Finding a house is something that lots of family historians want to do and we get lots of queries through the website for places that do not have an exact modern address (perhaps the house no longer exists or has had a name change). So, we thought that we would add some general guidance on how to find a property that would be of use to everyone.
Research the information available about the people first
Before you can find a house, you need to have at least an approximate location. The best source for this depends on the date you are researching. We explain about these records and where to find them in our advice page, so this page only talks about how to use the records to find addresses.
- Parish registers are the main source before 1837. Sometimes the entries include an address, or at least the name of a street or area.
- A full UK census is available once a decade from 1841 onwards. They are only published 100 years after they were taken, so later census data is not yet available.
- Birth, marriage and death certificates record addresses. They are available from 1837 onwards.
- Electoral Rolls are published every year and show who in a household is entitled to vote. From 1918 this includes men over 21 and women over 30. From 1928, women over 21 were also able to vote. The rolls do not give details other than name and address and, obviously, no children are mentioned. The rolls are available on many genealogical sites.
- 1939 Register was created at the start of World War II this is the equivalent of a census and gives a great deal of information about people at the time. This does include children.
- Telephone directories can be useful for finding people in more modern times.
Census information – and how to interpret it
The amount of information recorded on the census increases with time and can vary from place to place. As a minimum, for each household, you will get the names, ages and some form of location. The quality of the location information varies wildly and depends on the type of neighbourhood.
- City or large town: you are likely to get a street name and number.
- Small town: you may get just the area or a street name with a house number.
- Countryside: you may get just the name of the village.
If you are lucky enough to have an exact address, then that’s great but if you haven’t how do you locate a house more accurately? The answer is to look at the list of houses around the one in which you are interested. Perhaps they are more well known or identifiable and you can locate them accurately.
Do be aware that census enumerators do not necessarily walk in a straight line. They may criss-cross a road or even appear to enter information in a random order, when perhaps people were not at home when he first called.
Don’t forget to look at trade directories
Trade directories have existed for hundreds of years as a way for businesses to advertise. During the 19th century they expanded their remit to cover residents as well. At first, it was just notable individuals of the area but later it includes all houses. The directories are still published, although much of the information is online now.
The structure of a trade directory is very variable. Sometimes the entries are alphabetical by trade or name, other times they are by location. For the purposes of identifying a house, location is most helpful.
You can find the directories in local libraries and also online. The University of Leicester has a large collection available.
Just search online
It is amazing what you can find if you simply search for it through a search engine, such as Google. Don’t just look at page 1 of the results, you will find gems on later pages! You can also use the advanced search to hone your query to get better results.
Look at maps – ancient and modern
Once you have a good idea of the area where a property might be, then start to look at maps, both modern and old.
Google Maps is good for tracing houses that may still exist and also for viewing the area where the house you are seeking might be. Used in conjunction with trade directory or census information, you can get a good idea of the area and using the ‘Street View’ you can wander up and down the street virtually.
There are a great many old maps available online via the National Library of Scotland website. The Old Maps Online site is also very useful as you can enter a location and then see a long list of maps available that cover it.
Other resources that you can use
These resources are mainly useful for expanding your knowledge about a house once you have identified it.
Estate agents’ websites and the Land Registry
If the house you are interested in has been sold within the last 30 years, the Land Registry may have information. Also try estate agents’ websites as these may retain information on old sales.
Local and national archives.
These hold a treasure trove of information including:
- Planning applications
- Estate documents
- Chancery cases
- and much more.