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Research Guide: House History

1. Look at your house. Note its architectural style. Carefully examine its design and construction.
References: How to trace the history of your house, Des Regan and Kate Press, Prahran Mechanics’ Institute Ref.728 REG. Australia’s home, Robin Boyd, Prahran Mechanics’ Institute, 728.0994 BOY A pictorial guide to identifying Australian architecture by Richard Apperly, Robert Irving, Peter Reynolds, Stonnington Libraries, 720.994 APP

2. Familiarise yourself with the history of your area before and after colonisation.
Prahran Mechanics Institute local history collection, or local public libraries and historical societies will have books and information (you can also check the book bibliographies as they often have references to more detailed information)PMI Library staff can provide you with the contact details of your local historical society, which may have useful information.

3. Obtain copies of parish, hundred or district maps to find out who the original landowner was. Obtain cadastral maps for ‘neighbourhood closeup’ purposes. Obtain estate agents subdivision posters for historical colour.

Parish maps

These maps show the landowners who originally bought the land when it was sold by the Crown. These maps have nothing to do with religion. Victoria is divided into counties and subdivided into parishes. Most of metropolitan Melbourne is in the County of Bourke eg where I live in Preston is in the County of Bourke, Parish of Jika Jika.

State Library of Victoria, Map Room, corner Latrobe and Swanston streets, Melbourne. www.slv.vic.gov.au/slv/maps/ P. 8664 7010
Information Victoria Map Shop, 356 Collins Street, Melbourne, P. 1300 366 356 www.information.vic.gov.au
Titles Office (part of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment), 456 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, Mapping, P. 03 9269 4555 www.land.vic.gov.au/

Cadastral maps (subdivision maps)

These are close up maps of streets and house blocks showing the original subdivision of the land into housing blocks.

Titles Office (part of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment), 456 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, Mapping, P. 9269 4555 www.land.vic.gov.au/

Estate agents subdivision posters

When your area was first subdivided, the Real Estate Agents involved produced posters for the auction, many of these still exist.

State Library of Victoria, Map Room, corner Latrobe and Swanston streets, Melbourne. www.slv.vic.gov.au/slv/maps/ P. 03 9669 9954
University of Melbourne Archives, Real Estate Collections, www.lib.unimelb.edu.au/collections/archives/archgen.html
Third Floor, Baillieu Library, The University of Melbourne, Parkville 3010 P. 03 8344 6848
F. 039347 8627  email archives@archives.unimelb.edu.au

4. Check local water board plans.
These detailed plans of areas show buildings in outline and may include house names and numbers. Drainage plans of individual properties give the owner’s name, show positions of the buildings and outhouses and reflect changes in plumbing over the years.

State Library of Victoria, Map Room, corner Latrobe and Swanston streets, Melbourne. www.slv.vic.gov.au/slv/maps/ P. 03 9669 9954
Public Records Office, contact Michael Tingley P. 03 9348 5603 or Tracey Mennelak P. 03 9348 5600 for an appointment. The plans are kept at 99 Shield Street, North Melbourne.

5. Obtain the title deed to your property and work backwards, through previous titles, to the original Crown grant. Or, work forward from the Crown grant to the current certificate of title.
To search for titles, you need the volume and folio numbers. To obtain these numbers, first obtain the subdivision and lot numbers for your property from your rates notice, your local council or from a cadastral map. These can then be converted to volume and folio numbers using an index at the Title Office, or use the Titles Office Registered Owner Index.

Titles Office, Ground floor, 456 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, open 8.30am to 4pm, Monday to Friday except public holidays, cost of Title copies $7.50 P. 9603 5555 www.land.vic.gov.au/ or search for titles online (credit card) or Land Titles information

6. Check directories of residents, which list householders and businesses, working backwards through the years to trace the previous occupiers of your property.
Use Sands and McDougall’s Post Office directory, or other directories to find out who lived in your house in the past. These directories can be consulted at the State Library of Victoria and at some public libraries eg Stonnington Libraries Toorak/South Yarra branch.

7. Work backwards through rates assessment records, which contain occupiers’ and owners’ names and descriptions of buildings.
These will either be in your local council’s archives, local library (eg Stonnington Libraries Toorak/South Yarra branch has rate records on microfilm), or the Public Records Office www.prov.vic.gov.au/welcome.htm  Melbourne Archives Centre (Public Search Room) Level 2, Casselden Place, 2 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne 3000 P. 03 9285 7999 F. 03 9285 7953.

8. Consult newspapers and magazines published around the time your house was built.
Check the real estate section of local papers around the time your house was built, these papers can be obtained from local libraries or historical societies, or the State Library of Victoria newspaper room and some have indexes. If your house is a mansion built since the 1920s, check the Australian Home Beautiful magazines at the State Library of Victoria.

9. Use birth, death and marriage records and wills to research the families of previous occupiers of your house.
The CD ROM indexes for births, deaths and marriages in Victoria can be consulted at Prahran Mechanics’ Institute (members only) or most public libraries. Death certificates can then be obtained for people who lived in your house and you may want to use these to contact relatives of the previous occupant who may have information about your house. There may also be wills that contain information (Probate Office, level 2, 436 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, P. 03 9603 9296).

10. Other ideas for research
Aerial photographs, electoral rolls, gas and electricity authority records, records of local real estate agents, local history databases eg Stonnington history database www.stonnington.vic.gov.au/library/history_quickfind.htm

Compiled by Prahran Mechanics’ Institute Victorian and Local History Library

Information for this checklist was mainly obtained from How to trace the history of your house by Des Regan and Kate Press, Penguin Books Australia 1990, this book is unfortunately out of print but the full text can be consulted at Prahran Mechanics’ Institute or may be available at your local public library.