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How to Research Your House

Family sitting down to tea

Family sitting down to tea

Meet the people who have lived in your house -

and learn much more, by doing some sleuthing.

The First Step

First, check to see whether your house has already been documented. The Preservation Office at State History has files on hundreds of buildings throughout the state, including those listed in the State and National registers. Copies are available for a nominal cost. Contact the Historic Preservation staff.

If your house has not been documented previously, then you should check the following sources for information:

Title Abstracts

At the County Recorder’s Office, research all the transactions involving your property, noting the date, names of buyers and sellers, and the dollar amounts and types of transactions (warranty deed, quit claim deed, mortgage, etc.).

Indications of a construction date are the first relatively large mortgage or the dramatic increase in the selling price of the property.

Note: you will need the legal description of the property to do this research, not simply the address.

Glossary of Real Estate Terms (Used in Property Records/Title Abstracts)  

Sanborn Maps

The Utah History Research Center and the University of Utah Marriott Library have many of these maps. Many older Sanborn maps can be found online at the University of Utah Marriott Library.

These fire insurance maps were drawn for more than 75 communities in the state, many as early as the late 1880s, and were updated periodically as late as 1969. The maps show each building on the principal residential and commercial blocks in the community and they are color coded to indicate the various construction materials.

By comparing the maps from different years, you can establish an approximate date of construction and can determine when and what types of changes have been made to the building and surrounding property.

Tax File

Find this at the county assessor’s office or the county archives for Salt Lake County. This file usually provides an estimated date of construction (but don’t trust it completely). It may also contain an older photograph of your house and perhaps other structural information.

Building Permit Registers

At the Utah History Research Center, find building permit registers for Salt Lake City, 1889-1954, and Provo, 1922-25 and 1928. These provide the date the permit was issued, the address of the property, the estimated cost of construction, a brief description of the building, the name of the owner, and sometimes the names of the architect and builder.

Newspapers

Utah History Research Center and university libraries have newspapers for many Utah communities on microfilm. Many are also available online in the Utah Digital Newspapers Archive.

  • Small town newspapers are generally weekly. Information about the construction of major buildings in the community–schools, churches, public buildings, commercial buildings–usually appears on the front page. References to the construction of houses are often found in the “local” column.
  • Large city newspapers such as the Deseret News and The Salt Lake Tribune usually have a real estate section in which most of the important construction news appears. Information about the construction of individual houses is also given, though not on a consistent basis. Advertisements in this section by builders and real estate firms are also useful sources of information, often highlighting recently completed buildings.
  • Annual “List of Buildings” for Salt Lake City–These appear in the January 1st issue of the Salt Lake Tribune from 1889 until 1899. The lists give the location, cost, brief description, and name of the owner of each building built during the previous year.
  • “List of Buildings” for Ogden–This list contains the same kind of information as the one above. However, it appears only one time—in the Salt Lake Tribune, January 1, 1892, p. 39 (for buildings constructed in 1891).

Architects File

Historic Preservation Office, State History—We have information about many of the architects and builders in Utah in this file, along with lists of some of the buildings they designed or constructed. Architectural drawings of historic buildings are extremely rare since most houses were not individually designed by formally schooled architects. Even the works of many of Utah’s prominent architects are unavailable.

The best collection of historic architectural drawings is at the U of U Marriott Library Special Collections. These are organized under each architect’s name, so you must determine who the architect of your house is before you begin searching for specific drawings. The Utah History Research Center also has a few architectural drawings (check with Research Center staff).

Biographical Information on Owners

Try the following sources:

  • City directories (larger cities only)—These annual listings provide the names, addresses and occupations of everyone in the city. They are arranged in alphabetical order by name in the earlier years, but from 1924 on properties are listed by both occupant name and address. Directories are useful in verifying when a house was built and whether the owners lived in it themselves or rented it out (Utah History Research Center and other libraries).
  • State gazetteers—These annual volumes include virtually every community in the state, but unlike city directories they usually list only those who are involved with business enterprises and they do not give addresses.
  • Biographical index—Arranged alphabetically by name, this card catalog at the Utah History Research Center gives specific references for names found in publications at Research Center.
  • “Mormons and Their Neighbors”—a two-volume reference set that provides names and where to find biographical/historical references information for them.
  • Biographical encyclopedias such as “Pioneers and Prominent Men,” “Utah’s Distinguished Personalities,” etc.
  • Genealogical records (LDS Church Family History Library)—also available online at websites such ashttp://www.familysearch.org, or http://landing.ancestry.com.
  • Census schedules (available on microfilm at our Research Center and university and genealogical libraries)—These list the members of each household, their ages, occupations, places of birth etc. In some later census schedules the address of each household may also be given. Census schedules are arranged by county and city and are available for each decade from 1850 to 1930 (1890 excluded).
  • Family histories—Written histories, journals, letters, photographs, etc. are sometimes available from family members. Verbal accounts from the family and others associated with the property are also often useful.
  • Obituary Index (available on microfilm at our Research Center and university and genealogical libraries)—This list indexes obituaries in The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News from 1850 to 1970. The Salt Lake Tribune is also indexed separately from 1941 to 1991.
  • Local histories—Community and LDS ward histories may contain information about early settlers or prominent community members.