Monday, October 9, 2017

This is an unknown house in Brookline so the back of this postcard say. Looking for an address

How old is your house??

  Finding how old your house or home is can be fun, but also very tricky. The only way to do it correctly is to title search at the courthouse in Media. Title searching can be easy and hair pulling at the same time.  Every deed after c.1830, ninety percent of the time tells you who the previous owner was and refers to a date and book and page. So if there are no problems, it is pretty easy, you just keep reading the deeds back till you get to an empty lot or there is no “messuage” aka home. If it is a very old house prior to 1860 I “cheat”. I look at an old atlas say from the year 1909 or 1911 and title search the property back from there, saves a lot of time. First you “grantee”   aka look up the buyer or “grantor” aka look up the seller. The books are indexed and easy to use BUT you have to be careful.
First: Read the deed carefully, is it the right piece of property, address or acres.
      Second: After the 1860’s deeds are on a printed form and filled in. Before that date the deed recorder could put down what he thought was important and sometimes crucial information is left out.
Third: Almost always the property is in the man’s name but sometimes there are exceptions, so if you cannot find the deed check out the wife’s name.
Bad information
   I was looking up a house and could not find when the owner bought it. The owner lived there some 60 years according to the family and neighbors but no deed. I checked a 30 year span nothing. The owner was a millionaire and I was pulling my hair out. Finally I found the deed. He rented the property for over 20 years before finally buying it.
   Maps can be wrong, rarely but it does happen. I was trying to find when the owner bought the property and found nothing. I went back over 60 years. I asked another title searcher to check my work and he found nothing wrong.  After numerous tries I checked several other maps and the map I had been using was wrong, I had been looking up the wrong name the whole time.
   Sheriff sales can be really tough. Sheriff sales usually never mention a current or prior owner. A Sheriff’s deed tells who is suing to have the property sold, money involved etc. but many times never mentions the owner who is losing the property. I was researching a commercial property from the 1840’s and the deed mentioned no prior owner of the commercial property. Worse there were no maps  of Delaware County prior to the Ash Map of 1848 so I had nothing to look at for a previous owner. But I did get lucky several months later. While looking up something else I noticed an advertisement for the property. The new owner who had just purchased it was looking to rent it. I had the name I needed, FINALLY.
    Another thing to remember, when you finally find that deed where there is no house just an empty lot say 1880 your work is not over. When was your house built?  In most cases when an empty lot was purchased a house was built soon after, but there are exceptions. It might be several years or even more. Now is the  time to go to the newspaper to get the final answer. The Chester Times started in 1876 and the Morton Chronicle in 1880 and both by the late 1880’s had sections on “new” towns, like Glenolden or Ridley Park or more established areas like Darby and Chester. These sections in the paper talk about local news, plus houses being built, sometimes builders and even architects are mentioned. In 1913 the Chester Times started the Realty News which every Saturday talked about houses being built, house additions and new developments. Before 1880 newspapers like the Delaware County Republican and Upland Union also had building news but it was much more hit or miss. If your house was built in the 18th century or before the 1798 window tax is very important. In 1798 the Federal Government for just one year had a tax on panes of glass. The theory was the more windows, panes of glass in them the bigger your house was and the richer you were. Many people had no windows with glass at all. What makes the tax list important is the taxman measured the width and length of each house, how many stories, windows etc. It is an excellent research tool. Early 19th century tax records give basic house descriptions, such as a frame, stone or plank house etc. This varied from tax collector to tax collector there was no standard in those days exactly what a collector had to put down. So get to work and find out how old your house really is!!

If you have a business

     As some of you know I'm on the board of the Colonial Plantation, in Ridley Creek State Park. We are having our annual fundraiser on November 10th, more on that later. We do an ad book every year and I'm hoping you will take an ad. We are a 501[c3] and all money donated is tax deductable. We receive NO money at all from the State of Pennsylvania. Please donate to a great cause! email me at and I will send you the information.
   I'm also always looking for volunteers to help with typing, taking pictures, computer stuff etc. Does not matter if it is an hour a week or an hour a month always need some help
Thanks Keith


  1. My Home was built between 1864 and 1869. 1864 it was a Lot. 1869 it was sold with a "messuage”. And I'm not allowed to use it as a Tannery but it can be used as a Tavern provided I don't serve Indians. Its all there!

  2. Looks like the house I grew up in at 338 Oxford Rd, Brookline!