Want to learn more about your property?
Use this guide to begin your research
New and current owners of historic properties: Researching the history of your home can be an extremely rewarding process, but also one that can prove frustrating if you don’t know where to begin or how to proceed. This guide answers some basic questions and provides some explanations of resources available to help you with your research. Call or email us with any questions you have after examining this guide!
Where should I start? — There are several different places you can begin, and depending where you start you’ll find out some different but equally interesting information. Consider first:
Will you be renovating? You can find a lot out by pulling down walls and looking at the structure of the home.
Are renovations not in your plans? Or have you already finished? A deed search is best for discovering who lived in your house before you.
Depending on your answers to these questions, there are separate places you should go to begin your search. Read on for details.
Conducting A Renovation — Tearing down walls and opening sections of an old home can reveal many things about the age of the building. Here are some things to take note of:
The Architecture of a home can often tell you within a decade when the home may have been built. Certain features, accents, and floorplans were sometimes only popular for a decade or two, meaning you can put a very healthy circa date on a home if you happen to know what to look for. We suggest consulting a selection of books on historic architectural styles to begin informing yourself on the subject.
What kind of lumber is used in different sections of the house? Look at joists and framing - is the lumber milled or hand-hewn? Is all the lumber in the home similar or are some sections older/more primitive? Such things can tell you how a home may have been used and when additions and features were added/removed. Sometimes you may even find marks on lumber and lathe showing the supplier or mill the wood came from. Keep an eye out for old graffiti!
Wiring and plumbing may be run differently in the home if it was built prior to electrification or if it was built with plumbing and electricity originally. Look for evidence of older utilities as well where gas lines might have been removed or where pipes may formerly have run - these things can tell you a lot about how different rooms functioned if you are trying to restore a space.
Look for different paints, molding, and decorative features as you remove more recent layers of carpeting, wallpaper, and molding. These sorts of things may help you identify the age of the home based on the original aesthetic of certain rooms.
Conducting A Deed Search — Your search for information is going to take you to the County Clerk’s office in Catskill to trace your deed. A deed search is the best way to find information about your home’s former residents. This process is a bit more simple than you might expect, and you can actually do a little preparation at home on the computer before you visit. What follows is a breakdown of how you should prepare.
First off, is your home already on the National Register of Historic Places? Find out by going to the Cultural Resources Information System: https://cris.parks.ny.gov
Instructions for use:
Agree to terms of service.
Select “Search” on top navigation bar.
Use “Criteria” field to search by site name, address, or location.
Select “View” icon to see search result information.
Select “Atts” (Attachments) to view NHR application and photographs if they were provided.
If your home isn’t on the National Register, you will still need to find your parcel number and most recent deed book before you visit the clerk’s office. Do that by going to the Greene County GIS Map: http://gis.greenegovernment.com/giswebmap/
Instructions for use:
Select the “search” tab on the left.
Fill out as many search fields as feasible.
Click the middle button next to your desired search result (small house icon)
Select “Click Here for Public Access” on new window that opens.
On Left Column select “View Parcel History Data.”
Click on “Ownership Card” near bottom of page to view names of current and previous owners. This will provide the number of the deed books you should view at the Office of the County Clerk. Call the Clerk at (518) 719-3255 with questions about viewing your deed.
Once you’ve checked both these sites and have found your ownership card it is time to visit the Clerk’s office. The ownership card will give you a relatively recent book (Liber) and page number for the location of an older deed for your home. By going to that book and examining the deed you can find out numerous things, including names of the buyer and seller of the home when that deed was filed, and sometimes whether or not there was a dwelling on the parcel when that deed was transferred. Deeds can sometimes be confusing to examine, so we recommend making photocopies if you find deeds for your parcel, and make sure to write down the book and page the deed came from on your photocopy! If you end up having trouble with this we may be able to assist you, just contact our archivist to chat about solving any difficulty.
Next Steps — Assuming you’ve examined the architectural features of the home and traced your deed to the best of your ability, your next stop should be us! Our collections are searchable by family name - meaning that all those people you found on your deed could prove the ticket to getting even more details about former residents and their lives when they were the owners of your property. Be aware that we don’t have rich, comprehensive details about every home and every family, but that we do have resources to help supplement and contextualize your research thus far. Check our public hours and plan your visit!