07 January 2010

UK: Pedigreed properties

If the walls of your house could talk, what would they say?

Did you know that UK genealogist professional Dr. Nick Barratt - of Who Do You Think You Are? fame - will investigate the history of your house?

He spends three days researching the house and provides a report and CD. He's been doing this type of genealogy for 15 years, and says there's a growing interest with the past, whether it is family or real estate.

The Independent (UK) detailed "properties with pedigrees" in this story by James Boardman.

This takes family history a step further. Not just bodies and names, but stones, bricks and real estate. A house with a documented past may also be more valuable.

Resource sites include old maps, census records, architectural surveys.

The story quotes professional house historian Dr. Ian Friel, who said that family history programs spark interest. People who often asked about a building's history - more than about their ancestors - were the inspiration for his new line of work.

But like researching family trees, digging up dirt on a house can be a time-consuming task: be prepared to spend hours trawling through old records, books and websites. While some amateur historians will enjoy nothing more than poring over parish registers, for those who don't have the time or inclination, paying someone else to do the research is becoming an increasingly popular choice. While Friel says that he'd "never want to take away the fun of people doing it for themselves", he does warn that researching your own home's history could take many months.
Barratt said "We're re-engaging with the past to tell us something about the present. It's a bottom-up approach to history."

He found one house built by a government customs officer who was also a smuggler. The home was built over a cave system where he stored goods from the smugglers he was supposed to be catching. He also thinks another property once held Jack the Ripper.

Another researcher in the story, Sue Austen, said that "Houses are full of stories; my job is to find the story." Her company produces hardcover house histories including professional photography resulting in coffee-table books.

She got into it by doing a book on her own home as a surprise for her husband.

"I managed to find early plans, discovering what rooms were first used for, which staircases and doors had been moved around – how the house was used at different times in its life story," she says. The book details not only the history and many occupants of her seafront house, but also includes details of the town's development as a holiday resort, the terrible storms that struck in 1897 and 1948, and the fluctuating reputation of the terrace's sometime watering hole, the Dolphin Hotel.
The story also provided some good UK-based resources as well:

-- The National Archives

-- Nick Barratt's Hidden House History's step-by-step guide.

-- Bricks and Brass with hints on how to date a house by design and style.

-- Old Maps has Ordnance Survey maps back to the 1800s.

Read the complete article and check out the resource links above.

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