A RIHS Library Resource Sheet
How To Research Your House History
This is a guide to using the Rhode Island Historical Society Library resources to build a house history. Keep in mind when you are tracing the history of your house that not every house will have a detectible past, some records may not have survived as long as the house. Keep detailed records of your research and work chronologically backwards to establish a “deed chain.” Good luck!
IF your house has an historic plaque:
• In PROVIDENCE: See The Gowdy Collection of documented house histories
• In OTHER TOWNS: See the town-specific reports of the Rhode Island Preservation and Heritage Commission, filed by town name.
Find the approximate age of your house by checking early maps which indicate existing buildings and their locations. If your house does not appear on one map, but does appear on the next map, your house was likely built sometime between the publication dates of the two atlases.
FIRST MAPS TO CHECK:
G. Beers & Co. Atlas of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.1870.
G. M. Hopkins. City Atlas of Providence. 1882.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.
-Statewide, 1889-1920 [Microfilm G3770 .S35 F57]
-City of Providence, 1956 [Printed, held between Aisles 9 & 10]
A more exact date can be determine by checking city directories for the presumed first owner of the house. Alphabetical directories for Providence have been published since 1824. Directories organized by street have been published since 1892 as “House Directories”.
Check the House Directories for the earliest entry of your house.
If you find the name of a resident of the house during a census year you can check the census for their listing. Federal Census is every decade marking ten years, i.e 1860, 1870, etc.; State census every ten years on the five, i.e. 1865, 1875, etc. After 1850 this would provide a list of all residents in the house including women, children, boarders and servants.
Check Deed History at the local Tax Assessor’s Office and Land Records Office. In Providence, these are located at City Hall.
A HOUSE HISTORY BIBLIOGRAPHY
● Cady, John Hutchins. The Civic and Architectural Development of Providence. Providence, RI: The Book Shop, 1957. Ref. F 89 .P9 C143
● Gowdy, Mrs. William B. and Antoinette F. Downing. Gowdy Collection: Providence Preservation Society House Histories. Providence, RI: Providence Preservation Society, c. 1950. RdRm NA 7238 .P9 G6
● Historic American Buildings Survey. RdRm VF H629
● Jordy, William A. and Christopher P. Monkhouse. Buildings on Paper: Rhode Island Architectural Drawings 1825-1945. Providence, RI: Bell Gallery et al, 1982.
RdRm NA 2706 .U6 J67
● Woodward, Wm McKenzie, Edward F. Sanderson. Providence: A Citywide Survey of Historic Resources. Providence, RI: Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission, 1986. F 89 .P9 R459
● Light, Sally. House Histories: A Guide to Tracing The Genealogy of Your Home. Spencertown, NY: Golden Hill Press, 1995. Ref. E 159 .L54 1995
● Providence Preservation Society 21 Meeting St Providence, RI 02906
(401) -831-7440. http://www.ppsri.org/
● Rhode Island Preservation and Heritage Commission 150 Benefit St., Providence, RI 02903. (401) 222-2678 or 222-2077. http://www.rihphc.state.ri.us/
● Local Town Halls or Clerk’s Offices
● Graphics Division, Rhode Island Historical Society Library. Graphics has photographs, maps and architectural drawings.
● Be sure to check the card catalog for more titles on specific towns and neighborhoods.
The Rhode Island Historical Society Library
121 Hope Street, Providence, RI 02906
t 401.273.8107 f 401.751.7930