Researching Your House History

Curious about your old house?

If you live in North Wales, chances are good that you live in an old home. You are probably curious about when it was built… and the life of your house before you came to live in it.

Research can be a truly satisfying treasure hunt. Reference materials are available that will disclose fascinating details.

1. Start by looking at the style of your house and other clues of age.

2. Look at deeds in your possession for names and dates of previous owners.

3. Check census records for owners, addresses and dates. (North Wales starts 1870)

4. Visit Historical Society of Montgomery County to view hand-written North Wales Borough tax books (not assessment info).

5. Talk to people for their remembrances, and maybe photos.

6. Make copies of all pertinent findings that establish a building date.

7. Join NWHC Heritage Plaque Program by submitting a plaque application!

Have questions or need guidance? Contact Us

There is a value not just to learning the date that a house was built, but also to understand something of the people who have lived or worked there during the course of its history… and the changes that the structure has witnessed in the course of time.

Terry A. McNealy

Click on this link to view photographs of the properties that already display North Wales Historic Plaques.

Guide for Researching Your North Wales Building

DEEDS: Examine deeds you possess. Note the earliest owner of the property. Every deed has information about the preceding transaction.

To trace the lineage of prior deeds, you may visit the:

Montgomery County Recorder of Deeds
One Montgomery Plaza, 3rd floor, Suite 303
Norristown, PA 19401
(610) 278-3289.

Work backward from what you know. Every chain of title goes back through history to the original grant of land. Look for the first appearance of the word “messuage,” which means a structure built on a vacant lot: proof of the build date.

TAX RECORDS: North Wales owners of old buildings are lucky. The original handwritten tax records for the Borough survive and may be examined. (Please note, these old records are no longer housed at Borough Hall.  Today they are archived at the Historical Society of Montgomery County in Norristown.)  If you have narrowed down a time frame for the date of your building, you have a good chance of finding the exact build date. Work your way through each annual tax book, from one year to the next. The record books for each tax year, starting in 1870, after North Wales’ incorporation, list property owners and locations (no house numbers in the early years) by street. Each property is listed on one line, with an “unimproved” (lot) column and an “improved” column. A check mark in the “unimproved” column indicates a vacant lot. A check mark in the “improved” column indicates a structure on that property. In addition, if from one year to the next, a property shows a significantly increased tax assessment – say, from $100 to $1800 – you may have found your build date! Keep in mind some streets had different early names, e.g., Wales Street is now Main Street; Chestnut is now Church; West School Street is now Elm. These early Borough tax books have been the best source for dating old Borough buildings. Do NOT use the county assessment information – it is not reliable.

North Wales’ old tax books can be viewed here:

Historical Society of Montgomery County
1654 DeKalb Pike
Norristown, PA 19401


MAPS and ATLAS References: Maps up to about 1900 usually show symbols on the property lots indicating an existing building, along with owners’ names, providing approximate era or decade dates. If a building symbol is not on the 1877 map, but does appear on the 1886 map, the building was built some time between those years. That provides at least a “circa” or approximate date to use. Sometimes an exact date is just not possible to find. Contact the Historical Society of Montgomery County pertaining to SCRAPBOOKS, NEWSPAPERS, PHOTOS, CENSUS, and other pertinent records. Much is also available on the internet.

CENSUS RECORDS: North Wales was incorporated in 1869 and first appears in Census records in 1870. Before that, North Wales was an unincorporated village in Gwynedd Township.

Useful Links Related to House Date Research

US Census (North Wales 1900)

US Census-2 (North Wales 1900)

Historical Society of Montgomery County