You just bought your house. Or you’ve lived in it for years but don’t know all that much about its history. Who built it? Who has lived in it over the years? Are those rumors that it was part of the Underground Railroad true? Did it really shelter a patriot during the American Revolution? With a little digging and some old-fashioned footwork, you can answer some of your questions about your home.
- Start your search by looking up the title information through Deed and Probate records at the New Hampshire Registry of Deeds, 10 Route 125 in Brentwood, NH, or online at http://www.nhdeeds.com/. Start with the current deed and work backwards, tracing each buyer/seller recorded; some records go back to 1643. If your search stalls, check the probate index to see if it was willed to someone.
- Contact the historical society to see if additional information is available about the property or a previous owner. This Historic Survey of Derry may have some such information recorded on the survey sheet for your home, if it’s included in the survey. You can search for your property by address or tax map/parcel number (you can also search by any field of information in the surveys, such as builder, construction date, style, etc.). A summary about each property included in the survey is often included, with additional sources of information listed, if available.
- If you have or find the names of previous owners, or the builder, you can do a genealogical search for additional information. The Derry Public Library has several genealogical resources available for you to use, including the American Ancestors and AncestryPlus electronic reference tools (both of which must be accessed in the library), and HeritageQuest, which can be accessed in the library and remotely.
- Additional information may be found in the Harriett Chase Newell books (five volumes). These books were written by a Derry historian in the 1950s and 1960s. They contain photographs and ancedotes about some houses in the part of Derry covered by each respective volume. These books must be accessed in person in the New Hampshire Room at the Derry Public Library.
- Consult census records and old newspapers for social context or additional information. The Derry Public Library has microfilm of Derry newspapers dating back to 1880 and is currently in the process of digitizing this resource as well; the digital records are available at http://derry.advantage-preservation.com/. A good starting point here is with obituaries of former owners, especially if they died while living in the house; check also for mentions of events involving the house, such as fires or social events (teas, etc.).
- Lastly, check town maps, such as the Sanborn fire insurance maps and other maps, available in microfiche and/or original format at the Derry Public Library.
Below are some additional resources to help you with your search:
- about.com’s Genealogy House Histories: https://www.thoughtco.com/house-history-research-1421676
- wikihow.com’s How to Research the History of Your House
- Discovering the History of Your House and Your Neighborhood, by Betsy J. Green (book; available at the Derry Public Library)
- House Histories: A guide to Tracing the Geneology of Your Home, by Sally Light (book; available at the Derry Public Library)
Good luck , and have fun!