Researching Your Home's History
by Lucy Berk
Every house or building has a genealogical record just as humans, or dogs, have. The research efforts are much the same, but most of the sources are different.
The questions are: where was the house built; when was it built; in what style; by whom; for whom; of what materials; who else lived there; what happened within those walls, and what was the context in the community?
With the Assessors Parcel Number [APN] in hand, the owner, or person with permission letter from owner, may copy the Residential Building Record from the Assessors Office in San Marcos. This shows the year the building was first assessed, indicating the construction year, and details of style, materials, size, additions, alterations, quality of construction, and, in later years, the builder.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps [available at the Escondido Library Pioneer Room (P.R.) and Escondido History Center] show the original Lot and Block numbers and the original street names, as many have changed over the years in Escondido. The maps also show the original footprints of the buildings.
Check out the Lot & Block Indexes [P.R. has the local sheets that have been copied up to this time]. They show the names of property owners and assessments by year. The first assessment of buildings indicates the near year of construction. You may find a zero in that column after several years of assessments; this indicates that the building is no longer on site, may have burned or been relocated.
Building Clip Files [in P.R., an ongoing project] hold construction news from the Times-Advocate, arranged chronologically. Armed with the near year the building went up, you may find a story on the construction, with clues to builder, exact time, location, style, materials, first owner, etc.
City Directories [P.R. and EHC], from 1923 forward, divulge names of owners [h] or renters [r]. A few volumes contain Reverse Directories, making the process quicker. Residents’ wives, occupations and business addresses are often given, adding depth.
The Biography Collection [at P.R.] offers informative articles on locals. Oak Hill and San Marcos Cemetery Records [at P.R.] give date of burial, making an Obituary search in T-A microfilm easy [at P.R. or the Main Library]. Census Records [at P.R.] are helpful with building searches as well as people.
Also helpful are the City Water Records, Aerial Photographs and school Year Books. The W.E. Alexander book of Plat Maps of San Diego County, circa 1915, includes central Escondido and the surrounding countryside, most of which is now in the city limits.
Escondido City Building Department keeps Building Records from the 1940s on, and the Engineering Department has Subdivision Maps from way back.
The real fun starts at the County Assessors Office, 1600 Pacific Highway, San Diego. Armed with much of the above information, you delve into the Grantor/Grantee Indexes for your property, writing down every seller/buyer citation with exact names, initials, book, page and deed numbers, before moving on to the Deed Books. When the deed description matches the Lot and Block Numbers, you have the correct ownership for that time. Then you continue through the years to attain the full Chain of Title. The staff is very helpful, so be sure to ask for assistance.
The Escondido Historic Resources Survey books are housed at Escondido History Center and Escondido Planning Department. They offer factual and incomplete material on well over 1000 buildings recorded in the Early Escondido and Mid-Century surveys.
This primer is meant as an introduction to the wonderful world of searching local House Histories. Persistence and plenty of pencils, along with adequate coffee and snack breaks, are your best friends.
History Research Resources
239 S. Kalmia St.
Phone: (760) 839-4684
Extensive newspaper clipping file
Books and records relating to Escondido and California history
Located in Grape Day Park on Broadway just north of Valley Parkway.
Old Phone Directories
Phone: (760) 743-8207
Fax: (760) 743-8267
County Administration Center
1600 Pacific Highway, Room 103
San Diego, CA 92101
141 East Carmel St.
San Marcos, CA 92078
201 N. Broadway