Researching Your House While You’re Stuck In Your House

If you’re like many of us, you’ve become very, very familiar with your house over the past couple of months. Why not use the opportunity to become even more familiar with it? What’s the history of your house? Who lived in it before? What did they do? What stories does your house tell? 

The Cuyahoga County Fiscal Officer’s website has an Online Property Search called MyPlace. There, you can type in your address or your name (if you own your home). Then, you can easily copy the parcel number for your house (which you’ll need for other research). Clicking on “Transfers” will show the property owners back to 1975. You can also see the value history by tax year, the land record, building information, building sketch, permits, legal documents, and more. 

If you’d like to see who owned your house prior to 1975, take the parcel number (minus the dashes) and enter it in the Parcel Search, changing “Enter Recording Date” to a much earlier year. You might be able to see deeds from years prior to that. You can also try taking the name of the earliest homeowner you can find, entering it into the General Search (changing to a much earlier year again), and working backwards from the names you find until you get a list of previous homeowners, all the way back to when the house was originally built. 

What did the first owners of your home do for a living? How many people were in their family? Did any boarders or servants live there, too? You can find out with census records dating back to 1940 and earlier with Ancestry Library Edition, temporarily available to users from home during the quarantine. There, you’ll also be able to see city directories, amongst other things. Sometimes occupations are listed, and perhaps you’ll even find out your home’s old 5-digit phone number! (We also have hardcover versions of historic city directories here at the library, along with many other reference books in our Local History Collection). 

In the meantime, you can check out more History and Biography databases that WPPL has to offer. If you’d like to search Ancestry for mentions of your house address specifically, on the Search page, click “Show More Options.” Under “Keywords,” type in your address and check the box marked “Exact.” Narrow your search down to Cuyahoga County in “Place your ancestor might have lived.” You can also type in the name of a previous owner.

Although we don’t have this resource at WPPL (though we do have plenty of other freely accessible resources), try typing your home’s address into the Plain Dealer (Historical) Archives with a CCPL or CPL card. You may find old classified ads for your house, garage sales, news items about its residents, and even wedding announcements!

See what Westlake (formerly Dover) looked like in yesteryear with historic maps. In the search box, type in “Westlake, OH” or “44145,” and you’ll be transported to Westlake as it looked in the year you specify. Click the box by “Modern Streets Layer” to see the names of streets from today superimposed on top of the year you click (not every year has maps available). 

You can see even more historic maps of Westlake by searching for “Dover” in Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.  

For historic photographs, check out Porter’s Local History Collection, or try typing in your street name to ClevelandMemory.org

comprehensive checklist for property research in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County was put together by Cleveland Public Library. Although not all the locations mentioned may be open right now, some are accepting email requests for research. 

For example, the Cuyahoga County Archives contains several sets of records that may be of interest when researching your house. The archive staff can perform some research for you and either mail or email the results to you. See the Archives’ main page and Records of Interest

While some buildings may be closed, try going on a “history hunt” field trip to see what historic sites may be around your house. Download the Cleveland Historical app to your smartphone, walk somewhere, and the app will use your GPS location to bring you fascinating stories about historical buildings, past and present, near you. You can even take one of the virtual tours of Cleveland

And last but not least, you can always contact our Local History Librarian for further information.