The Celia M. Hastings Local History Room’s Researching Your House guide provides a useful bibliography of sources for researching historic homes. Using the resources listed, you can find out how old your house is, whether it is a historic building, who lived in your house before you, and how to better maintain a historic home. Copies are available in the local history room and at the library reference desk.
One useful online source listed in Researching Your House is the Preservation Briefs page at the National Park Service website. These briefs are guides to preserving, rehabilitating, and restoring historic buildings (as well as serving as an aid to receiving the tax-incentives associated with maintaining such buildings). Overall, the briefs range from instructions on preserving historic barns, to the dangers abrasive cleaning can pose to historic structures, to guidelines for making historic buildings more accessible to the public.
While a number of the guides focus on specific topics, there are also some excellent general introductions. Understanding Old Buildings: The Process of Architectural Investigation by Travis C. McDonald is a great introduction to the investigation of historic homes. Rather than discussing some particular architectural issue, or being written in the jargon of experts, the guide is an overview for the layman. McDonald emphasizes the overarching ideas behind architectural investigation, common issues encountered, and general steps to take.
Importantly, McDonald emphasizes that investigation of a historic building should begin with a study of its history: “A thorough scholarly study of a building’s history provides a responsible framework for the physical investigation.” The examination of written sources can establish a chronology of owners, architectural changes, and even facts like the original color in which the house was painted. Moreover, understanding the historical period in which the house was built, periods through which it existed and experienced changes, and how the ideas and actions of the owners might have been influenced by larger events will greatly enhance one’s appreciation of a historic building.