How can a person find out the history of his or her house?
We've all heard the expression "If these walls could talk," and in New Orleans some of the stories they tell really do date back centuries. Researching that colorful history can be challenging, but in this digital age it can be easier than you think.
One great place to start is the New Orleans Public Library website's online resource by former city archivist Wayne Everard (www.nutrias.org/~nopl/house2/intro.htm). It begins by explaining the first and most important step in any research like this — tracing the chain of title (who owned your house and when). Everard says this essential part of the process can be tricky because of changes to street names and addresses over time and record-keeping discrepancies.
Visiting the Clerk of Civil District Court is another crucial step. Clerk of Court Dale Atkins' office recently consolidated the city's property records from several different offices into one (including the Notarial Archives, Conveyance Office and Recorder of Mortgages). Records at the office date back to 1735 and are available at 1340 Poydras St., fourth floor. There's also information online at www.orleanscivilclerk.com. Deed and property sale information is available from the Orleans Parish assessor's office (www.nolaassessor.com). The folks in both of those offices can help decipher the information you find, which can be confusing if your house is old.
Everard says your search may take a few twists and turns, with documents recorded in French or Spanish (especially if you're researching a French Quarter property), or records that may be wholly or partially illegible. In addition, he says, some Uptown property records may be housed at the Jefferson Parish Courthouse, since parts of Uptown, including Carrollton, the Irish Channel and the Garden District, were part of Jefferson during much of the 19th century.
The public library's Louisiana Division (on the third floor at 219 Loyola Ave.) can fill in other gaps through Sewerage & Water Board records, city directories, maps, blueprints and building permits. Good luck and happy house history hunting.