East Side History Madison’s Blog

By and for the East Side History Club, a project of the Goodman Community Center

Archive for October, 2012

House History – What to Look For and Where

Posted by eastsidehistorymadison on October 27, 2012

This house was used as an example in Ann Waidelich’s talk to the East Side History Club on “How to Research Your Home’s History.” The current owner wanted to know if the 1870 date on the real estate brochure was correct.  By following the procedures described below it was discovered that the house was actually built in 1908!

Thank you, Ann, for assembling this information for East Siders curious about their home’s history.

House History – What to Look For and Where


  • Howe, Fleming, Kemp & Overbeck, Houses and Homes: Exploring Their History, American Association for State and Local History, 1987
  • Weber, How Old is Your House? A Guide to Research, Pequot Press, 1978
  •  Green, Discovering the History of Your House and Your Neighborhood Santa Monica Press Books, 2002
  • Speltz, “If Ordinary Walls Could Talk: Piecing Together the History of My House” Wisconsin Magazine of History, Spring 2008 p. 2-17.

1. Former Owners/Occupants

Start with you and your history in the house: purchase date and price, remodelings, special events, etc.  Identify your own pictures of the house  – exterior and interior.

Who owned/lived in the house before you back to who built it & who owned the land before that?

Abstract of the house – a document received at closing from the mortgage company that lists all the previous owners, not done any more, could pay Dane Co. Title Co. or a genealogist to do the research

Madison City Directories – listings by address as well as by name 1858 – 1923 online   http://uwdc.library.wisc.edu/collections/WI/MadisonLocHist

1924 – date   in hard copy are at Madison Public Library  – ask at Reference Desk, temporary downtown location – 126 S. Hamilton St.

Dane County Register of Deeds Office  Real Estate Records                                                                                                   Grantor (seller) / Grantee (buyer) Indexes  give you document numbers that you can use on their computer to see the actual document which can be printed $2 for first page, $1 additional pages

Obituaries — a way to learn about the people who lived in your house and names of descendants to contact for stories and photographs

Death dates can be found by going to:  Dane Co Register of Deeds, Room 110 City-County Building   (if they died in Dane Co.)

Forest Hill Cemetery records are online at:                                                                                                 http://www.cityofmadison.com/parks/parks/cemetery/search.cfm

Obituaries can be read/copied by using: Wisconsin State Journal Index to obituary citations 1958-date on Madison Public Library LinkCat web site and then using microfilm of WSJ and/or CT at Madison Pubic Library or WHS  or

NewspaperArchive – an online database available free through Madison Public Library LinkCat web site — http://www.scls.lib.wi.us/cgi-bin/auth.cgi?connectto=EHNEW – click on Databases on the general search screen, Click on Genealogy, Click on NewspaperArchive, type in your library bar code number for access. Full page and fully searchable text of newspapers from around the country – not complete, but …….

Census Records,  every 10 years, now up to 1940 online through Ancestry.com or Heritage Quest, available free through Madison Public Library LinkCat Databases and at Wisconsin Historical Society Reading Room.   Once you know the names of people who lived in your house you can find out family relationships,  race, state or country of birth, year of immigration, occupation, etc.

East Side News, weekly 4-6 pages (1924-1963) or Monona’s Community Herald  (1968-       ) on microfilm at the Wisconsin Historical Society or other local newspapers/newsletters

2. History of the Structure

Read about Madison history/ neighborhood history / subdivision history:

David Mollenhoff’s book Madison: A History of the Formative Years and Stuart Levitan’s book Madison: Volume 1, or  Schenk’s-Atwood Neighborhood: A Walking Tour booklet, among others

“Custer Cards” – Wisconsin Historical Society, 4th floor, Archives Room. Frank Custer was a Capital Times newspaper reporter who cut up newspaper articles and pasted them on 3×5 cards, arranged by subject, people and business names.

Read about house architectural styles:

  • McAlester, Virginia & Lee A Field Guide to American Houses, Knopf, 1991.
  • Walker, Lester,  American Shelter: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Home, Overlook Press, 1981
  • Schweitzer & Davis,  America’s Favorite Homes: Mail Order Catalogues as a Guide to Popular Early 20th Century Houses, Wayne State U. Press, 1990

Architecture and History Inventory – Wisconsin Historical Society  online database            http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/ahi/

Identify the legal description and parcel number for the house

Fair Oaks subdivision, Block 16, Lot 9


Look on your tax bill or assessment notice or use City of Madison Assessor’s Office web site  http://www.cityofmadison.com/assessor/property/index.cfm  gives property details, sales details, Legal description, tax details and special assessments.

Dane County Plat Maps for townships in Dane County  showing land ownership in rural areas with black spots for houses   Published every 2-3 years until 1960s then every year.

Sanborn Insurance Maps for City of Madison exist for the following dates: 1885, 1892, 1898, 1902, 1908, 1919, 1923, 1939, & 1942 They show an outline drawing of the building/s on a piece of property and by comparing the property from year to year you can see changes

Both are available at the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives Room, 4th Floor in hard copy and on microfilm

Subdivision Maps  when rural land is divided into building lots – available in Dane Co. Register of Deeds, Real Estate Division, Room 110 City-Co.Bldg.

Tax Rolls  (annual) on microfilm at Wisconsin Historical Society 4th floor Archives Room.  Was the land that you house sits on “always” in the City of Madison or when did it get annexed into the city, where was it before: Blooming Grove, Burke, Town of Madison ?  What was the subdivision name?

Tax rolls document the acreage, valuation, owner’s name and name of the person paying the tax.  The records can help determine the age of the house by noting changes to the property’s value from one year to the next and develop a chain of ownership similar to that found in the Register of Deeds Office.

Building Permits  (back to the 1920s but not required until later) Madison Building Inspection Unit – Lower Level Municipal Building now on microfilm but you can make copies  Call ahead to let them know you’re  coming in and to be sure the microfilm reader/printer is working

Assessment Records   Madison Assessor’s Office, Room 107 City-County Bldg.  Ask office staff to request the “assessor’s field notes” from storage (it will take a coule of days) They will make copies for you at 25 cents per copy.

– Prepared by Ann Waidelich

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Saturday, October 20: How to Research Your Home’s History

Posted by eastsidehistorymadison on October 18, 2012

Tillie Streber, left, (Jackson Street) and Margaret Tiedt (Sommers Avenue) in the snow in February 1960 in the side yard of 2301 Sommers Avenue. Photo courtesy of Margo Tiedt.

Join us 2-4 pm at the Goodman Community Center, 149 Waubesa St. $2 donation requested.

Did you know deed restrictions prevent some people on Oakridge Avenue from having a bowling alley in the basement?

This Saturday, Ann Waidelich will describe how neighborhood residents can research their home’s history, and discuss some of the odd restrictions affecting houses in the Schenk-Atwood area. If you have a house with an interesting history, or have found local oddities in your older home, please come and share.



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