There’s no place like home House history: it’s a hot topic at the moment, and one of the most popular searches in local library collections. What stories can your home reveal? Ben James shows you how to find out
HETHER YOU’VE lived in your home for five or 50 years it is unlikely you are the first person to call the four walls you feel most comfortable in, home. Ever wondered who used to sleep in the bedroom you feel so safe in? Thought about who used to eat in your dining room? Wash in your bathroom and who walked out your front door to face the world each day? These are questions many people are asking, as interest in the history of where we live is growing. It can be a time-consuming investigation but fear not, says Georgina Keep, local studies librarian at Bowen Library, Sydney. “A lot of information is out there, it’s just knowing where to look.” As ever, your local library will have many of the answers. But before stepping foot inside, go for a walk around your neighbourhood. Then take a look at the style of your house, the materials used and its proximity to transport and shops. The National Trust Research
Manual urges us not to think of it “as an isolated building, but as an element in its environment.” Is it similar to the neighbours? Does it look like it has been built as part of a group of houses? All this information could be useful in tying together details.
THE BUILDING BLOCKS There are two historical documents that should form the backbone of any house investigation: rates books and directories. Valuation and rate books are perhaps the most accurate source for dating buildings. They were used by local authorities to determine the value of a property and thus the rates to be levied. Generally kept in large ledgers or receipt-style books, the rates records detail land ownership, date of build, size of land, details of the property such as number of floors and whether it has amenities, such as stables and sheds. Sometimes house names are also listed.