Your House Through Time: A guide for tracing your house history

The return of the BBC’s hugely popular series, A House through Time, has generated lots of enquiries from the local community asking how they go about tracing the history of their house. As a result we thought we’d put together a guide on resources we hold here at Bury Archives which can help you on your journey.

House History

Before you begin, ask yourself what it is you’d like to find out about your house’s past. For example, are you interested in its architectural history and how it may have changed over the years? Or would you rather trace the occupants of your house? Many of you will probably want to find out answers to both eventually but it’s best to concentrate on each as a separate strand of research. This approach helps you to stay focused!

Architectural History


The first Ordnance Survey (OS) maps for the area date between 1845 and 1850; the next series published in 1893 and then in most of the decades of the 20th century. All these maps are on open access and can be viewed in our search room – maps are a great place to start and are really useful to determine an approximate date of when your house was built. They also help you discover how the location has changed through the decades.



From the 1860s onwards, anyone building or substantially altering a property had to deposit plans with the local authority for approval. For the period c1860 – 1948, the archives holds a large collection of original paper plans. And from c1948 – 1998 a large number of plans are available to view on microfiche. Anything post 1998 will be held at the Council’s planning department.

What’s included in the planning documents will vary considerably depending on the property and date but expect to find a submission date, approval date, name of architect alongside block plans, perspective drawings and site plans.

Plan of Bury Dispensary from 1889

It is worth noting that many of the earlier plans will not have house numbers allocated to them so identifying a plan belonging to a particular property will take some time and preliminary research. Consulting maps, local history publications, house deeds – even chatting to some of the oldest residents in your street might provide vital clues to help track down that elusive building plan!


Over the years we have amassed a huge collection of photographs of the local area. Some of you will be familiar with our online Image Bank which enabled users to browse through the images. While this site was removed due to copyright infringement, you’ll be pleased to know that a bigger and better image website will be ready to use in the next couple of weeks! All the images will be properly watermarked but available for download at a small fee. Searching for your house or street location will have never been easier and can be done from the comfort of your own home!


In addition to our images searchable online, we hold photographs within separate archives holdings which have not yet been digitised or uploaded to our website. It’s always worthwhile searching our archive catalogue using keywords such as your house name, street name or district to see what results you get. You then need to jot down the catalogue reference and make an appointment to view the items here in the search room.


Rochdale Old Road c1905


Local newspapers were often used to advertise properties for rent or sale and these adverts can be full of useful detail. Here’s a summary of which newspapers we hold over on our website. Again you would need to have done some preliminary research to find out when the property changed hands so you have a date point for searching. However, the British Newspaper Archive has a free search facility (a paid subscription would be needed to view the newspaper image) and luckily holds the Bury Times from 1855 – 1909. Any search results will provide the edition date and page number; take a note of these and make an appointment to view the newspapers on microfilm here in the search room.

House Occupants History

Census Returns

The census is a head count of everyone in the country on a given day and can provide a snapshot of an entire family (including lodgers) living in your house at a particular moment in time. A census has been taken every 10 years in England and Wales since 1801 (except 1941). Microfilm copies of the Bury Census 1841-1901 are available for consultation here in the search room. In addition, we have free access via our public PCs to commercial genealogy site Ancestry where you can search the census returns from 1841-1911, as well as the 1939 register (discussed below).


The 1939 Register

The 1939 register provides a snapshot of the civilian population just after outbreak of World War Two. As the 1931 census was destroyed by fire during WW2 and no census was taken in 1941, this is certainly an invaluable resource for anyone tracing 20th century inhabitants of their home. For further information on the 1939 register please check out The National Archive’s Research Guide

Rate Books and Valuation Lists

Rate books are accounts kept by local authorities for raising local taxes on property. In order to collect this tax, a periodic valuation of all properties was needed which produced a valuation list. Each time the rate was collected a rate book had to be made out to track payments. Information gleaned from these books varies depending on district and year but expect to find name of owner, name of occupier (head of household only) and type of property. For larger properties, some valuation lists will even give an inventory of rooms and outbuildings. A comprehensive list of dates and districts held at the archives can be viewed on our website.


Rate books are a fabulous census substitute and as they were produced with more regularity will fill in the gaps of who lived in your house and street in between census years.


Voters Lists

Poll lists, Burgess Rolls, Parliamentary and Electoral Registers can be useful sources of information, providing that the limitations of the franchise laws are taken into account. We hold a varied selection of voters lists – for a detailed list refer to our summary of resources over on our website.

Street and Trade Directories

A variety of Bury and District directories from 1772 – 1967 are available for reference in the search room on open access. The information contained in these varies but they can provide alphabetical lists of inhabitants, street by street lists and alphabetical trade listings. With huge thanks to funding from Bury & District Local History Society these directories can now be viewed online over on our website:


The intention of this article is just to introduce you to some of the main sources used in tracing your house’s history and the types of records we hold here at the archives. When you have dealt with the basics, there are many other sources to consider – such as probate records, deeds, published histories, business records to name but a few. Some of these will be held here, some online and others held in various record offices.

Did you know we offer a research service? Charged at £20.00 per hour we can undertake most types of research including family history, local history, or the history of a business, house or building. Contact us for more details or send your request over on our website.


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1 Response to Your House Through Time: A guide for tracing your house history

  1. Pingback: Your House Through Time: A guide for tracing your house history | Bury Archives & Local History - This is Rammy

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