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Researching the History of Your House: Researching a House or Building History

This guide describes sources for researching domestic architecture in Alamance County, North Carolina including finding out about the general history of your home and neighborhood

General Books on House Histories

Titles Available at

Alamance County Public LIbraries

Alamance County Public Libraries

Alamance County Public Libraries provide free and open access to lifelong learning, resources for everyday living, and reading for pleasure in a welcoming environment.  Our collections, services and programs enhance the quality of life for individuals, families, and communities. Contact the Library webmaster.

Alamance County Public Libraries operates as a Department of Alamance County Government.  Visit the Alamance County Website at

Starting Points for Research on Residential Structures

All structures have a story to tell whether they started life as opulent mansions designed by famous architects or virtually identical bungalows built for textile workers on "mill hill".  Researching the history of your house is a rewarding bit of detective work that can help flesh out the details of personal, family, or neighborhood history and add human interest to oral tradition and documentary records.  The tools below are suggested as starting points for research.

1. Historic Preservation Advisory Boards

You may want to contact the Alamance County Planning Department or City of Burlington Planning Department to determine if they have information on your house or neighborhood depending on the jurisdiction in which it is located.  Alamance County has an 11-member advisory Board called the Alamance County Historic Properties Commission that deals with historic preservation and designation of Alamance County's historic landmarks.  The City of Burlington has a similar Historic Preservation Commission.  There are several Burlington neighborhoods listed on the National Register of Historic Places including Beverly Hills, Fountain Place, E. Davis Street, and downtown Burlington.  There are also outlying areas and municipalities on the National Register including Bellemont, Elon College, Glencoe and Graham.

2. City Directories

City directories can be helpful in determining when a house was built, as well as the various occupants it's had over the years. Directories covering  Burlington, Graham, and Haw River are available in the Local History Collection at the May Memorial  Library. They provide coverage from the 1920's through the present.  Many early North Carolina city directories are also available at the DigitalNC website at  You may search in the Polk or Hill City Directories by occupant name, street address or telephone and there is often a classified section similar to yellow pages that is very useful for identifying whether the resident operated a business out of his or her home or lived in rooms above a place of business.

3. Sanborn Maps

Although originally created as a tool for insurance assessment, Sanborn maps are useful for historic preservation, urban planning and genealogy research. The ones for Alamance County only cover the immediate downtown residential districts.  You may access digital copies of Sanborn maps online via NCLive databases by entering your library card number at  Paper copies of Sanborn maps for Burlington covering 1893, 1898, 1904, 1908, and 1929 are available in the Local History collection at May Memorial Library.  Paper copies of maps for Graham covering 1893, 1898, 1904, and 1910 are also available there.  The 1920s Burlington, NC online Sanborn maps at the NCLive website also include the outlying communities of Altamahaw, Bellemont, Elon College, Glencoe, Glen Raven, Hopedale, Ossipee, and Saxapahaw.

4. Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Building permits are not available at the library, but library patrons may find valuable information about residences from Alamance County local government by using online property tax databases and geographic information system (GIS) maps.  These databases are available to the public at and are searchable by address and property owner name.   The information provided by online property tax databases often does not go back more than a decade or two, but you may also go to the Alamance County Register of Deeds Office in person to undertake a complete title search for all previous owners.

5. Farmers Mutual Fire Insurance Policy Records

Old insurance policy information for rural residents of Alamance County is often found in the Alamance County Farmer's Mutual Fire Insurance Association records located in the Local History Room at May Memorial Library.  These 8 oversized ledgers provide descriptive information on rural residences that were insured by the company.  They include value of the residence as well as a wealth of information on outbuildings such as feed barns, tenant houses, granaries, smoke houses and other structures on the land.  Records are available for the time period from 1901 through the lates 1930s.

6. Published Architectural Histories

There are published architectural histories for both Burlington and Alamance County as well as architectural histories of several adjoining counties.  In general, residences are indexed by either street address or name of the original owner, if known.  These histories are useful in anchoring residences in the context of their neighborhood history and providing explanations of the housing trends during different eras including municipal growth and the evolution of planned subdivisions.

Websites - Home History How To's


Charles T. Holt House
Haw River, NC
House Histories:  Tracing the Genealogy of Your Home or Other Building
How to Research the History of Your House (Wikihow)
Cyndi's List House and Business Histories
Kansas Historical Society House History Checklist
House History Suggested Websites

Some Cautions in Research on Structures

Don't Assume Address is Constant

Your house may not have always had the same mailing address.  The U.S. Postal Service has reassigned house numbers on many streets and there have been a number of residential streets that have been renamed over the years.

Verfiy Oral Tradition

Always try to verify stories provided by the neighbors.  Nearly 3/4 of the U.S. population moves every 5 years, so it may be difficult to find a neighbor who can provide accurate information over an extended period of time.  Some sources for verification may include local newspapers, homeowner's association records, or even Neighborhood Watch group information.  You may not be able to corroborate "haunted house" stories, but a local newspaper index may debunk stories of lurid crimes committed on the premises.