Chicago-Specific House Research

Category: House History

We had a great time at the Pleasant Home Restoration Forum. We had gone to speak about The Internet as a Toolbox for House Restoration and met a lot of interesting people, including Chris from Tiny Oak Park Bungalow. A couple of attendees had questions that veered away from How To and into House History, an area of specialized research that we don't know much about. We did a few quick Boolean searches and found some information, but I left wishing that I could have known more about that topic.

Then, a few days after the Forum, I got a note in my email In Box from Chris (Tiny Oak Park Bungalow.) The note contained some real gems of doing research on house histories in Chicago.

Excellent resources. Here they are in Chris' own words:

For Chicago, the best place to start is the Landmarks department at the city. They did a historic resources survey in '92 and the entire thing is online. Most buildings in the city are on it though it does miss some residential areas.

The Chicago Historical Society has an online searchable listing from the American Contractor - the main architectural journal of the day. If your building was built between 1898 and 1912, you can sometimes find it here (the old address is typically needed but you can search by street name only for a start)

Finally, and this one is tricky, if you have a Chicago Public Library card you have access to Proquest's online Chicago Tribune. This is great for finding obituaries, building permits, and lots of other great stuff. To get to it, you put in your card number and zip. At the next screen, click the "Advanced Search" tab. Scroll down and click the link that says "Go Directly to Chicago Tribune Historical Archive". Sometimes this service is temperamental and the links don't always work but be persistent and you can usually find some neat stuff. There is a lot of other cool stuff in this advanced search area as well.

These resources are terrific. History buffs and research geeks (like myself) could spend hours in these links.

A few other resources specific to the City of Chicago are:

Architecture and Building History Resources from the Chicago Historical Society, including address conversion guides and criss-cross directories.

Cook County Assessor's Office - records of property valuations, which includes basic information on the history of houses, location and boundaries.

Cook County Recorder of Deeds - information on title transfers and construction.

Illinois Regional Archives Depository System - Cook County and City of Chicago records related to land deeds, mortgage and tax sale records; assessors' and collectors' tax books; documents that predate the Great Chicago Fire of 1871; City Council proceedings files of 1833 through 1942, holdings include plats, atlases, and Sanborn Maps.

Miscellaneous Online Databases from Illinois State Archives.

Sometimes neighborhood associations or historical societies can help, though not all of their information is online:

Lincoln Park Neighborhood Collection and the Wanda Harold Architectural Photographs Archive - historical information about homes in the Lincoln Park Neighborhood

Rogers Park/West Ridge
Irving Park

...there are a lot more of these out there. Just search for:

historical chicago (and the name of your neighborhood)

Jazz Age Chicago - Chicago Urban History from 1893 to 1945

Chicago Metro History Education Center - How to do historical research

Now, I need to wait until the first big snowfall traps me indoors on a weekend. Then I can go through all of this and dig up the fun stuff.

Thanks Chris!

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A much more powerful tool than the Chicago Historic Resources Survey is HAARGIS, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency's GIS system (when it's actually working, at least). In addition to all the data of CHRS, it also has the results of earlier surveys, including photographs of many buildings from the early 70s, National Register nomination forms, and so forth.

Of course, probably the first place to start is the document put together for specifically this purpose, Your House Has a History, which is all about researching house history in Chicago.

Also, once you've obtained the PIN for your house through the Assessor's office, you can use that to look up further data using CityNEWS Chicago ( which will give you most of the Data the assessor holds and more; the PIN will also allow you to find all the information at the Recorder of Deeds going back to 1985 (soon it will go farther); will give you all building permits in the last 18 months; gives you 1993-2003 Building Permits; The Department of Zoning can also be very useful.

Nice blog here! Also your website loads up fast! What host are you using? I wish my website loaded up as fast as yours lol


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