Old Houses

Researching old houses

How to Research a House

If you want to learn about the history of your house, there are several sources at the Stewart Bell Jr. Archives that will help you. The most useful source will be property records maintained by the county and city governments. Other manuscript collections contain surveys of historical districts, which may include information about the house of interest. Checking street maps is also useful for discovering name changes over the years.

Begin with the current deed. If you do not own it, go to the courthouse and find the present owner in the grantee index. Note the volume and page number listed for the transaction. Go to the deed volume, turn to the page, and read the deed. Make notes of all the important information, including dates, locations mentioned, abutters (neighbors), names of family members, and previous owners. Note the person who sold the property (the one who signed the deed) is the grantor.

Look the grantor up in the grantee index. Who was his seller (grantor)? Look that grantor up in the grantee index. Keep going backward until you come to a blank; that means that a deed at some point was unrecorded, and you need to use other sources.

Street directories are quickest, if you have an address. Start in any year, and look for any name that you know was at your address about then. Without street directories, you will have to use whatever is available.

City/County Records

Deeds – A property sale is made formal by the execution of a deed. The buyer keeps a copy to prove his ownership; a copy must also be recorded in the county or city clerk’s office. Sometimes the deed includes a recital of the property’s ownership history. Deeds are sometimes execute many years before they are recorded.

Deeds for both Winchester and Frederick County—separate political entities with separate collections of documents—are housed at the Judicial Center, 5 North Kent Street. The Archives has the following deed indexes and copies of deeds on microfilm.

Winchester Index to Deeds 1790-1919 Deed Books 1789-1879, 1943, 1955-1956
Frederick County Index to Deeds 1743-1876 Deed Books 1743-1800

Start with the indexes of deeds, as described above. The indexes will refer you to the official copies of documents describing the ownership of your property. This may not include the date of construction of the house of names of renters, but you will learn the names of previous owners, possibly back to Lord Thomas Fairfax.

The Archives has the Northern Neck Land grants on microfilm. Book index and abstracts to this series are listed below.

Gray, Gertrude E., compiler. Virginia Northern Neck Land Grants 1694-1862. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1988.

Joyner, Peggy Shomo, compiler. Abstracts of Virginia’s Northern Neck Warrants & Surveys 1635-1784. Portsmouth, VA: Self-published, 1985.

Wills—Copies of wills for both Winchester and Frederick County are found at the Judicial Center, 5 North Kent Street. The Archives has the following indexes and wills on microfilm.

Winchester Index to Wills 1794-present Will Books 1794-1905
Frederick County Index to Wills 1743-1917 Will Books 1743-1845

Tax Records—The Archives has Land Tax and Personal Property Tax Records for Frederick County, 1782-1850. Land Tax Records for Winchester 1787-1865 are available on microfilm. These are not indexed.

Books About Old Houses

Howe, Barbara J. Houses and Houses. Nashville: Amer. Assoc. for State and Local History, 1987.
973 Hou

Kalbian, Maral S. Frederick County, VA History Through Architecture. Winchester, VA: Winches-ter-Frederick County Historical Society Rural Landmarks Publication Committee, 1999.
975.599 Kal

Light, Sally. House Histories. Spencertown, NY: Golden Hill Press, 1989.
973 Lig

Miller, Virginia and John G. Lewis. Interior Woodwork of Winchester, Virginia 1750-1859 with Some History and Tales. Stephens City, VA: Self-published, 1994.
975.599 Mil

Morrison, James R. and Walter C. Kidney. Winchester: Limestone, Sycamores and Architecture. Winchester, VA: Preservation of Historic Winchester, 1977.
720.975591 M83

Quarles, Garland R. Some Old Homes in Frederick County, VA. (Rev.) Stephens City, VA: Commercial Press, 1971.
975.599 Q22

Quarles, Garland R. Story of One Hundred Old Homes in Winchester, VA. Winchester, VA: F&M Bank, 1967.
975.5991 Q222

Russell, William Greenway. What I Know About Winchester: Recollections of William Greenway Russell, 1800-1891. Staunton, VA: McClure Publishing Co., 1953.
975.5991 R911


Historic American Buildings Survey

Created during the Depression, the HABS continues to send survey teams out to measure buildings, boats, and other historic structures. Actual drawings are located at the Library of Congress and consists of drawings and photographs of particular buildings by HABS. Available in the Stewart Bell Jr. Archives.
521 THL


Frederick County: Belle Grove
Winchester: Abram’s Delight
Amherst Street: Edward McGuire House, Alexander Tidball House, William P. McGuire House, William F. Hottel House, Robert Long House


Julian Baker Papers

While working as Clerk of Courts for Winchester, Julian Baker abstracted information about various families from the court records. The inventory will guide you toward locating information about family history and property ownership in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
87 THL

Mutual Assurance Society

To provide insurance coverage for a particular property, it is necessary to have a description and to assess the approximate value. These papers include sketch maps and descriptions of several downtown Winchester homes and the adjacent out buildings, as well as, properties in Frederick, Berkeley, Clarke, Loudoun, Shenandoah, and Warren counties. Dates: 1790-1838. Filed by street address. Has inventory.

Scrapbooks Collection

Scrapbooks of historic houses of the Winchester area which appeared in the Baltimore Sun.
844 WFCHS, Box 2

Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission

This collection consists of surveys of some of the homes built during the 18th and 19th centuries in the Frederick County area (does not include City of Winchester). Information provides structural layout and dimensions, photos, historical data, condition, owners, etc. of the structure at the time of the survey (1973, 1990). Locations are illustrated on topographic maps, which are a part of this collection. There is also a name index to the houses. Has inventory.
1350 WFCHS

WPA Inventory

As part of the depression era make-work programs, people were hired to visit and describe old houses in various states. This collection is composed of fifty such survey descriptions with some of the relevant deeds for each property. Has inventory.

W.W. Glass Papers

Local historian William W. Glass collected information about members of the community. Details of property ownership are filed by the street address for some lots of the original Old Town area of Winchester. Has inventory.

20 THL


The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps show streets and buildings as of 1908, 1912, and 1921.
MC2 D9

Scheel, Eugene M. Frederick County, City of Winchester. Board of Realtors, 1974. (Also for sale.) (A copy hangs on wall in Archives reading room; index located on shelf to the left of map.)

Ask for our list of Winchester and Frederick County maps.

The Archives also has the following Sanborn Maps for Winchester on microfilm: October 1885, June 1891, February 1897, January 1903, October 1908, December 1912, March 1921, and August 1927.

The Lakes Atlas includes a large-scale map of the downtown area and smaller scale maps of the several magisterial districts with locations of home owners of 1885. It is filed with oversize books—rare. Atlases for Augusta County, Frederick County, Rockingham County, and Shenandoah and Page counties are available in the Archives reading room, filed with oversized books.

Street Directories

Street directories list inhabitants along with their home and business addresses. Often they included business directories and advertising rather like our yellow pages, and some provide supplemental lists of people organized by street. Directories usually appear annually. Therefore it is easy to tell when someone moved in or out (except in cases where you had to pay to be listed). Local directories, shelved in the reading room, begin with 1878 and are still published today. These directories cover Winchester and Frederick County.

Photograph Collections

The Archives holds an extensive photograph collection of houses and other buildings. Winchester photos are filed by street address. County photos are indexed by name of the home.


Real estate advertisements in newspapers have been helpful for house history, because the buildings may be described. The Winchester Star, from 1896 to the present, is available on microfilm in the Archives reading room. The collection also includes local newspapers from 1786 to present. There is no index to the newspaper collection.


Magazines often have extensive spreads of distinguished or interesting buildings. Useful magazines held in the Archives reading room include the following.


Winchester-Frederick County Historical Journal  
Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society 1986-present
Notes on Virginia, Virginia Department of Historic Resources 1980-present


Subject Headings to Use

Historic Buildings – Virginia – Frederick County
Historic Buildings – Virginia – Winchester


Stewart Bell Jr. Archives Room
Handley Regional Library
Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society

P.O. Box 58, Winchester, VA 22604
(540) 662-9041, fax (540) 662-9053
archives@handleyregional.org (e-mail)