To piece together the complete history of a house you will almost certainly need to contact and probably visit a variety of archives. The National Archives is not usually the best place to start unless you are only interested in who the occupants were in the very specific years for which we happen to have records (most significantly the census years, every ten years from 1841 to 1921; the Valuation Office Survey years from 1910 to 1915; and the year of the 1939 Register). This guide provides some suggestions for where else you can go to find records and what kind of information you might find.
Where to start
The best place to try searching for the history of the ownership and construction of a house is the local archive for the area in which the house is located. This might be a local borough, city or county archive or a local studies centre or library. Typically these archives hold local maps, electoral registers and family and estate papers, all of which can be useful when tracing the history of a house.
To find a local archive, search by place name on our Find an archive page.
Building plans (mid-19th century onwards)
Many local archives have collections of building plans from the mid-19th century providing evidence of how buildings might have looked when new.
Title deeds can help you trace the owners and occupiers of your house but there is no legal obligation to hold evidence of title for more than 30 years (The Law of Property Act, 1925) so deeds older than this may not have survived. If the title deeds to your house are not in your possession, you should contact one or all of the following to see if they hold evidence of title:
- HM Land Registry
- your solicitor
- your mortgage company
- a repository where a solicitor’s collection may have been deposited
- family or estate papers
Our online records
Our own online records can help you to establish who the occupants of a house were on a specific date in a census year or on 29 September 1939 but will reveal little else about the history of a house.
The 1939 Register was taken on 29 September 1939. The information was used to produce identity cards and issue ration books. It was designed to capture the details of every member of the civilian population.
You can search the Register by address and you may be able to establish who lived at that address at the time the Register was taken. The Register is available to search and view on our partner sites Findmypast.co.uk (£) and Ancestry.co.uk (£).
For more details see our 1939 Register guide.
Census records, 1841–1921
Search by address on the census to find out who was living there. Where an address search is not available, browse the census street indexes on Your Archives (now only available in our web archive) to find the relevant document reference and search the relevant census website with that reference.
1871 Census maps
Search and download (£) digital versions of the original Registration District maps from the 1871 census on the Cassini Maps website.
Records available only at The National Archives in Kew
To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).
Valuation Office Survey records, 1910–1915
Between 1910 and 1915 the Inland Revenue’s newly created Valuation Office carried out a survey to determine the value of land for tax purposes. The records created in the work of the survey can reveal a property’s:
- use (whether as residential accommodation, commercial use or some other use)
- extent (the area covered by the property, the number of rooms and even, sometimes, how the rooms were used)
- owners and occupiers
- tenancy details
The two main types of record created by the survey were ‘field books’ and ‘index maps’. You will need to use the maps to get to the field books. Consult our guide to records of the Valuation Office survey for advice on how to do this.
Working copies of the Valuation Office survey are often kept in local archives.
Tithe maps and apportionments from 1836
Tithe maps and apportionments establish whether a property existed at the time and provide clues about property ownership and occupancy but do not contain details about the property itself.
Use the search box below to search our catalogue by place name for document references to tithe maps (IR30) and apportionments (IR 29).
See our Tithes guide for more detailed advice.