Stratford-Perth Archives

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Researching the history of your house

A request for the “house history” of a property in the City of Stratford is a common occurrence at the Archives.  Depending on who is asking, this can involve any of the following:  wanting to know the date the house was built; who the original owner was; wanting a list of the owners or occupants over the years; looking at historic pictures of the house; and other assorted queries.  Here is some information about resources at the Archives that can help researchers answer some of these questions. 

Vernon’s City Directory is a great resource for keeping track of the primary occupants of a house.  For most years, the directory is arranged by address and by last name.  This allows researchers to follow both properties and individuals over time.  The directories may also contain information about an individual’s occupation.  The earliest directory at the archives is from 1876 and the latest one is from 2013. 

The Archives is also home to a large collection of photographs that depict buildings and houses in the City of Stratford.  These photographs are arranged by street name, with some of the more prominent streets further organized into blocks.  Researchers have used these to see how houses have changed over the years, to get inspiration for period correct restorations, or to just satisfy their curiosity and interest.  The earliest photos in this collection are from the mid-late 1800s. 

To determine the year a house was built and who the original owner likely was, the primary resource referred to is the City’s tax assessment rolls.  These were used by the City to keep track of the value of each parcel of real estate and how it was being used.  Depending on the year, the assessment rolls list owner names, tenant names, lot numbers, lot sizes, land values, building values, number of occupants, age of occupants and general religious affiliation.  They often also list the occupation and age of a tenant or owner. 

The assessment rolls are a useful tool for determining the year a house was built because they list a separate value for the land and the buildings on that land.  If a lot does not have an assessed value for a building one year and an assessed value for a building the next, then it suggests that during the course of time between the two assessments the building was constructed. 

Sometimes a house already exists on the lot prior to another house being built.  In these instances, a significant jump in value between assessment years can indicate that an older more modest home was demolished or drastically altered to make way for a new house. 

The earliest City Assessment Rolls housed at the Archives are from the 1850s.  However, due to the fragile nature of these resources the original records are not available.  The rolls from 1880 – 1899 are available on microfilm in the Archives reading room.  For all other years, Archives staff will need to access the rolls on behalf of the researcher.  Depending on the type of request, this may involve fees due to the time involved to complete the research.     

Fortunately, assessment roll research has already been completed on many properties in Stratford.  If you are curious about the year a property was built, feel free to ask.  The first steps may have already been taken for you!   

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