This research guide shows that a house's history can be found in a tremendous number of places. With so many sources to investigate, where do you begin researching the history of your home? What sources are most promising? How do you research the history of your home in New Castle County?
Here's how. We recommend proceeding in the order that the information has been presented in this guide. Study your building first. Then, go to the library and look at old maps and atlases. Make photocopies or draw the section of the map that shows your house, recording landscape features and names of neighboring property owners, too. You might also want to peruse some of the secondary sources listed in the bibliography while you are there, particularly general histories about your area and style guides. Bring your map research and this research guide with you, and drive to the Recorder of Deeds in Wilmington. After completing the deed search, continue your research by looking at estate records, some of which can also be found in Wilmington. Drive to Dover to make a full investigation of assessment records and census records.
Once you have completed that step, you will have accomplished a lot! You will probably have a good idea about when your house was built, who lived in it, and how it has changed through the years. To flesh out the story you are assembling, read the books and articles listed in the bibliography that relate to your house, and explore some of the other places where house history can be found, listed in Section 9 of this guide, including directories, old photographs, etc.
No matter how many wonderful discoveries you make, the information you uncover will only be useful to you and others if you are careful to record what you find out. Take lots of notes and remember to write down the source where you found the information. Some people like to keep a house notebook, where they save: such things as house photographs, pieces of old wallpaper removed from the living room wall, notes from their house research, as well as records about their own improvements. This is a great idea.
Finally, there are other people out there who share your interest in house history. You may want to join Preservation Delaware, Inc., a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of Delaware's architectural heritage and historic settings. Call (302) 651-9617 to subscribe and receive informative newsletters and other membership benefits. Nationally, you can join the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the only national, private organization chartered by Congress to encourage public participation in the preservation of sites, buildings, and objects significant in American history. Membership includes a subscription to the Historic Preservation magazine. To join, call (800) 944-6847 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The authors wish to thank the following individuals for their careful review of this guide: Robin Bodo, Product Advisor, Delaware State Historic Preservation Oftice; Frank McKelvey, Jr., Vice Chairman, New Castle County Historic Review Board; Wade Catts, New Castle County Historic Review Board; Lu Ann De Cunzo, Department of Anthropology, University of Delaware; and Rebecca Siders, Center for Historic Architecture and Design, University of Delaware.