7 Additional Research

The process of researching a basic house history may create a desire for additional facts about physical aspects of the house, its occupants, architectural styles, historic preservation, or a history of the neighborhood.

Photographs, maps, and stock plans are among the materials included in the following suggestions. These are possible avenues of exploration to be used in compiling a more detailed house history.

Information about the people who lived in the house might be obtained from sources mentioned earlier. The reference libraries at the Minnesota Historical Society and the Minneapolis History Collection in the central library contain biography-obituary card files. These indexes are arranged alphabetically and give references to an article or obituary and the date and publication in which it appeared. Mention of a hitherto unknown relative, address, or circumstance may open another possible line of investigation.

Personal interest may lead to compilation of information about the neighborhood in which the house stands. There are very few neighborhood histories available, although there are many neighborhood organizations in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Some issue regular publications about their communities, but these – and the organizations – vary widely in their emphasis on local history.

Talking with long-time residents of the neighborhood about their memories of the area might be useful, bearing in mind that reminiscences may not always be entirely accurate and that information gathered in this way should be verified when possible from documents or reliable secondary sources.

In Minneapolis, the “Hennepin County Historic Plat Maps” show the city and suburbs as they appeared during the times of major growth before the turn of the century. There were six mappings between 1860 and 1890; copies may be consulted at any Hennepin County library and at the Hennepin County Government Center. Hennepin County Central Services, located in the Center, will reproduce the maps for a fee. Copies may be ordered directly from the Central Services, or through the county libraries.

The search for the history of one’s house may have kindled an interest in the study of architecture in general. A possible date for construction may be derived by identifying the basic architectural style of the house and the time when it was popular. This method will not give an exact date, but it will help to narrow the time period to within a decade or two. A vast amount of literature exists for the exploration of all aspects of this topic. Some of the best introductory publications are included in the “Reading List” at the end of the guide. Most of these are available in college, university, and public libraries and historical societies.

The search may have been stimulated by an interest in house restoration, an interest that is increasing rapidly throughout the country. There is a wealth of information concerning the renovation and restoration of old dwellings. Public libraries contain many publications pertaining to historic preservation. The Minnesota Society American Institute of Architects, whose office is in Minneapolis, could refer interested persons to an architect who specializes in restorations.


The Audio-Visual Materials Collections at the Minnesota Historical Society and the Minneapolis History Collection have the best photograph collections in the Twin Cities and contain many photographs taken before 1900. Although it may be difficult to locate photographs of individual houses, street scenes often show rows of houses which may include the one being sought. These street scenes also convey an idea of the early appearance of the house and the street.


The Minnesota Historical Society, the public libraries and the University of Minnesota library have copies of magazines that regularly published house plans, including House Beautiful, Ladies Home Journal, and Keith’s Magazine. Publications such as these, issued around the time one’s house was built, may contain either similar or identical floor plans and interior arrangements which might furnish proof that the house was erected from stock plans.

The Minnesota Historical Society also holds collections of Minnesota architects’ and contractors’ papers in its Archives and Manuscripts Division. Among these collections are the records of the Architects Small House Service Bureau, a national cooperative program begun in 1920 to supply plans for small, low-cost homes. The plans for many small “anonymous” dwellings may be present in this collection. These, too, must be used at the Archives and Manuscripts Division and cannot be loaned.


County historical societies and branch libraries are more limited resources of information for house histories. They sometimes hold files of local newspapers (as will the libraries previously mentioned), clippings, and photographs which may disclose additional accounts of the area and the people who lived in it, and, for this reason, should not be overlooked in any search.

At the beginning of this guide, the reader was advised that success in searching for one’s house history was not guaranteed. Whether the desired information is found or not, the searcher will have gained a valuable introduction to research methods and a familiarity with record-keeping practices of government and institutions that may be applied in later pursuits.

This guide is intended as a beginning aid in constructing a basic outline to which one can add details in the future. Like a genealogy, a house history will provide a fascinating glimpse into the past and make that past more personal.


Repositories and Government Offices


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Drafting a House History Copyright © by Compiled by Barbara Bezat and Alan K. Lathrop is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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