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Building and House History

A guide to finding architectural and other information about Chicago buildings and houses.

Finding Out More About Who Lived in the Building

Searching for information on previous owners and residents of the building can become a fascinating treasure hunt. Previous owners can be found in documents at the tax assessor's office and the recorder of deeds. Although recent information may be online, information on older properties requires a visit to the Cook County Building at 118 N. Clark St. Census records and announcements in newspapers can also tell you who lived in your home. CHM has criss-cross directories, Sanborn Maps, business directories, and address conversion guides to help with your research.

Criss-Cross Directories

These directories are organized by address, and tell what residents or businesses occupy the building. CHM has criss-cross directories for 1928, 1950, 1952, 1953, and 1978 to the present in the Abakanowicz Research Center. 1928 is also available online.

For certain addresses, the Elite Directory or the Chicago Blue Book (1880-1916, with a few gaps) can help. As the names imply, these directories recorded the names and addresses of Chicago's upper-class. They include a criss-cross section, organized by address. They can be consulted on the Abakanowicz Research Center's reference shelves. A few years can be found in the Internet Archive.

A database of city directories for the years 1844, 1851, 1859, 1860, 1861-62, 1862-63, 1863-64, 1864, 1865, 1866-67, 1867-68, 1871, 1873, 1881, 1890, 1910, and 1917 can be searched when you are on-site.  Search for [house number] W/1 [street name] to find an address.

Business Directories

The Chicago Central Business and Office Directory F38CN .A4 provides lists of tenants for commercial buildings in the Loop, such as the Monadnock, Fine Arts Building, Pullman Building, etc. 

CHM holds directories for the years 1892; 1903; 1906; 1908; 1909; 1910; 1911; 1912; 1913; 1916; 1917; 1918; 1920; 1922; 1923; 1924; 1925; 1927; 1929; 1930; 1933/34; 1934/35; 1935/36; 1937/38; 1938/39; 1939/40; 1941/42.

The 1922 edition is available online 

News Items

A search for an address in the ProQuest database of the Chicago Tribune may bring up obituaries or wedding announcements, as well as news items ranging from social notes, to major events, to human interest stories. With names obtained from these articles, you may be able to search out even more information about the residents in directories, newspapers, etc.

Census Records

Census records can show who lived in the house. A census is taken every 10 years, and the information gathered is available to the public after 72 years.  A Look at Cook can help you find what enumeration district and/or ward the building was in from 1870 through 1940 (with the exception of 1890; most of those records were lost in a fire at the National Archives.) The Unified Census ED Finder, created by Steve Morse and Dr. Joel Weintraub, will help you find the enumeration district through 1950. 

Many online genealogy sources can help you search records online. Family Search is a free search resource. Microfilm of census records is located at the Newberry Library and the Chicago branch of the National Archives and Records Association. Family Search also offers a guide to United States Census online records. Many of the providers of census records require a subscription, but some are free of charge. The 1940 census and 1950 census can be accessed for free online via the National Archives, for example.

City Directories

Using the name of one of the building's residents, you may be able to find out an occupation by looking up the name in the city directory. In each listing (for heads of household and employed persons) the job and even the location of that job is often given. City directories for Chicago exist for 1843 to 1917, 1923, and 1928. Some can be found on Google Books or the Internet Archive, but usually a search of these resources will require a visit to the Abakanowicz Research Center.

A database of city directories for the years 1844, 1851, 1859, 1860, 1861-62, 1862-63, 1863-64, 1864, 1865, 1866-67, 1867-68, 1871, 1873, 1881, 1890, 1910, and 1917 can be searched when you are on-site.