Tracing Your House History Freely Online – A Brief Lockdown Guide

At this time of continued lockdown for popular public spaces such as libraries and archives, it’s good to know what’s online and apparently many of you are still keen to pursue your local history research or are inspired to make a start in this fascinating area. Following the posting in the recent newsletter, it’s clear that many of you are particularly interested in tracing your house history or maybe just that of a particularly interesting building in your area.

The attached leaflet guide and the following leaflet list addresses for you to explore that offer free online access.


A general overview of the property location is probably the best initial way to start and, for the Bradford MDC area, check out the sites recommended for local mapping. Local authorities have also addressed conservation area  issues and free access to Bradford’s conservation area assessments can be found at just search ‘conservation area assessments’ for a list available online. These reports include maps and details of building materials with some local history, your street or property may well be highlighted. If not, you will at least get a reasonable idea of the age and development of your local area. If your property is a listed building, then look at the listed building sites recommended on the leaflet.

Photographs can reveal the age of your property and building/land additions, as well as the development of the local surroundings and land usage. They sometimes even show you who once lived there if you are very lucky. As well as the sites noted on the leaflet, many local history sites are a wonderfully rich source of postcards and photographs available online.

Photograph of the Hall from the Keighley Photographic Society Collection showing the opening of the Mansion House with a day of celebrations, 6th July 1893, the official handing over of Eastwood House and grounds (Victoria Park) to the public.

Maps of Yorkshire that show historical details such as wapentake, parish and riding divisions can be found on sites such as  and the National Library of Scotland web site and that of the Ordnance Survey have free access to old maps and township plans for the mid 19th and early 20th Century.

Station Rd Cullingworth 1840’s’
Eastwood Tithe 1842

People and trade

If you are not living in an ancestral pile, then you may wish to start looking at who lived in your property. Believe it or not, quite a few customers have come into libraries simply to research supernatural phenomena or to try and discover more about family papers found under floorboards or left in attics.

The first port of call would be Ancestry or Findmypast, available freely in all Bradford Libraries but fortunately during this lockdown period, Bradford Libraries is providing free access to Ancestry for all customers with a library card, follow the instructions below.  On here you can use the census records 1841-1911 and the special 1939 England and Wales register is also available on the web site free of charge.

To access Ancestry Library you will need a Bradford Libraries membership card.
Go to and log in to your library account with your card number and pin.
Remember to input just the numbers. Next, click on the special link to Ancestry Library Edition.

Maybe the former inhabitants or your property were involved in trade or your house was a former shop or even church. Trade directories are useful as they list local traders and in some editions their introductions give a useful overview of the township as a whole and of its main families, religious buildings, prominent houses and other services and amenities and local farms. These supplement the census records and although you will usually get a more comprehensive collection in your local studies library or record office, you can find a few relevant directories online. Check out this handy leaflet produced by Bradford Libraries’ staff:  and try the addresses shown on the leaflet.

You may also want to look at if you live in a mill conversion and you can try for local industry and engineering research.

Probate and Wills

Once you have names for owners/occupiers you can then trace death years through your free access to Ancestry, looking at births, marriage and death certification years and/or any church or chapel records to verify identities, with many available on this site. Click on the Search tab on the home page and look at UK record listings, if applicable, for your chosen subject area or click on the card catalogue for a full listing of all types of available records that are included. If you are lucky with this search, you may well then be able to trace probate and will records on the National Archives’ web site. There are also appropriate leaflets explaining such records in more detail on this site:

Conveyancing documents and title deeds

These can be difficult to trace outside of lockdown and would involve, for the Bradford area, a trip to Wakefield District Archives, Registry of Deeds, for the period before 1970 in most instances and contacting The Nottingham (West)District Land Registry, for property built after 1974.  However, records are not accessible freely online so the next best thing for properties built before 1970 is the available study of tithe maps.   The location manorial records such as tenancy lists, rentals, survey maps and estate documents to search outside lockdown can be discovered at and for enclosure awards by searching local archive catalogues online. It’s also worth noting that land registration was not compulsory until 1990 and that voluntary registration began only in 1863. The National Archives has information guides for tracing deeds, see:

Early records: tithe awards

Tithe maps produced after the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836, together with the Tithe Award, give information about the township at the time and the tithes due from it to the Church. From the related apportionments you can get the owner/occupiers’ name, description of land and premises, extent and use of land. Some local tithe maps are available at

Other tax records

For other land tax and window tax (from 1696) assessments see the National Archives web site. Also see Hearth Tax online at  . When searching these you need to know the wapentake for your house location. Bradford was in Morley, Bingley in Skyrack and Keighley was in East Staincliffe,  for a full listing see the following: . Genuki holds a lot of   information that will prove very useful in your research , including a number of links to other useful sites.

Local Newspapers Online

Yes, they are available online and many are on the 19th Century newspapers from the British Library through Bradford Libraries digital library now available to all Bradford Libraries’ card holders from home. You may even find a report of a relevant court case or an obituary. Local publications include The Bradford Observer 1834-1875, The Leeds Mercury 1807-1900 and The Northern Star 1838-1852. The text is searchable in a variety of ways including keywords or topics.

You can access it from home via the Bradford Libraries website. Go to, click on Digital Library and scroll down to ‘Nineteenth Century Newspapers’. You will then need to enter your library ticket number without any letters.

Here’s hoping this short outline has been of help and inspires you to further explore this subject area online and in fact all the information available for local historical research on the Bradford Libraries’ web site.

New TV Programme

 If you would like to simply enjoy watching someone else do the work, the award-winning history format, A house Through Time, is returning to BBC2 this month with David Olusoga, historian and presenter.

Good luck and stay safe.

Gina Birdsall and Angela Speight

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