Researching the History of Your House
Exploring the history of your house can be fun, fascinating, and fulfilling. It can provide insight into previous residents or owners, the neighborhood, and the community at large. While this guide is targeted to those researching the history of a house, it may be used for any building. Don’t hesitate to ask the staff of the Missouri Valley Room of the Kansas City Public Library for assistance in your research.
Questions you may want to consider as you begin…
- When was the structure built?
- Who was the architect? The builder?
- What style is it?
- What did it look like originally?
- Who was the original owner? The original occupants?
- How does the structure fit in to the history of the neighborhood? The city?
Answers to these and other questions will come from a wide variety of sources.
Carmack, Sharon De Bartolo. “If These Walls Could Talk: A Primer for Tracing House Histories,” NGS NewsMagazine 30 (December 2004):59-60. [MVSC Periodicals]
Green, Betsy J. Discovering the History of Your House and Your Neighborhood. Santa Monica, CA: Santa Monica Press LLC, 2002. [Browsing MVSC 907.2 G795D; also available in the circulating collection]
Hone, E. Wade. Land and Property Research in the United States. Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry, 1997. [MVSC Q 929.1 H77L]
Jackson, David. These Wall Were Made for Talking from the Jackson County Historical Society for $2.
Law, Patricia. Locating Your Roots: Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records. Cincinnati, OH: Betterway Books, 2003. [MVSC Q 929.1 H36L]
See also Researching the History of Your House, a general bibliography and collection of links associated with researching the history of a house.
Forerunners of telephone books, city directories list people at their home addresses. Occupations, names of spouses, and marital status may also be included. Beginning in 1917, buildings are indexed by address, so you can discover who was living at a particular address. After finding a name (or names), you can look in other departmental indexes, such as the newspaper clippings index (not online, see below) and the online Digital Gallery (see below), for additional information about the individuals.
Hoye’s Blue Books
Available on microfilm: 1890/91; 1891/92; 1898/99; 1903; 1905/06; 1907/08; 1910/11; 1912; 1914/15; 1918/19
Several years also are bound copies [MVSC 099.1 K16].
These books provide names and addresses of prominent Kansas City families, as well as cross-referencing by address.
Kansas City Social Directory, 1924-1962. [MVSC 099.1 K17]
Includes names of socially prominent people, address of their residences, and others living in the household, along with what clubs they belonged to. Additionally the clubs have pages with a list of officers.
The Missouri Valley Special Collections Digital Gallery has a wealth of material to help in your research. It’s comprised of two parts: the Local History Index and a gallery of images, searchable together or separately.
The Local History Index has over 37,000 entries referencing books, magazine and newspaper articles, pamphlets, and special collections material related to the history of the area. It has citations for specific residences, businesses, buildings, neighborhoods, and people. To find these references, enter a search term in the search box and select the Local History Index button. Also search here for resources concerning former owners or information about a neighborhood. The Advanced Search option will give more targeted results.
The Digital Gallery features many different image collections such as postcards, photographs, maps, advertising cards, drawings and art work. Many have images of individual residences, other buildings and businesses, as well as people. To limit the search to images, select the "Images" button. While not every house in the city is in the Digital Gallery, check this database to see if your house might be represented. Also try searching by street name.
For more resources, see the online guide Architecture in the Missouri Valley Room.
In addition to the records found in the Local History Index, the library catalog provides bibliographic records and call numbers for materials that may have images or information relative to your search. Use the phrase "Kansas City, Mo. Pictorial works" (no quotes!) to retrieve records for a number of pictorial albums of Kansas City and its neighborhoods.
These maps, created by the Sanborn Map Company to assist fire insurance companies to assess the risk of insuring a particular property, are a great resource. Besides showing what buildings existed in a specific area at a certain time, the original shape (footprint) is illustrated, allowing you to pinpoint any remodeling or other changes that may have occurred over time. The footprints are color-coded to indicate building material (e.g., brick, frame, stucco), and other symbols are used to indicate roofing material, location of chimneys, water line availability, and other features.
Different parts of the city are covered in separate volumes. Moreover, because it was prohibitively expensive to reprint them, employees of the Sanborn company would use a base volume and paste over areas where significant change had occurred (e.g., a new building had been built). For example, a base volume may be dated 1909, but the changes within that volume could date as late as 1945. A small table in the front of each volume lists the dates when updates were incorporated. Not only can you trace the history of a house using the Sanborn maps, but the development of an entire neighborhood.
The Missouri Valley Room’s 20 Sanborn map volumes for Kansas City may be searched in the Sanborn Map Collection in the Digital Gallery. In addition, other Sanborn maps for Kansas City and selected Missouri cities are on microfilm in the Missouri Valley Room. You may also want to visit our Maps and Atlases in the Missouri Valley Room Web page for further information.
Like Sanborn maps, the atlases listed below provide building-specific detail. They are color-coded to reflect original building material, and some major commercial structures are identified.
Complete Set of Surveys and Plats of Properties in the City of Kansas, Missouri, 1886. [MVSC F 099.7 H79C 1886] and Books on Microfilm, Reel #64
Complete Set of Surveys and Plats of Properties in Kansas City, Mo., 1891. [MVSC F 099.7 H79C 1891] and Books on Microfilm, Reel #64a
Atlas of Kansas City, U.S.A. and Vicinity, 1900. [MVSC F 099.7 T96 1900] and Books on Microfilm, Reel#64a
Tuttle and Pike's Atlas of Kansas City and Vicinity, 1907. [MVSC F 099.7 T96 1907] and Books on Microfilm, Reel #64a (1907 base with 1915 overlay); Reel #64b (1907)
Atlas of Kansas City, Mo. and Its Environs, 1925. [MVSC F 099.7 T96 1925] in Atlas Chest and Books on Microfilm, Reel #64c
The files include articles, brochures, maps, and sometimes illustrations of residences. Some you may want to request from a Missouri Valley Special Collections librarian are:
- Residential Districts
- Residential Districts-Maps
See the MVSC online list of vertical files to find files for specific residences, residential districts, architects, etc.
Kansas City Architect and Builder 1899-1907, incomplete. Title was absorbed by Western Contractor.
Western Contractor (changed to Mid-west Contractor in 1929)
This is a builder's trade publication dating from the turn of the century. It lists construction dates, owners, architects, contract awards, bid notices, etc. for local properties, both residential and commercial. Drawings and photographs are sometimes included as well. Unfortunately the periodical is not indexed.
Bound Periodicals: 1951-
This unique resource of selectively clipped articles from local newspapers (primarily The Kansas City Star and The Kansas City Times) runs approximately 1900-2002. The 43-volume index may reference articles about certain buildings or residences. Additionally, this newspaper clippings index is another place to check once you locate a resident or owner in a directory.
The Jackson County Historical Society in Independence has an extensive collection of Abstracts of Title which trace the ownership of the property back to its platting. MVSC also has a small collection of abstracts as does Western Historical Manuscripts-Kansas City (816.235.1543).
Historic Preservation Commission
(Formerly the Landmarks Commission)
The Historic Preservation Commission website contains links to a number of valuable resources like information about building permits and the water department (see below). The staff also approves changes to historic buildings listed on the Kansas City Register of Historic Places.
UPDATE on 1940s Tax Photos
The photographs from the Jackson County Assessment Ratio Survey of buildings standing in 1940 have been transferred from the Historic Preservation Commission to the Missouri Valley Special Collections. This 1940 Tax Assessment Photograph Collection consists mostly of buildings that were within the city limits from Kansas City, Missouri, at that time. Digitization of the photographs is in progress.
Permits provide information about the actual construction of the home (owners, architects, etc.). Original permits are in the Historic Preservation Commission office (1908 to 1970) and on microfilm in the Development Services Division in City Hall (816.513.1500, Option 3) which also has permits from 1970 to present. Permits from 1986 to present can be researched online at KIVA.
Kansas City Water Department
Water permits indicate when water mains and/or meters were installed, which can then be used to verify the date of construction of a building. Original water permits are located at the Water Services Building, 4800 E. 63rd Street. Call Customer Service to request a copy of the permit or set up an appointment to view the permits.
Neighborhood Services Division
Many of Kansas City’s neighborhood associations have gathered information about the neighborhood and its structures or can direct you to knowledgeable people. A list of the associations is found on the City’s website or contact the Neighborhood Services Division.
For a legal description of the property, you can either search the Jackson County web page (from the homepage choose “E-Services,” “Online searches,” and then “Tax Search and Payments”) or go to the Assessment Office (816.881.3530) at the courthouse, 415 E. 12th St.
Recorder of Deeds (816.881.3191)
Jackson County Courthouse
415 E. 12th St.
With the legal description, you can trace the deed of the property through this office, or you can hire a title company to do it for you. Deeds date from the 1800s.