19 November 2015

"Husealogy": Genealogy for the House

Thirty posts into this blog, there is one thing I hope is clear to all of my readers-- there is information out there to be found about every house, if one knows where to look. What I am doing here isn't proprietary, it isn't a secret; yet at the same time each house's history is unique. It is is NOT all out there in one spot, ready for you to simply ask for it. We are sleuthing here-- searching, uncovering, and discovering all of these little bits from various sources to create a history of this dwelling. For these reasons as well as due to the nature of their similar content and source types, the best parallel I can draw to another genre of research is to the field of genealogy-- the history of one's family. If I were to provide an etymological name for the study of one's house, I'd call it "husealogy", from the Old English word hus, meaning a residential dwelling.

Genealogy of the House- "Husealogy"

On the face of it, many of the similarities to genealogy are pretty simple. In the study of family history, the researcher is generally looking backwards in time to learn about his/her roots, about those ancestors that came before him and who in some small way, collectively make the researcher who he is today. It is a study in sociology and cultural history, which provides context and gives depth to the life of an ancestor beyond the simple Birth/Marriage/Death facts.

When researching the history of the house, I am looking for this exact context. Sure, I am looking for the date that the house was constructed, but I am really searching for much more. You have seen and will continue to see me delve into three primary components in my house history research: physical materials, people, and neighborhood. In my mind, a high quality house history examines not just the basic "Birth" date of a house and its additions (the physical), but also those people who have come and gone, as well as some history of its surroundings.


You have seen me discuss many of the past owners and occupants of my home. Now, while a genealogist discovers new people in their family tree, or pedigree, by rooting out the descendants (mother, father, grandparents, etc.) of a known person, a house historian will do this differently. Since previous owners of the same physical house are very often not related to those who owned it before them, new subject people are discovered by a process called "chaining the title" by going backwards through the deed history of the property. I have outlined this process previously and have also shown some of the results of my particular searches.

However, once you know some of the past persons involved, the husealogist will use many of the same record types as the genealogist to learn more about those people. Census records are a foundational building block with which to learn more about previous owners. Birth records, death records, photographs, wills and other probate records, gravestones, and phone directories are all out there, up for grabs, and are familiar genealogical tools. As a good genealogist will tell you, nearly any record type has the potential to be a source, if credible and relevant. Personal interviews, as in genealogy, are incredibly important (I can't wait to share an extremely important interview I conducted in a future post!). Gathering information about the people involved will give you a truer sense of the history of your house.

Physical Materials

This is where a husealogist is more like an archaeologist than a genealogist. In my "Finding Physical Evidence" series of posts, you have seen me look for hard clues within the actual fabric of my house. These are things like remnants from previous renovations, as well as original materials which may have since been hidden. Once you find them, then you must either draw upon your existing knowledge of different house components and building materials, or you must seek out additional knowledge on these topics. For instance, although I already had a general historic timeframe for the prevalence of asbestos-cement shingles, I had to do additional research to understand the history of the material more and to narrow down their possible installation time period.

The genealogist will, however, take notice that there also are historical documents upon which further evidence is built in this realm. I have drawn upon historical maps quite heavily to investigate the physical existence of the house and addition, and I have sought out other documents such as photographs, and old permits at my local municipality to understand even more about the evolution of the home's construction.


Even a residential neighborhood can have it's own genealogy so to speak, as it has certainly evolved over time. In this sense, the house historian becomes a local historian of sorts. In my own neighborhood, I have yet to discover an account of the history of my specific subdivision other than that which I have written, although some other research by others is likely out there waiting for me. The history of the subdivision leads you further back to the history of early landowners in the area, which should lead you to your local historical society to learn more. This earlier land research inevitably brings your research into the realm of probate records, early property deeds, and perhaps even land grants- all familiar territory for seasoned genealogists.


Conducting house history research should be relatively familiar territory for family history researchers, and is certainly achievable for those just beginning. Finding your house's history makes you simultaneously a genealogist, local historian, and in some ways an architectural historian and archealogist. In total, a husealogist. The physical thing that is the house, of course, has its own evolution. The people are an ingrained part of the homes in which they live, and an understanding of them gives you a richer house history. Carrying it beyond the house to the community at large (as well as placing it in larger nationwide historical context, by the way) brings the history home. What really compels me about researching my house is that no one has done this exact research before-- I am the first one to compile it all into one comprehensive study. Each house's story is completely unique-- find yours!


  1. After I did a very intense history of my 135 year old house, I became interested in my own family. I am going to go back and make a pedigree chart for the house. Not sure how it will work, maybe a real mess but I'm going to try. I found so many interesting things for almost everyone who ever owned this land.

    1. I've thought about that as well, T, about how a pedigree chart would look for a house. I'd imagine that creating any sort of "false" relationship between successive, but unrelated owners, on a web-based tree format like Ancestry would wreak havoc. I've created multiple separate trees for individual past owners before, but have not attempted to combine them. Maybe it could work better on genealogy software programs. Nonetheless, visually, something similar to a pedigree would be a nice addition to a house history project. Let me know if you have any success!