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:
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.
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