead you through your search of your home's background. Other books related to home history and to historic homes may be found in the Library's catalog by using subject headings such as those listed on the House History guided search, and their many subheadings. The subject heading "Historic Buildings - Indiana" for instance, will produce such titles as Historic Indiana, A guide to Indiana properties as listed in the National Register of Historic Places (977.2) and the many recent city and county interim reports of historic sites and structures, which are excellent sources of information and photographs of old homes and other buildings. (See related catalog search links below.) To find helpful agencies outside Marion County, consult the Directory of Historical Organizations in the United States and Canada (R970.062).
To really wrap up the loose ends of your home's past, visit the office of your neighborhood newspaper if one exists. Also, check the yellow pages of the telephone directory under "Newspapers". The newspaper files or perhaps one of their staff might be a source of information. If your area has a neighborhood association, contact their office; it may be a concentrated source of pictures, maps, or other information. To find organizations in your neighborhood, check the Registered Community Organizations Directory on the IndyGov website. And, for some intimate accounts of what has gone on inside your particular four walls, try to locate any former owners or occupants or their relatives. Neighbors should be of help here, and might themselves provide some good stories!