House Histories by Sally Light: Guide to Tracing Your Home Genealogy

by DerdriuMarriner

House Histories by Sally Light is a helpful guide to tracing the genealogy of your home and to operating a home-based house histories business.

House histories are biographies of our living spaces

House Histories by Sally Light, an Austerlitz-born town historian and New York-based house histories businesswoman and magazine and newspaper writer, acts as a user-friendly guide to tracing the genealogy of your home and to operating a home-based house histories business. The 1988-released publication brings graphic and written record search, in-person interview, on-site inspection, research analysis, and story-writing skills to the curious, imaginative, observant, outgoing, and persistent among:
• architectural, cultural, family, house, social, and town historians;
• genealogists;
• historic register applicants, historical society staff-persons;
• home builders, occupants, and owners;
• interior designers;
• preservationists;
• realtors;
• scrap-bookers.

It contains a five-page introduction to the triangular interactions of building style, technology, and use which determine the genesis, maintenance, and sustainability of all houses.

A house may have an obvious history, such as author Ernest Hemingway's home in the Florida Keys, or an obscure history: all houses have histories.

Key West, Florida
Key West, Florida

House histories become ways of knowing residences inside-out


The text divides into six sections preceded by acknowledgments and introductions and succeeded by bibliography, glossary, and index.

The 97-page first section explains on-site inspections of:

  • boundary markers (including fences, vegetation, walls);
  • grounds (including gardens, vegetation, water features);
  • house exteriors (including balconies, chimneys, doors, eaves, foundations, gutters, porches, roofs, verandas, walls, windows);
  • house interiors (including ceiling heights, fastenings, flooring, room sizes, wall coverings and thicknesses);
  • outbuildings.

Inspectors find that everything can be accomplished with just camera, flashlight, notebook, pen, and 25-foot (7.62-meter) measuring tape as equipment.

Door and woodwork fasteners, exterior and interior colors, and window pane sizes give insights into the age of the house, the identity of the builder, and the socio-economics of the owner/occupant. 


Stanley 33-725 25-Feet FatMax Tape Measure ~ Available now via Amazon ~ Amazon best seller rank: #1 in Tape Measures

BladeArmor™ coating on the first 3" maximizes durability of the blade ~ Special True-Zero hook allows use of nail as pivot to draw circles and arches
house history equipment/tools

House histories collect what is recorded about dwellings


The 61-page second section gathers such written records as:

  • correspondence;
  • diaries;
  • letters of administration for estate settlement executors;
  • mortgages, movable (chattel) and real property deeds, personal property hereditaments, real property leases;
  • public auction records;
  • wills.  

Record-searching hones skills at deciphering pre-twentieth-century handwriting and drawing online maps from survey descriptions. It includes such secondary sources as:

  • birth/death certificates, burial/marriage records;
  • church, city, county, Masonic lodge, oral, telephone company, town histories;
  • civil servant lists;
  • fire company records, fire insurance company blotters;
  • general store ledgers;
  • newspapers;
  • organizational rosters;
  • school records.

The 31-page third section handles such graphic records as:

  • aerial photos, architectural plans;
  • city, county, town atlases/directories;
  • county, federal, state censuses;
  • insurance/urban assessment/permit/utility maps;
  • road, tax lists;
  • surveyor’s plats, surveys. 


Census records offer helpful information for crafting home histories:

Pitcher commemorating the first United States census, c. 1790, made in England
National Museum of American History, Washington, DC
National Museum of American History, Washington, DC

House histories describe residences for albums, narratives, preservation


The 23-page fourth section identifies such research takeaways as:

  • pursuing historic registry;  
  • writing annotated chronologies for albums and scrapbooks and publishable narratives (including abstract, family genealogy, house history, references, vocabulary).

The 20-page fifth section judges the house history-writing business organizational merits of:

  • corporations;
  • partnerships;
  • sole proprietorships.

The 29-page sixth section keeps examples of on-site inspections and survey descriptions; explanations of court indexing systems and independent urban areas; lists of national archives and records center, historic preservation organization, park service, and state historical archive/society contact information.


House Histories leaves home genealogists culturally enriched, educationally entertained, geo-historically enthralled by:

  • Margaret Eberle, illustrator;
  • Golden Hill Press, Inc., publisher;
  • Catherine Hopkins, designer;
  • Ari Iacovini, Just Your Type-setter;
  • Sarah B. Light, author. 


House Histories: A Guide to Tracing the Genealogy of Your Home by Sally Light ~ Available now via Amazon

Helpful guide through the fun of finding out about house history.
house history guides



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


LED flashlight by Brightex ~ Available now via Amazon ~ Amazon best seller rank: #1 in Key Chain Flashlights

Tactical Flashlight, Specifically Designed for Tough Conditions! Super Bright LED in a Small, Lightweight, Aircraft Grade Aluminum Body. Waterproof, Easy One-Hand-Operation, 5 Modes, Incredible Zoom
house history equipment/tools

Sources Consulted


Light, Sally. 1989. House Histories: A Guide to Tracing the Genealogy of Your Home. Including Chapters on How to Operate a Homebased “House Histories” Business. Spencertown, NY, U.S.A.: Golden Hill Press. 


digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera by Nikon ~ Available now via Amazon ~ Amazon best seller rank: #1 in DSLR cameras

4 frames per second continuous shooting ~ 18-55mm and 55-200mm VR DX Zoom Lenses Bundle
house history equipment/tools
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Old English House, Moonlight After Rain ~ Available as Giclée Print and as Premium Giclée Print ~ Available now via AllPosters

Every house has a story to share ~ print of 1883 oil on canvas painting by John Atkinson Grimshaw (September 6, 1836 – October 13, 1893)
Old English House, Moonlight After Rain, 1883

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 11/13/2021, DerdriuMarriner
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


Only logged-in users are allowed to comment. Login
DerdriuMarriner on 05/07/2021

WriterArtist, Thank you for coming by and pondering the wider context of residences, sometimes as bad and as good as, sometimes worse and better than, their guests, hosts and residents.

WriterArtist on 05/06/2021

Dear DerdriuMarriner,
You have brought an interesting topic in the article. Houses like people can exhibit some charm and persona. A house speaks a lots - it tells us about the personal likings, style and arrangements of the families who dwelled in it. I totally agree, houses may have exciting history and also vibes. Good houses have positive vibes whereas haunted ones do not.

You might also like

Bacon’s Castle: 350th Arthur Allen House Anniversary, Surry, V...

Bacon’s Castle and oldest North American formal garden host the 350th Arthur ...

The Haunted Winchester Mystery House Gardens: The Cryptic Lega...

Daytime hauntings outside afford clear views of ghosts. They help identify Wi...

Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...