House history research

Inner West house history

Inner West Council is a local government area located in the inner western region of Sydney in the state of New South Wales, Australia. The area covers 35 square kilometres and 27 suburbs.

Step 1: For all enquiries, please email your house history address to history@innerwest.nsw.gov.au

Step 2: Staff will make an appointment at the relevant location during advertised community history hours.

Leichhardt Library Local History Room

Hours:

  • Tuesday, 2pm to 5pm
  • Thursday, 2pm to 5pm
  • Friday, 10am to 1pm

For the following suburbs:

  • Annandale
  • Balmain
  • Balmain East
  • Birchgrove
  • Leichhardt
  • Balmain Library
  • Lilyfield
  • Rozelle

Balmain Library

Hours:

  • Friday, 10am to 1pm

For the following suburbs:

  • Balmain
  • Balmain East
  • Birchgrove
  • Rozelle

Ashfield Local Studies Room

Hours:

  • Monday, 10am to 1pm
  • Tuesday, 10am to 1pm

For the following suburbs:

  • Ashfield
  • Ashbury
  • Croydon
  • Croydon Park
  • Dobroyd Point
  • Haberfield
  • Hurlstone Park

Marrickville Library (main floor)

Hours:

  • Monday, 2pm to 5pm
  • Wednesday, 2pm to 5pm

For the following suburbs:

  • Camperdown
  • Dulwich Hill
  • Enmore
  • Lewisham
  • Marrickville
  • Newtown
  • Petersham
  • St Peters
  • Sydenham
  • Tempe

Searching the history of a house

Whilst it may be difficult to always obtain the exact date of a house, there are a number of resources which may assist you in searching for the history of a house. As with any research activity, house history research requires patience, exactness and a touch of lateral thinking. The main place to begin is by asking the question - what is it that I really want to know? Your research strategy can be determined by the answer to your question. Once you know what kind of information you are seeking you can then decide on which of the following resources will be most helpful.

  • The exact date of the house
  • An approximate date that the house was built
  • The name of the house
  • Information about the owners or occupiers of the house

The Sands Directory

The original intention of the publishers of this directory was to provide a Sydney wide commercial directory. Over time this extended to NSW country areas. The Directory covers the period 1858-1932/33. It is organised chronologically and can provide an approximate date for when the house was built; a history of those who lived in the house and sometimes their occupation. Sands may also provide you with the name of the house.

It is not difficult to use but does require time and patience. Start with a date that you know the house was built and work chronologically backwards from there. When the house first appears in Sands it is about a year old due to publishing timelines. The directory isn't 100% accurate which is why you need to search over a period of time. This directory wasn't produced for the years 1860; 1862; 1872; 1878 and 1881. Also the earlier issues, that is prior to 1880, don't give the detail that Sands publishers provided in later years.

If you do have the time to spend looking at this directory, it can be very rewarding. It now provides a useful social history of Sydney suburbs over a large period of time and you can find out lots of interesting pieces of information about the history of your house.

The Sands Directory is available at Leichhardt and Balmain Libraries or you can access it online.

Council Archives

Rate books

A number of rate books have been digitised and can be accessed at Marrickville, Leichhardt and Balmain Libraries. Information recorded in rate and valuation books varies between Councils over time. Generally information recorded includes names of property owners and occupiers, property name, subdivision, property description, improved and unimproved capital property value.

Building and subdivision registers

Building and subdevision registers contain brief information about the date applications were submitted to Council for approval, the decision made by Council, name of the owner, name of the builder and type of building work.

For more information visit our Council archives page.

Land and property information

House occupiers

The Sands Directory can provide you with information about the occupiers of a house.

House owners

If you want details about the owners, you can visit the NSW Land Registry Services office website where there are a range of resources which can help you.

Other information

Your current rate notice will provide you with a Deposit Plan (DP) number which will allow you to search particular information about a property. When you buy a house you can obtain a copy of the current Certificate of Title. This will give you information about previous owners and each Title document has a number, often a Vol/Folio number which will enable you to carry out retrospective searches.

Historian Peter Reynolds notes the following about Land Titles searches:

"Land Titles are primarily concerned with boundaries and not the buildings contained within those boundaries. But if you have the time a title search can be rewarding, interesting and exciting."

"The certificate of title records each change of ownership by dealing notation. Each notation on each Title shows a dealing number. The actual dealings show the purchase price and mortgage. If you have the time and energy it is possible to trace your property back to the first titles in NSW which were land grants."

Land and Property Information has records going back to 1792, such as grant registers, vendors index, purchasers index and Torrens Title registers.

Useful terms

Folio: leaf of paper especially one numbered only on the front.

Volume: set of sheets of paper usually printed, bound together and forming part or the whole of a work or comprising several works.

Title: the right to ownership of property with or without possession.

Message: dwelling house without buildings and land assigned to its use.

Old system: the title (ownership) of a particular piece of land was established by examining a bundle of documents known as the chain of title. In Australia the chain commenced with the original Crown Grant and each time the land was sold another deed was drawn up and added to the chain. The documents (deeds) forming the chain had to be handed to the purchaser on the signing of each new deed of sale and purchase. Under this system the sale and purchase of land was essentially a private matter between the vendor (seller) and the purchaser. There was nothing compulsory about the procedure: it was a matter of judgement and prudence whether you registered a deed or not. (A gentleman's agreement!)

Torrens title: named after Robert Richard Torrens in South Australia. The basis of this system is a State guaranteed (government guaranteed) title. All transfers of land must, by law, be registered at the Titles Office and open for public scrutiny. Complex deeds are replaced by short and simple documents. Torrens is land rather than name based.

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Page last updated: 17 Nov 2018