Before it was yours: How to trace your home’s history

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We all know it takes a while to make a house into a home. You settle in, place your favourite knick-knacks inside, and decorate to make it feel like an extension of your personality. 

But heritage homes, properties that have enough personality on their own, are a different story altogether. You have to get to know your house better to make your bond stronger. And what better way to learn more about your home than going back in time? 

Home history research has gotten quite popular in recent years. Some homeowners want to know how their homes were built to help them renovate or preserve, while others just want to know if someone famous lived in their house. History can tell multitudes of stories!

Lucky for us, Vancouver offers various resources so that we can all do home history research. Here’s how to get started:


First stop: Google

Try typing “house history research” plus your city’s name. The search hits you get from this can be great starting points – provincial land registration, municipal property tax, and the like. With most things available online these days, you have a good chance of finding most of the information you’re looking for with just a click of a button. At the very least, an initial online search will help you filter out what kind of information you need.


Visit the Vancouver Archives

The City of Vancouver Archives is home to a wide variety of records documenting the city’s history. Basically a one-stop shop for many historians, most of the things you’re looking for might be here. Here’s what you can dig up from the following documents:


Water service records 

Because people usually applied for water service just as their building neared completion, these records can help you find out when your property was built. Water service record cards also include the house’s address and water application numbers, leading you to legal descriptions for Property Tax record searches. 


Building permits

These documents contain information like the owner/applicant’s name, architect/s, contractor, estimated costs and details of the construction. 


City directories 

These records can help you figure out who lived in your house. It has two sections: an alphabetical street guide and an alphabetical index of individuals and businesses’ names. The street guide would identify if a certain person lived in this address, while the index of names would tell you more about that person – employment, spouse, etc. 


Property tax records 

Aside from telling you who the previous owners of your home were, property tax records can tell you about your home’s value over the years. 

Fire insurance plans 

With details on individual buildings, you can find structural information about building materials, address numbers, lot sizes, and landscape features like rivers and hills. You’ll be surprised at how different your neighbourhood used to look like!



Think of it like Google Street view, old-school style. The archives have a lot of pictures of houses, apartments, street views, and interiors. If you’re lucky, you might find your place or street in an old photo.  


Need more help?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with all the DIY research, feel free to ask for assistance. Aside from the helpful reference staff at the Archives, you can check out your local history or genealogy society to see if they can refer you to an expert. You can also check out the Canadian directory on the Association of Professional Genealogists’ website for a list of names.