10 Ways to Research the History of Your Home

Last modified: 
Thursday, July 7, 2011

Whether you hang your hat in gingerbread Victorian or a warehouse loft, the Library has the tools to help you uncover the history of your home. The Missouri Valley Special Collections contain a wealth of historical records in print, on microfilm, and online.

Though you can use the online resources without leaving the house you’re researching (assuming it has an Internet connection), some items on this list can only be accessed by visiting the Missouri Valley Room during regular hours.

Librarians are also available to answer questions – call 816.701.3427 or email lhistory@kclibrary.org.

Don’t miss: For antebellum architecture buffs, an ongoing speakers' series on Kansas City’s pre-Civil War homes continues this Sunday, July 10, 2011, at 2 p.m., at the Plaza Branch, where Tom Cooke examines the history of the Bent-Ward House (more info).

10 Resources for Researching Your Home’s History


1. City Directories

Forerunners of telephone books, city directories listed names of people at their home addresses. The Library’s directories go back to 1859 and list other area towns and counties besides KC – check out the complete list. For houses owned by prominent Kansas Citians, you may want to peek inside the Kansas City Social Directory, 1924-1962 or one of the Hoye’s Blue Books on microfilm.

2. KChistory.org

A searchable database chock full of historic images, the Missouri Valley Special Collections’ online repository, kchistory.org, contains both our Digital Gallery and Local History Index. The Index contains more than 36,000 entries referencing books, magazines, newspaper articles, pamphlets and special collections material related to the history of the area. The Digital Gallery features photographs, postcards, maps, advertising cards, drawings, and artwork. While not every house in the city is in the Digital Gallery, try searching for yours by street name (tip: limit your search to “Images”).

Sanborn Map of the West Bottoms

3. Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

The Sanborn Company’s Fire Insurance Maps were created beginning in the late 1800s for insurance companies to asses the risk of insuring particular properties. As these maps show not only which buildings existed in a certain area at a specific time but also what building materials were used (brick, stucco, etc.), they’ve become a valuable resource for studying the development of urban America. The Kansas City Public Library’s 1,200 Sanborn map images are viewable in the Digital Gallery and the Missouri Valley Room.

4. The Library Catalog

The regular online catalog identifies materials in the Library’s stacks that may have images or information relevant to your search. Use the phrase Kansas City, Mo. pictorial works to retrieve records for a number of pictorial albums of Kansas City and its neighborhoods.

5. Vertical Files

The vertical files include articles, brochures, maps, and sometimes illustrations of residences. Ones you may want to request from an MVSC librarian are: Architects, Architecture-Residential, Residences, Residential Districts, and Residential Districts-Maps.

6. Atlases

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. Visit the Missouri Valley Room to view them.

Complete Set of Surveys and Plats of Properties of the City of Kansas, Missouri (1886)
MVSC F 099.7 H79C 1886
Books on Microfilm, Reel #64

Complete Set of Surveys and Plats of Properties in Kansas City, Mo. (1891)
MVSC F 099.7 H79C 1891
Books on Microfilm, Reel #64a

Atlas of Kansas City, U.S.A. and Vicinity (1900)
MVSC F 099.7 T96 1900
Books on Microfilm, Reel #64a

Tuttle and Pike’s Atlas of Kansas City and Vicinity (1907)
MVSC F 099.7 T96 1907
Books on Microfilm, Reels #64a and #64b

Atlas of Kansas City, Mo. and Its Environs (1925)
MVSC F 099.7 T96 1925
Atlas Chest
Books on Microfilm, Reel #64c

Find more maps like this 1887 specimen at kchistory.org

7. Trade Publications

The Library owns copies of The Kansas City Architect and Builder, which became the Western Contractor and eventually the Mid-west Contractor. Our collection dates back to 1899 and includes bound periodicals and microfilm. This builder’s trade publication lists construction dates, owners, architects, contract awards, bid notices, and so forth, for local properties, both residential and commercial, with drawings and photographs.

8. Newspaper Clippings

This unique resource of selectively clipped articles from local newspapers (primarily The Kansas City Star and The Kansas City Times) runs from approximately 1900-2002. The 43-volume index may reference articles about certain buildings or residences. This newspaper clippings index is another place to check once you locate a resident or owner in a directory.

9. General Texts

If this is all a little overwhelming, try these introductory guides to the process:

Land and Property Research in the United States by E. Wade Hone 

Locating Your Roots:  Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records by Patricia Law Hatcher

These Walls Were Made for Talking ($2 brochure) by David Jackson, the Jackson County Historical Society

Researching the History of Your House, an online general bibliography and collection of links prepared by David L. Langenberg at the University of Delaware Library.

10. Other Resources

City Hall – Kansas City, Mo.

Historic Preservation/Landmarks Commission

The Landmarks Commission in City Hall with the City Planning and Development Department is charged with approving changes to historic buildings listed on the Kansas City Register of Historic Places. They have photographs from a survey of the buildings standing within the city limits of Kansas City, Missouri, in 1940, taken by the Jackson County Tax Assessor’s Office.  Their website also contains links to a number of valuable resources.

Building Permits

Permits provide information about the actual construction of the home (owners, architects, etc.). Original permits from 1900 to 1970 are in the Landmarks Office and also on microfilm in Development Services in City Hall (816.513.1500 ext. 3).

Water Services 

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 can be downloaded from 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.


That should get you off to a good start researching your home. And remember, the Missouri Valley librarians are standing by seven days a week. Call 816.701.3427 or email lhistory@kclibrary.org with questions.