For the beginner, writing the biography of your home is a challenge. The steps in this guide will help you get started and will open the path for further exploration.
When starting your investigation, check for information already compiled by earlier researchers.
Digital full-text versions of the Indianapolis Star are available through the Indianapolis Public Library. These online databases offer remote access with your Indianapolis Public Library card so research can be done at your home or office. Search by keyword, street name, owner’s name, and more. Included are photographs, ads, obituaries, and marriage and birth announcements.
Your home or neighborhood may have been featured by local newspapers or magazines. The Central Library maintains a clipping file that includes articles on noteworthy local addresses, well-known homes and other significant buildings, historic areas and neighborhoods. With research you may discover your home was built or associated with a notable person or family. The clipping files also have articles on prominent local and state citizens.
After you have checked for published materials, what are your next steps? There are many avenues to follow.
The Indianapolis Public Library has city directories dating back to 1855, with suburban directories added in 1957. IUPUI’s Indianapolis City Directory Collection provides digital versions of the directories. Publication of city directories ceased in 1989; suburban directories ceased publication in 1991. A Marion County Directory was published in 2001. Using these, you can trace the ownership or occupancy of your home over the years. Information given includes not only the name of the owner, but the owner's occupation or place of employment, and spouse's name. Before 1914 however, directories list persons only by surname and not by street and address. Also, some of the early directories are poorly organized and are unreliable as to the spelling of names.
Baist Atlases (See related catalog search link below.) are available in microform at the Central Library or digitally through IUPUI). Editions held are 1901, 1908, 1909, 1916, 1927, and 1941. Similar years are also available at the Indiana State Library and the Indiana Historical Society Library. These atlases contain plates which show structures and lots, give subdivision and lot numbers, and addresses of properties. By comparing editions, it is possible to follow the development of a neighborhood.
For structures built from 1887- 1950, Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps on microfilm can also be used. The Sanborn maps provide valuable building information including size, shape and construction materials. The maps also give street names, house and block numbers. In addition to the Indianapolis Public Library, they are also available at the Indiana Division of the Indiana State Library, the Indiana Historical Society, and online through IUPUI. Please check with each of these institutions individually since their holdings of these maps and atlases may vary widely. Street addresses were changed in Indianapolis in 1887, 1899, and again in 1916; the Baist and Sanborn maps allow you to look up the different addresses for a specific property.
Plat books allow you to trace the ownership and development of a home or lot; property boundaries and easements are also shown. These records can be seen in the Marion County Recorder's Office in the City-County Building. Their records date back well into the 1800's; deeds may be researched in this office as well - however, to locate records prior to 1963 you must know the exact date of the deed.
The Genealogy Division of the Indiana State Library has some deed records for Marion County for the years 1822-1865.
Census records started listing the names and number of people living in a house starting in 1850. Examining these census records after 1850 can also reveal demographic data about a home’s occupants such as their age, race, sex, marital status, and in later records, their occupations. Examining census records can also be helpful in learning about neighborhoods and other people who lived in the same area as the previous owners of a home.
The library has access to Ancestry.com Library Edition, and this resource contains U.S. Federal Census images available from 1790-1940. Ancestry.com Library Edition is only available to use inside on a public computer at any Indianapolis Public Library location or on a device connected to the library’s Wi-Fi. Library users are encouraged to ask library staff for assistance in accessing Ancestry.com Library Edition. The National Archives released 1950 census records to the public on April 1, 2022. The National Archives has a 1950 census section of their website that is currently open for users to search the recently released census records.
Websites and genealogical organizations like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch are currently indexing the 1950 census data and gradually making this 1950 census information available on their platforms. Users can periodically check Ancestry.com Library Edition or FamilySearch for updates. FamilySearch is a free resource, and more of this website’s features can be accessed after signing up for a free account.
The State Library's Indiana Division maintains a picture file of homes and areas of Marion County and Indiana. Pictures may be found by family name or by street address, though pictures of specific homes are primarily limited to those with a significant history. But there are many pictures of businesses and of street blocks in which private homes are clearly shown. Remember to make your search wide enough to include whole neighborhoods in case your particular home might be visible on pictures of a large geographic area (you might even catch a glimpse of the backyard of your house!)
The Indiana Historical Society's visual collection includes pictures and postcards of many scenes of Indianapolis streets. They also have "Archie" (Architectural Index Computer) with which pictures of buildings may be accessed by street name or style of architecture. The local historic Bass Photo Collection (some 25,000 prints) is located at the IHS - these photographs may be reproduced for a fee; many are available online through the Historical Society Library's catalog. The architectural drawings collection contains representations of major buildings and some homes - please allow them 48 hours to verify and locate these documents. The IHS also has photographs of architecturally significant sites from around the state based on the Wilbur D. Peat Collection - these photographs are arranged by address.
The Indianapolis and Marion County government website has a section that contains Graphic Information System (GIS) Mapping Applications. These mapping applications contain data about properties in the Marion County area. The first application listed on their website is called MapIndy. Addresses can be entered into the application on the top left of the screen, and MapIndy will then show the location of that particular address on a zoomed in map of Marion County. Users can then click on an option in a box that appears just over a bird’s-eye view of the address to obtain the property card for the house they searched.
The property card lists information about an address such as the value of the property, square footage, and some amenities of the home. Also, on the top left corner of this application, there is a Basemap Gallery option that users can click on to look at bird’s-eye views of historic images of many properties in Marion County based off the address the user originally entered into the application. These historic images can give researchers a general idea of how an area looked during previous years or decades.
Discovering the History of your House and your Neighborhood (907.2) by Betsy J. Green is available to lead you through your search of your home's background. Other books related to home history and to historic homes may be found in the Library's catalog by using subject headings such as "Historic Buildings - Indiana" which will produce such titles as Historic Indiana, A guide to Indiana properties as listed in the National Register of Historic Places (977.2) and the many recent city and county interim reports of historic sites and structures, which are excellent sources of information and photographs of old homes and other buildings.
For the preservation of your working materials Scrapbook.com: Protect Photos, Documents And Other Papers From Natural Destruction Over Time has advice that might be helpful.
To really wrap up the loose ends of your home's past, visit the office of your neighborhood newspaper if one exists. Also, check the yellow pages of the telephone directory under "Newspapers". The newspaper files or perhaps one of their staff might be a source of information. If your area has a neighborhood association, contact their office; it may be a concentrated source of pictures, maps, or other information. To find organizations in your neighborhood, check the Registered Community Organizations Directory on the IndyGov website. And, for some intimate accounts of what has gone on inside your particular four walls, try to locate any former owners or occupants or their relatives. Neighbors should be of help here, and might themselves provide some good stories!