Explore the History of Your Chicago Home

Winter is a great time to take on a new research project, and for many Chicagoans, researching the history of a local home or building can be a fun and rewarding experience. Chicago Public Library has many resources that can help with house history research, including neighborhood photographs in our digital collections and detailed maps in the Illinois Sanborn Maps database. The Art Institute of Chicago also has a great guide for researching a Chicago building.

For researchers interested in the Ravenswood or Lake View (also spelled Lakeview) neighborhoods, the Ravenswood and Lake View Abstracts of Title Collection, part of the Northside Neighborhood History Collection at Sulzer Regional Library, is another source to consider. An abstract of title summarizes the legal proceedings related to a specific property, such as when it was bought or sold. This small collection contains original documents, many from the nineteenth century, about the histories of some of the properties in these neighborhoods.

An abstract of title can be helpful for learning about the previous owners of a home, but if you can't find one for the property you are interested in, there are plenty of other strategies to try. You might search for the address in the Chicago Tribune Historical Archive or Chicago Defender Historical Archive, look in a Haines Chicago City Criss-cross Directory or use a resource such as FamilySearch to explore the United States census.

In addition to abstracts of title, this collection also contains transfer documents and building specification records. Building specification records cover the process and materials used to build a home. So even if the building you are researching is not included in this collection, these records can provide interesting insight to how similar homes might have been constructed.

Visit the collection guide to get started on your research. And if you have questions about how to start researching the history of your home, don't hesitate to reach out to northsidehistory@chipublib.org.