The History of Your House

A few sources to get you started

Ivy House, Montrose

Every house has a past made up of the different people who have lived or worked there. Knowing something of this past can bring your house to life. Researching the history of your house is a rewarding and interesting project. Your house may be a 17th century merchant house or modest Edwardian villa. It may have been a church, a shop, a school house or a mill, amongst other things. Researching house history may help to explain some of the oddities in your house or give you the name of your ghost!

This article will address Angus in particular but the types of records discussed are available in any area. Check with your local archive for exact locations.

Main sources for house history

Look at your house for clues. The style of the architecture will give many clues to the age of your house. Ask neighbours for information about your house. You may find someone who has lived in your house previously or who has first hand knowledge of the house, work done on it and its inhabitants.

The first written source you need to do is to look at the title deeds of your house. These will probably be held by your bank, building society or solicitor. It is useful to ask for copies of your titles when you are purchasing a new house. Titles deeds tell you who owned the property, when they bought and sold it and what occupations they pursued. They are the key source for house history. Remember that house ownership is a recent phenomenon and that renting was more common for most of our predecessors. They can be traced through valuation rolls, the census and directories.. If you do not have access to your title deeds, do not worry. There are plenty of sources to help you:


The census is available between 1841-1891 and are held on microfilm in the libraries. They are arranged by streets, farms etc. within a small geographical enumeration district. The census provides data on who lived in the property, the composition of the family, lodgers, servants, etc., their occupations, their ages and where they came from.

The appearance of a house on the census can be an indication of when it was built.

Valuation Rolls

Valuation rolls give less information but provide details between census years and for the post 1891 area about who lived in which house. They are arranged by address. Angus libraries hold town Valuation Rolls on microfilm for 1855- 1905. Angus Archives holds the Valuation Rolls for the rural areas as well as towns from 1885 onwards and an early Forfarshire valuation roll for 1823.

Most towns published directories from the late 19th century onwards. They listed businesses by subject and also featured a street listing. Beware - you had to pay to be included.

Listed Properties

If your property is listed or in a conservation area Angus Council’s Conservation Officer in the Planning Department may have files, reports and photographs of your house. Check the inventory of listed buildings held by the libraries to see if your house is listed and why.

Other useful primary sources

Both of these sources tell you who lived in which property at what dates. Once you have established a framework you may want to find out more about the people who lived in your house and about the property itself.

There are many sources available such as the archival records. Angus Archives has a wealth of material covering 800 years of history. It contains Burgh records from whom planning permission had to be sought for new buildings or alterations within towns. Dean of Guild plans and registers have survived for some burghs but not all of them. Angus County Council records contain many plans relating to rural buildings and schools. Angus Archives also contains material relating to individuals, businesses and properties.

Architectural records are available for most parts of Angus for the past 100 years. Angus Archives holds plans of houses and public buildings, many dating back to the 1890's. Indexes are available for Carnoustie, Montrose, Forfar and Kirriemuir, with Brechin in preparation during 1999. Monifieth plans 1895-1975 are also held but are not yet indexed. In addition Angus Archives holds many plans of schoolhouses, and other rural properties.

These plans provide valuable information regarding the original appearance of a property, internal features and changes in use.

Maps may also help to establish when a property was built or altered. Ordnance Survey maps are held by the libraries and archives, as are a number of older maps.

These are only a few of the sources that may be of use to you as you search for the history and background to your house.

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