Researching Your House History
North Wales Historic Commission
North Wales, Pennsylvania
Curious about your old house?
If you live in North Wales, chances are good that you live in an old home. You are probably curious about when it was built… and the life of your house before you came to live in it.
Research can be a truly satisfying treasure hunt. Reference materials are available that will disclose fascinating details.
1. Start by looking at the style of your house and other clues of age.
2. Look at deeds in your possession for names and dates of previous owners.
3. Check census records for owners, addresses and dates. (N.W. starts 1870)
4. Access original North Wales Borough tax books; not assessment info.
5. Talk to people for trivia, photos, memories.
6. Make copies of all pertinent findings that establish a building date.
Guide for Researching Your North Wales Building
“There is a value not just to learning the date that a house was built, but also to understand something of the people who have lived or worked there during the course of its history… and the changes that the structure has witnessed in the course of time.”
-Terry A. Mc Nealy
DEEDS: Examine deeds you possess. Note the earliest owner of the property. Every deed has information about the preceding transaction.
You can also visit the:
Montgomery County Recorder of Deeds
One Montgomery Plaza, 3rd floor, Suite 303,
Work backward from what you know. Every chain of title goes back to the original grant of land. Look for the first appearance of the word “messuage,” which means a structure built on a vacant lot, proof of the date.
TAX RECORDS: North Wales owners of old buildings are lucky. The original handwritten tax records for the Borough survive and may be examined. If you have narrowed down a time frame for the date of your building, you have a good chance of finding the exact building date. Work your way from one year to another. The record books for each tax year, starting in 1870, after North Wales’ incorporation, list property owners and locations (no house numbers in the early years) by street, with an “unimproved” (lot) column and an “improved” column indicating a structure appeared. Improved lots show increased tax assessment, and thus establish your building date! Keep in mind some streets had different early names, e.g., Wales Street for Main Street or Chestnut for Church. These tax books have been the best source for dating old Borough buildings. Do NOT use county assessment information. North Wales’ old tax books can be found at the:
Historical Society of Montgomery County
1654 DeKalb Pike (just beyond Johnson Highway intersection)
Norristown, PA 19401
MAPS and ATLAS References: Maps up to about 1900 usually show
symbols on the property lots indicating an existing building, along with owners’ names, providing approximate era or decade dates. E.g., if a building symbol is not on the 1877 map, but is on the 1886 map, the building was built some year between those two dates. That provides at least a “circa” or approximate date to use. Sometimes an exact date is just not possible to find. Contact the Historical Society of Montgomery County pertaining to SCRAPBOOKS, NEWSPAPERS, PHOTOS, CENSUS, and other pertinent records. Much is also available on the internet.
CENSUS RECORDS: North Wales incorporated 1870. Before that, Gwynedd
Useful Links Related to House Date Research
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