Resources

  • Although I am no longer working in Pittsburgh I will be making an ongoing effort to maintain the resources below. I’m also happy to answer questions. 

Researching the history of your own home can be a rewarding labor of love. But it can also be confusing and difficult if you’re unsure of how and where to start. Fortunately, you can begin your research from the comfort of your own home and follow up on leads in any of several readily-accessible archives.

Listed below are (A) sources to get you started researching property in Allegheny County, PA, (B) assorted online sources for local and general information, and (C) books on architectural history/style guides.

Feel free to contact me with any questions.



A. Beginning property research, Allegheny County, PA

1.Chain of Title. This is the process of uncovering the history of a property by using legal instruments (deeds, especially) to trace ownership backwards through time.

To get started, you will need a deed reference, which you can find in one of three ways:

  • If you own the property you are researching, your (current) deed reference will be at the top of the deed. Toward the end of document, usually after the property description, you can find the prior deed reference, which will get you one more step back in time.
  • Use the Allegheny County Real Estate Portal to search by property address or parcel number. The deed reference can be found on the “General Information” tab.
  • Go directly to the Recorder of Deeds, located on the second floor of the County Office Building (located across Ross Street from the City County Building):County Office Building
    542 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219.Deed research options:
  • Some modern and historical instruments, including deeds, mortgages, and plat maps, can be found online through the Recorder of Deeds Online Search.
  • Most deeds, as well as grantor/grantee indexes, can be researched in person at the Recorder of Deeds (see above).
  • Please note: online searches are free, but viewing is fee-based for all but historical documents. Similarly, in-person copies made in the Recorder’s Office are also fee-based.

2. Historic Maps. Maps can be especially helpful for filling in gaps in property history, as well as making sense of property descriptions and boundaries that can become increasingly confusing as you move back through history.

  • Historic Pittsburgh (Maps) is a wonderful online repository of plat maps, warranty atlases, and engineering maps for the city of Pittsburgh and surrounding environs.
  • The Carnegie Library offers a searchable database of Sanborn Maps (for library card holders). Sanborn maps, like engineering maps, give information on construction materials and infrastructure improvements.
  • Penn State also maintains a database of Sanborn Maps, available online.

3. City Directories. These can be searched by name or street address, making them particularly useful for building research where you want to learn more about the use or the inhabitants of a particular building.



B. List of online resources

Allegheny County Real Estate Portal — Property lookup for basic information, deed reference, and brief owner history

Recorder of Deeds Online Search — Online instrument search, including deeds, plans, mortgages (fee-based)

Historic Pittsburgh — Maps, images, local city directory and census databases; finding aids for University of Pittsburgh administrated local archives, including building permits

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh — Sanborn Map database (cardholders only)

Penn State University Sanborn Maps — Database of insurance maps for Pittsburgh and vicinity.

Arts and Crafts Society — Information on researching Sears kit homes, including a link (bottom of page) to Sears catalogs by year.



C. Suggested reading

A Concise History of American Architecture. Leland M. Roth.
– Explanation and contextualization of common architectural styles by period.

A Field Guide to American Houses. Virginia Savage McAlester/Virginia & Lee McAlester.
– A comprehensive, visually-articulated guide to American house typologies.

America’s Architectural Roots: Ethnic Groups that Built America. Dell Upton, Ed.
– Profiles of ethinic variations of architectural styles common in America.

Identifying American Architecture: A Pictorial Guide to Styles and Terms, 1600-1945. John J.-G. Blumenson
– Curated by style, includes characteristics and variations of common American architectural styles

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