Tracing the history of a house.
Step 1: Try to date the building
Use the house itself as your starting point, or a picture of it. How old is the property - e.g. 1960s, 1920s, 1800s? Books in your local library may help and the materials used in the construction of the building and details such as the patterns of the bricks can also help to date the house.
If possible, look at the house deeds, which tell the story of the ownership of the property. The deeds are usually held by the owner of the house so, if there is a mortgage on the property, the deeds are likely to be with the mortgage lender, in which case you may need to pay a fee to look at them. Alternatively, deeds may be held by the Land Registry or Warwickshire County Record Office. Legally, house deeds need only show ownership for the past 15 years but some deeds go back centuries.
Step 2: Decide how to proceed
Work out what you are particularly interested in finding out, as this will determine what sources you need to look at. Is it the previous owners or occupiers you are interested in? Do you want to know when the house was actually built? Are you trying to find out what was on the site before the house was built?
Step 3: Setting the scene
Look at the building in the context of its local area. Are neighbouring houses of the same date? Has the building been converted from a previous use? Are there signs that the building has been altered e.g. blocked windows, extensions, new roof? Does the house have a name?
Do some background reading on local history. Work out which county and borough or district the property has been in, as this may help locate records.
You may find that books have been published that may mention the house or the street or give clues as to why houses may have been built at a particular time, e.g. the arrival of the railway or a new factory being built needing to house its workers locally.
Talking to neighbours or people who have lived in the area for a long time can yield interesting stories about the property and its owners, although these may need to be corroborated from other sources! Local history societies can have a wealth of knowledge and information available amongst their members and may be able to provide useful contacts or suggest further sources to consult.
Step 4: Sources for tracing a building
Solihull Heritage Gateway
Our online Heritage & Local Studies catalogue is not yet a complete listing of everything we hold, but is a useful starting point. It does include details of building plans 1880-1932 as well as some maps and photographs.
Solihull Heritage & Local Studies Card Index
Check our Heritage & Local Studies Card Index at Solihull Central Library, which gives details of books, pamphlets, newspaper articles etc. on thousands of local topics.
Ordnance Survey Maps
We have Ordnance Survey maps for areas within the current borough of Solihull, dating from the 1880s to the present day. Maps were produced at approximately 20-year intervals, although revisions were interrupted in the 1930s/40s owing to war.
Usually dating from about 1840, these maps and their accompanying apportionments can tell you who owned land at that time, who occupied it and what it was being used for. We have copies of tithe maps and apportionments for most local parishes.
Many of the building plans submitted to Solihull Council 1880-1932 are listed on the Solihull Heritage Gateway. Search for “plan” plus the name of the road.
A number of sale catalogues, notably for larger houses or estates, from the nineteenth century to the present day are available. Check the Solihull Heritage & Local Studies Card Index at Solihull Central Library for individual properties. If the date of sale or auction is known, it can also be worthwhile checking local newspapers.
Step 5: Sources for tracing occupants
If you can access the deeds to the building, they can give details of previous owners and dates of transfer of the property between owners. The names of the owners can then lead you to other sources such as electoral registers and trade directories.
Compiled mostly to aid commercial travellers, these can give details of residents as well as listing facilities available and including classified directories by trade. They were published on a county by county basis and towns and villages are listed alphabetically. We have directories for Warwickshire from 1822-1940 and directories for Solihull up to the 1960s.
Dating from 1832 to the present for all places now within the Solihull borough, electoral registers list people entitled to vote. Registers up to the 1920s are usually in name order, whilst later registers are arranged by address. Registers pre-1973 at Solihull Central Library are on microfilm - please ask staff.
Census records 1841-1901 for Solihull are available on microfilm or microfiche and are listed by address. Everyone in a household is listed and their names, ages, occupations and places of birth are given.
Census returns for all of England, Wales and Scotland 1841-1901 can be searched by name free of charge from library computers via the Ancestry website. It is also possible to browse the census records on Ancestry by place - see our help sheet (attached right) on how to do this.
We have phone books for the Solihull area 1963 to the present day.
These are on microfilm - a list of the parish registers is attached, see right.
Indexes to wills proved in England & Wales between 1858-1943 (called National Probate Calendars) are available on microfiche at Solihull Heritage & Local Studies Service.
Tax records, manorial records and rate books may be available at Warwickshire County Record Office.