HOW TO RESEARCH HISTORIC BUILDINGS

by Barbara Young


I have spent the last twenty-some years researching Milford's historic buildings and have found it fascinating.

 The starting point in researching historic buildings is to find the legal description of the property.  Then you will be able to check the land records at the Tract Index at the Oakland County Courthouse in Pontiac to find the various owners and when the land was purchased by each of these.  Many people have the mistaken idea that the land records, often as found on an abstract, tell when a building was built .  Not so.  This only tells you ownership, not what was on the property.


The next step is to check the tax records, and this is why you need the names of the owners, as all tax records are listed by owners' names.  Tax records for Milford Township (and all of Oakland County) from 1844 to 1870 are found in the Archives at the Kresge Library at Oakland University.  Unfortunately, the State did not retain records after 1870, and neither did the County or the Township.  Our good fortune is that some of these later records were found in an old building at Oak Grove Cemetery and are now held at the Historical Society Museum.

 

 When searching tax records you write down the assessed valuation for each year until you find a definite jump in this value.  By comparing tax records, prices at purchase times, and value of other similar buildings whose dates are known, you can usually come to an informed opinion as to the date of construction.

Once you know the date of construction, the original builder, and later owners, there are other sources which can give you more historic information about the building.  Among these sources is the Durant History of Oakland County, Michigan: 1817 to 1877, published in 1877, found at the Museum and at the Township Library, which gives a history of each township and also sketches of several local settlers and pictures of some houses.  There are also books called Pictorial & Biographical Album of Oakland County, Michigan which also give information about some residents.  These are well worth checking. The Milford Times, found at the Museum and at the Library on microfilm,  also has valuable information about the construction of buildings after 1871, and about the people who built them.


Other useful sources of information are the Federal Census returns for 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900 and 1910 (1890 burned).  These can be found at both the Museum and the Library.  They will tell you the names of a whole family, ages, and occupations.


Another source of information about historic buildings is to talk to descendants of the people who owned them.  One word of caution, though:  family memories are not always accurate.  They usually contain a grain of truth, but the farther removed from the original owner, the less accurate they seem to be.

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