House History Researching Guide
Home of A. J. Kearney, 1894. More information
The process of researching the roots of a house or other building can be extensive and confusing, as there are many places to search for potential information. Researchers sometimes must search through a vast number of records in different locations. At other times, research can prove frustrating when little or no information exists about a particular piece of property. The McNeese Archives staff can assist you in researching the history of your home. Please contact us for an appointment to use our materials. The following guide describes several types of information that might help in your research, including links to resources outside of the McNeese Library.
GENERAL BOOKS, ARTICLES, AND PAMPHLETS ON RESEARCHING HOUSE HISTORY. Note: Although the McNeese Library does not hold many of the following resources, they are available through Interlibrary Loan.
Bezat, Barbara. Drafting a House History. Minneapolis: Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota, 1979. 12 p.
Blumenson, John J. G. Identifying American Architecture: A Pictorial Guide to Styles and Terms, 1600-1945. Revised ed. New York: Norton, 1990. 118 p. Includes photos from the Historic American Buildings Survey.
Brown, Norman. “Your House’s Roots.” Early American Life (April 1986): 14-16. Copy available in the McNeese Archives & Special Collections Department PAM 391.
Brownstone Biographies. The House Research Guide: A Step by Step Manual for Owners, Occupants and Other Old House Lovers. Brooklyn, N. Y.: Brownstone Biographies, 1978. 19 p.
Chidley, George A. How to Research the History of a House. Trenton, N.J.: Dept. of Environmental Protection, Div. of Parks and Forestry, Bureau of Parks, Historic Preservation Office, 1994. 11 p.
Ellsworth, Linda. The History of a House: How to Trace It. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1976. 8 p. (Technical leaflet / American Association for State and Local History, 89).
Folsom, Michael B. “Searching for Ghosts: How to Track Down the History of an Old Country House.” Blair & Ketchum’s Country Journal (January 1980): 92-100. Copy available in the McNeese Archives & Special Collections Department PAM 391.
Foster, Gerald L. American houses: a field guide to the architecture of the home. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. Available in the McNeese Library E-Book Collection: NA 7205 .F68 2004 EB.
Friedman, Donald. Historical Building Construction: Design, Materials, and Technology. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995. 238 p. Written for construction professionals, the book is a primer on how New York's buildings have gone up and come down.
Houses & Homes: Exploring Their History. The Nearby History Series, v. 2. Reprint ed. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 1987. 168 p.
Howard, Hugh. How Old Is This House?: A Skeleton Key to Dating and Identifying Three Centuries of American Houses. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1989. 224 p.
Kyvig, David E and Myron A. Marty. Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 2000. Available in the McNeese Library General Collection: E 180.5 .N98 2000. Guidance in investigating the complete history of your immediate environment--your communities, families, institutions, and cultural artifacts.
Light, Sally. House Histories: A Guide to Tracing the Genealogy of Your Home. Spencertown, N.Y.: Golden Hill Press, 1989. 302 p. Available at the SWLA Genealogical Library: GEN 929.1 LIG 1989.
Maxwell, Shirley and James Massey. “Making the Honor Roll.” Old House Journal 21 (Jan. 1993): 44 ff. This article explains the criteria for the National Register of Historic Places, doing research, the registration process, individual vs. historic district, cost, and books available on the subject. Copy available in the McNeese Archives & Special Collections Department PAM 391.
McAlester, Virginia and Lee McAlester. A Field Guide to American Houses. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984. Available in the McNeese Library General Collection: NA 7205 .M35 1984. “The guide that enables you to identify, and place in their historic and architectural contexts, the houses you see in your neighborhood or in your travels across America--houses built for American families (rich, poor, and in-between), in city and countryside, from the 17th century to the present.”
Morgan, James. If These Walls Had Ears: The Biography of a House. New York: Warner Books, 1996. 276 p. A journalist wrests the secrets from his own home in Little Rock and tells the history of an old house and the seven other families who had called it home.
Schell, Ernest H. “Tracing the History of an Old House.” Early American Life (October 1981): 32, 95-99, 104. Copy available in the McNeese Archives & Special Collections Department PAM 391.
Summers, Lydia B. Researching the Old House. Portland, Me.: Greater Portland Landmarks, 1981. 72 p.
Your House Has a History. Chicago, 1988. 8 p. Available here from the City of Chicago, Illinois.
BOOKS ON LOUISIANA ARCHITECTURE AND LOCAL HISTORY
Barras, Lloyd. Early homes of Lake Charles. Baton Rouge, La.: Claitor's Pub. Division, c1975. Available in both the McNeese Library General and Special Collections: NA 7238 .L26 B37.
Barras, Lloyd G. Lake Charles Street Names. Sulphur, La.: Wise Printing, 1992. Available in both the McNeese Library General and Special Collections: F 379 .L2 B377 1992 and as an electronic document at: http://ereserves.mcneese.edu/depts/archive/FTBooks/barras.htm
Hays, Mattie Sue Martin. Louisiana: sketches of historical homes and sights. Baton Rouge, La.: Claitor's Book Store, 1965. Available in both the McNeese Library General and Special Collections: NA 7235 .L8 H3
Kingsley, Karen. Buildings of Louisiana. Oxford [U.K.]; New York: Oxford University Press, c2003. Available in both the McNeese Library General and Special Collections: NA 730 .L8 K55 2003.
Lane, Bernard H. The Industrial Development of Lake Charles, Louisiana, 1920-1950. Thesis (M.A.) Louisiana State University, 1959. Available in the McNeese Library Special Collection: HC 108 .L25 L354 1959 1992 and as an electronic document at: http://ereserves.mcneese.edu/depts/archive/FTBooks/lane.htm
Love, Frances Taylor. Louisiana French homes and furnishings 1750-1830. [Lafayette, La.?] : Frances Love, 1999. Available in the McNeese Library General Collection: NA 7235 .L8 L68.
Millet, Donald J., Sr. The Economic Development of Southwest Louisiana, 1865-1900. Thesis (Ph.D.) Louisiana State University, 1964. Available in the McNeese Library Special Collection: HC 107 .L8 M54 1964 and as an electronic document at: http://ereserves.mcneese.edu/depts/archive/FTBooks/millet.htm
Ross, Nola Mae. Louisiana's Acadian homes and their history. Lake Charles, La.: N.M. Ross ; <Lake Charles, La.> Printed by Print Service, Inc., c1999. Available in both the McNeese Library General and Special Collections: NA 7235 .L8 R684.
Ross, Nola Mae. If walls could talk! Lake Charles, La.: Print Service, Inc., 1997-98. Available in both the McNeese Library General and Special Collections: F379.L2 R6 1997.
Seebold, Herman Boehm de Bachelle, 1875-. Old Louisiana plantation homes and family trees. New Orleans: Pub. priv. (Pelican Press), c1941. Available in the McNeese Library General Collection: F 370 .S4 V.1
Ulmer, Grace. The Economic and Social Development of Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, 1840-1912. Thesis (M.A.) Louisiana State University, 1935. Available in the McNeese Library Special Collection: HC 107 .L8 U45 1935 and as an electronic document at: http://ereserves.mcneese.edu/depts/archive/FTBooks/ulmer.htm .
Types of Information
The Abstract of Title lists in chronological order any legal documents that may have had an effect on the title to a house or piece of land. Sometimes homeowners receive the abstract at the time of purchase. If you do not have the abstract, call an abstracting company to see whether or not your abstract is available and their policy on releasing it. If it is unavailable, your realtor may be able to get it from the previous owner of the house.
For more information about the chain of title (a record of the transfers of the house title through the years) you will need the legal description of the property (either a Section, Township and Range for a rural property or a lot and block number in a city), found on the deed or through the Parish Appraiser. Next you need the deed index, which can be found at the Register of Deeds office at the courthouse. This index usually contains information on the grantee, grantor, legal description, date and amount paid.
Calcasieu Parish Clerk of Court
P.O. Box 1030
Lake Charles, LA 70602
If you cannot find the deed index there, this website may be useful (though there is a charge for this service): http://www.register-of-deeds.com/Louisiana/Lake_Charles/
In most cases, contractors and owners are required to have a building permit available onsite during construction. It should show the applicant’s name and the date of the permit, and the building inspector’s contact information. If this is not available to you, collect as much information as possible, local government offices will be able to find the records for the house of interest. If the name of the previous owner is not available, the local assessor’s office may be able to find it.
City of Lake Charles Permit Office
326 Pujo Street
Lake Charles, LA 70601
Calcasieu Parish Assessor's Office
1011 Lakeshore Drive Room 101
Lake Charles, LA 70601
Plat books are bound maps of city streets with information about landowners. The McNeese Archives has plat books from 1908, 1925, 1929, 1938, and 1946 (call number: G 4013 .B4). To access materials in the McNeese Archives and Special Collections Department, please contact the staff for an appointment.
The McNeese Archives has several historical maps that can give you a sense of when a building was built. Contact the staff for more information. Sanborn maps, also known as fire insurance maps, can give you information on when your house was built and the basic footprint. Users can access electronic Sanborn maps from the McNeese campus at: http://sanborn.umi.com/. The Library of Congress provides access to the 1885-1898 Sanborn maps for Lake Charles here. A key to Sanborn map symbols is available here.
ARCHITECTURAL RECORDS AND HOUSE PLANS
Architectural records can give you information about a particular building or general information about the architect or firm that designed the building. The McNeese Archives is fortunate to have records and plans from two local firms: Dunn & Quinn Architectural Records and the John M. Gabriel Architectural Records. To access materials in the McNeese Archives and Special Collections Department, please contact the staff for an appointment.
The Southeastern Architectural Archives at Tulane University has the largest collection of architectural records in the southern United States. They can also help you find historic fire insurance atlases, city directories, building trade catalogs and the records of architects and firms from 1819 to the 1980s. For more information about their collections, visit: http://seaa.tulane.edu/
Magazines such as House Beautiful, Ladies Home Journal, and Keith's Magazine once included advertisements for house plans. Users can search issues published around the time the house was built to see if the house was made from a stock plan.
City directories are yearly records of all residents in a particular town, noting their street addresses, occupation, and/or office address. The city directories are similar to telephone directories, although some offer a street address index which allows users to track the residents of a particular address throughout its history. The McNeese Archives has an extensive collection of city directories for Lake Charles: 1895, 1901, 1917, and 1925-present. To access the directories, contact the Archives. The Southwest Louisiana Genealogical and Historical Library also has an extensive collection of directories.
The McNeese Archives provides a searchable database of Southwest Louisiana images through the Louisiana Digital Library. Search for photos of your house, street, or neighborhood.
HISTORICAL SOCIETIES AND OTHER LIBRARIES
The Calcasieu Historical Preservation Society (CHPS), http://www.calcasieupreservation.org/, is a non-profit organization whose focus is to preserve historic buildings, objects, and places relating to the history of Louisiana and Calcasieu Parish. The CHPS recognizes local historic homes and buildings with its Landmark Award and has compiled many additional resources to aid you in your house history search. The McNeese Archives holds the records of the CHPS. To access the collection, contact the Archives.
Some states have a state-level registry for historic homes and buildings, however Louisiana does not. The Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism's Office of Historic Preservation manages the state's applications for the National Register of Historic Places.
The Southwest Louisiana Genealogical and Historical Library's collection offers a treasure of material to the genealogical researcher in the form of books, periodicals, microfilm, compiled family records and electronic databases.
The McNeese Archives holds microfilm copies of most local newspapers. The American Press online archives (available on the McNeese campus or by subscription) are keyword searchable and can provide a wealth of information about a particular address. For more information about searching the American Press online, see this handy guide. The McNeese Library also holds other local newspapers on microfilm. Search the Library’s catalog for more information on titles and holdings.
LOCAL HISTORY AND MANUSCRIPT MATERIALS (LETTERS, DIARIES, ETC.)
Finding information on the historical trends of the town in which you belong as well as information about the ethnic groups that settled in the area can give much information when trying to understand the history of a house. The McNeese Archives holds many historical resources, both published and unpublished. For general local history works, see our collection of Full-Text books online. Search the Library’s catalog for other published works and Government Information. Search archives and manuscript holdings from our Collections page. The Maud Reid Scrapbook Index provides a particularly helpful guide to the contents of the scrapbooks held at the McNeese Archives. To access materials in the McNeese Archives and Special Collections Department, please contact the staff for an appointment.
TAX ASSESSMENT ROLLS
Tax assessment rolls can been beneficial in tracing the value of the property over the years. Large increases or decreases can indicate damages or new constructions/additions to the house. These records can be found at the Calcasieu Tax Assessor’s office, or at their webpage:
http://www.calcasieuassessor.org (Click on “Property Search”)
MECHANICS’ LIENS AND ESTATE RECORDS
Mechanics Liens are filed in order to make sure the contractor was paid properly for his or her work. The liens lists the contracting parties, the work put into the house, the amount paid, and the address.
Estate records are records of the final settlement of a deceased’s estate. If a person dies without a will, the contents of their house will be appraised, giving an inventory of the house for researchers as well as information about the selling of the property.
Access both at:
Calcasieu Parish Clerk of Court
P.O. Box 1030
Lake Charles, LA 70602
PHYSICAL EXAMINATION/MATERIAL CULTURE
Simply taking a closer look at the house itself can give you a look at its history. You may be able to find hints by looking for apparent additions to the house, the construction, or even old artifacts in the house may shed some light on its history. Also, look at other houses in the neighborhood and compare/contrast with your own to see if your house was built at the same time as the others or not.
Census records can give information on members of the household, ages, family relationship, occupation and various other information on previous owners of a house. These can be found at the National Archives or the U.S. GenWeb Project for Calcasieu Parish .