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Researching the History of Your House


On Friday, October 13, 2006, Sharon Pullen, from the Historic Documents Library at the Office of the County Clerk gave a talk on "Researching The History Of Your House." Here are her notes from the meeting...


Researching the History of Your House

The Office of the County Clerk holds land records dating from the mid -1600's. These do not usually contain descriptions of the house or other buildings found on the land. Even so, a deed is a good place to begin researching the history of your house. Following are some first steps you should take to start this research.

Read your current deed. Make a note of the Liber (book) and page number, which will be listed on the upper right hand corner of the deed. At the end of the description of your property you may find references to the prior deed and the Liber and page number where it was recorded. Make a note of those numbers too.

Go to the Public Access Room in the Office of the County Clerk and look up your deed on the computers there. Ask for help in printing out the history section that shows the earliest document about your property that is recorded in the computer system.

Go to the Records Room in the Office of the Suffolk County Clerk at the County Center in Riverhead.

Go to the rows of numbered Deed Libers and find the lowest numbered Liber you found for your property. This deed may refer you to an earlier one. Work your way backward through earlier deeds.

If you have no Liber numbers on your deed, or if the computer system has no information on the history, you can still research your house. Begin with last name of the person from whom you bought your house and look that name up in the indexes in the Record Room. Land records before 1978 are indexed by both GRANTEE (buyer) and GRANTOR (seller) in large index books in the Records Room. These volumes are located on opposite sides of the room. The aisle containing the Grantor indexes has a sign hanging from the ceiling at the end of the aisle. The Grantee indexes that reference the oldest of the deeds are not indicated by a sign, go to the Historic Documents Library and the Archivist will show you where to find those books.

The Grantor/Grantee indexes are organized as follows: From 1660-1950, all of Suffolk County is indexed in one set of books, arranged alphabetically, by the first letter of the last name, inside each volume, the records are arranged by the first letter of the first name.

Beginning in 1951 through 1969 the records are divided by Town and within each town they are arranged as described above.

There are also Mortgage Libers in the Records Room. Many times the mortgage on a property is referenced in the deed. In the case of earlier deeds this may sometimes be a good indication of when a house was constructed on a piece of land.

As you work your way backward through the earlier deeds, you may come to one that is deeded to someone as the heir of a deceased person. Make a note of that person's name in order to look up the will at the Surrogate's Court. Many times wills are more descriptive of houses than are deeds.

Building permits were, in general, not issued before the early 1920's but you may find reference to a "date of origin" for a house on early permits. These will be on file at your Town Clerk's Office or in the Building Department. Keep in mind that this date was given by the person applying for the building permit and may be an approximate date.

Other Helpful Records

Records in the Historic Documents Library include several large bound Atlases of various portions of Suffolk County. The earliest one is dated c. 1873. Many of these include the property owners' names. Buildings and houses are also indicated on several of the atlases, sometimes with numbers that signify the number of stories in the house.

There is also a collection of Sanborn Company maps. This company, started in 1867 by D. A. Sanborn was the major provider of maps to the insurance industry for more than a hundred years. Although the collection here does not cover all of Suffolk County, the entire collection of Sanborn maps for the state of New York can be found at SUNY Stony Brook library on microfilm. These maps show buildings and are coded to indicate the type of construction, such as, wood or steel frame.

Researching the history of your house is usually a time-consuming process; so make sure you are ready to spend most of the day at County Center when you make your trip. There are copy machines available in the Records Room (25¢ a page). Some of the older deed volumes have been encapsulated in Mylar, which makes photocopying difficult, so you may have to transcribe the information you find there. There is a Cafeteria in the building. Remember to bring paper and a pencil for taking notes.



Grantor- one that conveys property or a right in property by deed

Grantee - one to whom a grant by deed is made

Mortgagor- The borrower in a mortgage agreement. Sometimes spelled mortgager.

Mortgagee- The creditor or lender in a mortgage agreement.

Deed- A document sealed as an instrument of bond, contract, or conveyance, especially relating to property.

Mortgage - A temporary, conditional pledge of property to a creditor as security for performance of an obligation or repayment of a debt. A contract or deed specifying the terms of a mortgage. The claim of a mortgagee upon mortgaged property.

Lien- When a creditor or bank has the right to sell the mortgaged or collateral property of those who fail to meet the obligations of a loan contract.

Notary public- someone legally empowered to witness signatures and certify a document's validity and to take depositions

Acknowledgement- the formal certificate made by an officer before whom one has acknowledged a deed including as an essential part the signature and often the seal of the officer.

The National Register of Historic Places is the Nation's official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation. Authorized under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Register is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect our historic and archeological resources. Properties listed in the Register include districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that are significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture. The National Register is administered by the National Park Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

New York State Historic Preservation Office



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4/3/2012, Dale Hawkins wrote...

My home has been owned by my grandparents, my parents, my ex-husband & myself, and now just me.....for the last almost-100 years. Just one family line since it was built. Pretty easy research.



3/14/2010, Frederic Jones wrote...

I spent the summers until 1944 with my grandparents. Frederic Walter and Estelle Raphun Jones, at their home on North Howells Point RD. I have a nice collection of photos of that home, from 1925 to 1943, as well as family members and era cars. My grandfather died in December, 1943 and my grandmother moved to the Fifth avenue Hotel, in The City, and later The Glengarriff Nursing Home. Both of my grandparents are buried in Woodland Cemetery.

I have recently googled and located a satellite photo of the home and it appears to resemble the home as I knew it. However, I am uncertain of the exact address. If someone, including the current residents would like to share information on these Bellport residents, I would appreciate hearing from them. I attended the Methodist Church with my grandfather Fred. My grandmother attended the Episcopal church and enrolled me in their summer programs. Fred's brother, Bill and wife Evelyn, as well as his sister Marie, rented a home each summer and I have a photo of that home as well. In addition Madge and William (Hamilton?) were long term employees of the Joneses in both Bellport and Coral Gables, Florida, where I was born. My wife Lynn, and I, hope to visit Bellport this year from our current residences in Charleston, S.C. and Sapphire, N.C.

We would be pleased to hear from anyone who wishes to share information. Please email



1/23/2008, Barbara Knowles of Bellport wrote...

That was a very good article with lots of pertinent information. (We live in what was once a barn for the property on Bellport Lane so its history as a house goes back to about 1830 we guess.)