Researching Property History

In general, a limited amount of information on the history of specific privately owned properties can be found online. Deeds, survey maps and other records are held by local county record offices. The records are public information, but you'll probably need to visit the office in person to see them.  Old city directories are also helpful, but it's possible that you may have to visit a public library to find those in your area. Here are some sources that describe the basics of property research:

Useful, if not historical, is Zillow, which contains current information on individual properties.

For additional research tips, consult: Hone, E. Wade, Land and Property Research. Salt Lake City, Utah : Ancestry, c1997. (Olin library stacks, Call Number: CS49 H66 1997 +)

Olin Maps Collection

Located on the lower level of Olin Library, the Map & Geospatial Information collection houses a geographically comprehensive collection of over 240,000 maps, 3,200 books and atlases, 500 compact discs, and many other related research materials.

Using Subject Headings for Local History

Library Catalog Search Tips

Using Library of Congress (LC) Subject Headings in the library catalog to find books about a given topic can be productive. 

Search the Library Catalog to locate published county and town histories will also reveal maps, statistical sources and other material on a particular place, Use the pull-down menu to select [subject]. See the examples, below:

City and state combinations:

  • scranton pa
  • portland me

For states with 2-word names, insert a space in the state abbreviation:

  • kings county n y
  • new york n y
  • berlin n h

For areas within New York City, the form of the heading is, for example,

  • brooklyn new york n y,

Some headings use "old style" state abbreviations rather than the two-letter postal abbreviations, e.g,:

  • tucson ariz
  • birmingham ala
  • boulder colo

See the list of state abbreviations

Many old local histories are also available online via Google Books

Historical Map & Directory Resources

    In addition to census data, Ancestry also includes land ownership maps. This is not immediately obvious, though, so follow this search strategy:
    1. From the Ancestry home page, click on the "all databases" link that appears under More Collections.
    2. In the Database Title search box, enter land ownership maps.
    3.On the next screen, click on the U.S. Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860-1918 link. From the next screen you can search by state, county, town or landowner name. Note that states west of the Mississippi are included.
  • Digital Sanborn Maps 1867-1970
    Includes more than 660,000 Sanborn maps charting the growth and development of more than 12,000 American towns and cities. Includes textual information on construction details, building use, and other building features (such as pipelines, railroads, wells, dumps, and heavy machinery).
  • Bureau of Land Management General Land Office Records
    Provides access to Federal land conveyance records for the Public Land States, including image access to more than five million Federal land title records issued between 1820 and the present. Also has images related to survey plats and field notes dating back to 1810. Due to organization of documents in the GLO collection, this site does not currently contain every Federal title record issued for the Public Land States.
  • Land Ownership Maps (United States) The maps held in Olin Library have been copied from maps held in the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress and are reproduced on microfiche. At present our holdings include only those states lying east of the Mississippi River. The best way to locate them is to search the Library Catalog advanced search option. Enter "land ownership maps" as a PHRASE in the first search box, and the name of a county (e.g., Tompkins, Allegheny, etc.) in the second search box.


In the Library Catalog, the subject sub-heading maps may be used after the name of a locale, for example: Iowa City (Iowa)--Maps.

Another useful subject heading to search in the Library Catalog is real property, followed by a location, followed by the sub-heading maps, for example: Real property > New York (State) > Cayuga Heights > Maps

Related Reference Resources

The list below includes material shelved in Olin Library Reference, but much more is available in the Map Collection, located on Olin's Lower Level.

City Directories

On Microfiche


Many 19th century city directories have been digitized and are available online. Try searching for the phrase "city directory" in the Internet Archive or Google Books. Also, scattered print copies of city directories may be found by searching the Library Catalog for the subject heading Cities and towns > United States > Directories.