The popularity of the family history programme Who do you think you are? certainly has parallels with the world of house history. While your house may not be able to trace its ancestry back to Edward III via a so-called ‘gateway ancestor’, that is via a well-documented family, if it belonged to a landed estate an abundance of records may well survive. Estates comprise many different types of property: a large mansion or two, yes, but also farms, houses, cottages, woods, and land.
In order to keep track of their assets, most kept meticulous records of tenants, rents, and repairs. They often conducted periodic surveys, often when the estate passed to the next generation or just before a planned sale. Some are bound in volumes with a page for each property showing beautifully coloured maps with the name and acreage of every field, the tenant’s name and rental, others are more ad hoc but nevertheless very useful. These are a true gift if they show your house.
Like family history, tracing the history of your house means working backwards in time piecing together clues from many different sources. But even if your house was not owned by a landed estate, records of its history may survive in maps and surveys conducted for other purposes such as enclosure or tithes, in manorial documents, parish records, wills and almost any interaction involving people. Because ultimately, tracing the history of your house is also about the history of the people who owned it and lived there so it is also a case of Who do you think they were?This entry was posted in Blog, Historical records and tagged archives, documentary records, family history, history lesson, house detective, house history, maps, old documents, record offices, research