House History Research

Researching the history of your home or building is not hard, but can be a time intensive process. The sources are scattered across municipal, state, and federal agencies as well as your local and state archives. Maps of many varieties, county histories, building records, city directories, and property inventories all provide different facets of the story of your home and neighborhood.

Find out when your home was built

County Property Assessment

Search by address, owner, or parcel number. Searching by a house number range or just a street name will bring back a range to select from, which may be more effective than entering a specific address.

Some pages allow viewing in GIS, or recent property photos. In the Summary Information section, a construction date is usually listed. However, use caution with the built date of older homes. Assessor information (built date) sometimes corresponds only with when taxes began being paid to the current municipality. Additionally, early records may have been lost or destroyed and an approximation was made on the date.

County Register of Deeds

A visit to the Register of Deeds office should be made to obtain a Chain of Title and other information. Plan at least an hour of searching time, and note that there may be limits to photocopying or scanning. You may also not be permitted to bring personal devices such as a smartphone or tablet into the building or office. Some material may be available online, but will not necessarily go back to the earliest platting of land before a home was built, or its earliest ownership. Tracing the history of your property through the Register not only will show when the Deed was created, but will provide additional information about owners and the land.

Maps and other Land Research Resources

Local County, Township, Village & City maps

Additional Maps and Land Resources

Home Research Resources

Resources in the Forest Parke Library & Archives

Real Estate Collections

Our most significant resource for property research is the Stebbins Real Estate Collection. The Stebbins family founded their real estate company, Advance Realty, in the mid 1920s in Lansing, and operated it into the 1970s. Company leaders were heavily involved in the Greater Lansing Board of Realtors over the years. This collection contains nearly 400 boxes of material organized by street address, covering greater Lansing and Ingham County. Odds are if a property was on the market during the Advance years of operation, there will be a file on it. Photographs, negatives, listing information, classified ad clippings, and more for both residential and commercial properties may be found in each file. Unfortunately, interior photographs are not part of the collection. Due to the size and variety of materials in the collection, it has been digitized, but we are gradually indexing the streets and communities represented in our online record so you can see if your location might be included. Materials will be scanned on demand.

We have a complimentary collection to Stebbins, the Belon Real Estate Collection, which contains similar material. The agency operated from 1952 to 1970. Files contain standardized 4" x 6" listing cards, often with photographs, for greater Lansing and Ingham County. Due to the standard nature of the cards, this collection has been fully digitized and is available in Local History Online.

Other Property Resources

The Lansing City Assessor Photograph Collection is another source for residential property photographs. This collection is limited to property in the city of Lansing, and many neighborhoods are not included. Accessing it involves converting current assessor parcel numbers into an older format to find a photo of a home. All 17,000+ images in the collection are available in Local History Online.

Aerial photographs can be another useful source of information in property research. We have three sets, which focus on the City of Lansing: 1948, 1966-1970, and 1978. All of these were taken for the City of Lansing by the Abrams Aerial Survey Corporation. The 1948 and 1966-1970 sets have been digitized and are available in the library; the 1978 set has not but the original photos are also accessible in the library.

City Directories are another excellent source for property research, especially if you are looking to add a biographical element to the history of a structure. Six of our earliest directories are available in PDF form:

City Directories are yearly publications which provide owner or renter information by street and last name, as well as business listings and advertisements, and often municipal information as well. In older volumes they additionally provide the profession and/or place of employment of the residents. They are useful for finding women's first names and sometimes the names of older children who were still "boarding" at home.

CADL has a nearly complete run of Lansing City Directories through the 20th century available anytime the Downtown Library is open. Ask at the second floor reference desk. You can also access them through Ancestry.com (within a CADL branch; requires library card), and they are available in the Local History Room as well.

The street listings in a city directory can be difficult to use because the numbering system used is different than today’s. Lansing’s first numbering system (seen in Mudge’s 1878 directory) was in use from about 1867 to 1883. The numbers seem to run from south to north and west to east with no divisions by blocks. They did not use north, south, east, or west, only Washington Ave., Michigan Ave., etc.

The second system used (about 1885 to 1905) was similar to today’s with north, south, east, and west streets, and divisions by block, 100, 200, 300, etc. Many of these numbers in the business district are the same as today, but many in residential areas are different.

The third system, known as the Philadelphia or block plan, was adopted in 1906 and is still in use today. The City required that the new numbers be posted on buildings beginning May 1, 1906, and the Post Office required them to be used on mail in place of the old numbers. This system is consistent because a number is assigned every 22 feet along the street with divisions at intersections and where intersections would be if all streets ran all the way through the city.

The old numbers are inconsistent and have to be deciphered individually; there does not seem to be a "key." The 1868 Sanborn fire insurance map shows the street numbers for Washington Avenue only. Later Sanborn maps (1885, 1892, 1898, 1906, 1913, and 1926) show the second and third numbering systems for some buildings. By using the Sanborn maps, other maps, atlases, plat books, property tax records, and other city directories, you have a chance of locating the address you are looking for. Sanborn Maps are available at the State Library on microfilm, or at the Michigan State University Libraries with an MSU ID or on campus.

 

Home at 1230 West Willow Street, known as "Beechenbrooks"1230 West Willow Street, known as "Beechenbrooks"

This home was built in 1875 by Joseph Warner, one-time mayor of Lansing and a circus owner who maintained a menagerie on the then 80-acre property. Among the animals he kept were lions, bears, a tiger, a jaguar, several monkeys and a hippopotamus.

Engraved logo that reads J.E. Warner's Great Pacific Museum, Managerie, and Circus with images of lion, eagle, tiger and J.E. Warner


Contact Us

For local history inquiries contact the Forest Parke Library & Archives at:

517-367-6313 or localhistory@cadl.org