How to Find Out if Your Home is Just Really Old or Historical

By: JoVon Sotak , Contributing Writer
In: Old House History

House prices are pretty great right now in many parts of the country thanks to the wrecked economy and interest rates are low, so it makes sense to buy if you’re in a position to. And you’d know if that old house you bought and want to renovate is a historical house right?

Not exactly.

Even people who are buying and selling homes in historical districts are trying to argue that some homes are just old not historical. Thus begins a long debate on what makes a property historical.

Even if the house has an amazing history, it won’t be on the National Registry of Historic Places unless someone collected the history and completed the paperwork so that the state historic preservation office could nominate the property for the registry. Also keep in mind that the registry wasn’t around until the 1960s, which leaves a lot of years for histories of homes to be lost along the way.

So what do you do to find out?

If you’re keen on research and love to spend time at your community’s museum or historical society and library, chances are you’re already hot on the trail and reading through back issues of old newspapers and digging into old county tax assessment records chasing down leads and figuring out the whos and the whats. (Update: If you’re interested in learning more about researching historical properties but don’t know where to start, check out the National Register Bulletin 39: Researching a Historic Property.)

If you just read that paragraph and thought, Ewwwwwww!, then you’re in the second camp: you hire someone who read the above paragraph and thought, Woohoo–exactly! Yes, they’re out there, and they have businesses.

One such person is real estate agent, writer and historic researcher Audrey Elder. Audrey opened up her business, Past to Present in February 2009 with partner and fellow historical researcher Liana Twente. Past to Present is a historic homes research service for the Kansas City area of Missouri. Elder always had what she describes as a “fascination in history” and had talked for years about specializing in historic properties. She then met Liana who has a bachelor’s degree in history from Northwest Missouri State University and discovered they had a shared passion in researching historic properties.

“I think this is a viable business,” said Elder, who shares that there are a number of businesses that that do exactly the kind of historic research services that Past to Present does, but most of them on the east coast or Canada and there are no businesses in the Kansas City area. Though their business focuses on the Kansas City area and a few nearby counties, they plan to expand to other counties and into Kansas.

As far as Elder know, there are no companies who provide these types of services nationally, so you’re better off looking locally for these types of services. What makes Elder and Twente especially unique is that they use their historical research superpowers in their real estate business as part of a specialized team for Reece and Nichols real estate. Any homeowner who lists their property gets the standard historic research package, which results in a printed book that is given to the buyer. This is the same sort of package you could purchase for the currently low rate of $350 that would save a load of time and research.

Continue to part two of this series to find out what’s included in such a package and why it may be in your best interest as an old-house owner to have this type of information.


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  1. 5 Responses  to “How to Find Out if Your Home is Just Really Old or Historical”

  2. Aug 29, 2011
    Doing deed histories is interesting work but don't expect to do it quickly. One of my favorite sources of info, is the vertical file that our librarian keeps on all things relating to historic houses in our town. People like her are great allies in the deed history process. When you determine the age of the house, consider formalizing it with a hand painted historic house plaque like we hand craft. But like I said, deed history searches can be a fun mystery that helps you feel connected to the past. Every deed leads to the next one prior, and the handwritten details and sketches in the deed books are priceless.
  3. Aug 29, 2011
    Hi, Emma. Thanks for the note. I'm not sure what public records you may have available to you in Ireland, but perhaps one of our other readers know. The structure you mention sounds fascinating. Have you checked with the local historian? If you're not sure where to start, the library should be able to help point you to a historian or local historical society. Best of luck figuring it out!
  4. Emma Barry
    Aug 29, 2011
    I was just wondering if theres any sort of Census you can look up to see if a site is listed? I live in a 300 year old house which was once a convent, scholl, my grandparents, and my own house respectively. I have checked the listed buildings in Bruff, Co.Limerick, and its not listed, something I suspected anyway. However, its the hill field that Im interested in. It has a raised platform in the middle, with large (10 foot) jagged stones set at angles to each other, seeming to form part of a fort wall. On the lower terrain there are the reamins of what looked like castle gardens/ paddocks. There is also an interesting 6 foot in diameter stone sitting in a bottom corner, which looks like it once had a removable lid. Some people speculate that this is the escapee tunnel which leads in two directions- one to the top of the town, and one to the ajoning town- where it comes out in the ruins of Bulgaden Castle. If anyone can help me please email e on The house address is: Hill House/ The Hill Bruff Co. Limerick Ireland, - if that helps.
  5. Aug 29, 2011
    Frank--that's a great question and you've given me a topic for a future blog post. The short answer is that the federal government doesn't have any say in what you do to your designated historic house if you haven't received any federal money. However, state and local laws for designated historic properties may be different, so it depends where the house is located.
  6. frank
    Aug 29, 2011
    I know people that have old houses and would shy away from the 'historic' designation-fearing that it may prohibit them from adding on to the house at a later date. I wonder if this true?