Researching the History of Your House
The Office of the County Clerk holds land records dating from the mid -1600's. These do not always contain descriptions of the house or other buildings found on the land. Even so, a deed is a good place to begin researching the history of your house. Following are some first steps you should take to start this research.
1. Read your current deed. Make a note of the Liber (book) and page number, which will be listed on the upper right hand corner of the deed. At the end of the description of your property you may find references to the prior deed and the Liber and page number where it was recorded. Make a note of those numbers too.
2. Go to the Records Room in the Office of the County Clerk at the County Center in Riverhead.
3. Go to the rows of numbered Deed Libers and find the lowest numbered Liber you found on your deed. This deed may refer you to an earlier one. Work your way backward through earlier deeds.
4. If you have no Liber numbers on your deed, you can still research your house. Begin with last name of the person from whom you bought your house and look that name up in the indexes in the Record Room. If you bought your home after 1969, you will need to use the terminals in the Public Access Room to look up this information. Land records before 1969 are indexed by both GRANTEE (buyer) and GRANTOR (seller) in large index books in the Records Room. These volumes are located on opposite sides of the room. The aisle containing the Grantor indexes has a sign hanging from the ceiling at the end of the aisle. The Grantee indexes that reference the oldest of the deeds are not indicated by a sign, go to the Historic Documents Library and the Archivist will show you where to find those books.
5. The Grantor/Grantee indexes are organized as follows: From 1660-1950, all of Suffolk County is indexed in one set of books, arranged alphabetically, by the first letter of the last name, inside each volume, the records are arranged by the first letter of the first name. Beginning in 1951 through 1969 the records are divided by Town and within each town they are arranged as described above.
6. There are also Mortgage Libers in the Records Room. Many times the mortgage on a property is referenced in the deed. In the case of earlier deeds this may sometimes be a good indication of when a house was constructed on a piece of land.
7. As you work your way backward through the earlier deeds, you may come to one that is deeded to someone as the heir of a deceased person. Make a note of that person's name in order to look up the will at the Surrogate's Court. Many times wills are more descriptive of houses than are deeds.
8. Building permits were, in general, not issued before the early 1920's but you may find reference to a "date of origin" for a house on early permits. These will be on file at your Town Clerk's Office or in the Building Department. Keep in mind that this date was given by the person applying for the building permit and may be an approximate date.
Other Helpful Records
Records in the Historic Documents Library include several large bound Atlases of various portions of Suffolk County. The earliest one is dated c.1873. Many of these include the property owners' names. Buildings and houses are also indicated on several of the atlases, sometimes with numbers that signify the number of stories in the house.
There is also a collection of Sanborn Company maps. This company, started in 1867 by D. A. Sanborn was the major provider of maps to the insurance industry for more than a hundred years. Although the collection here does not cover all of Suffolk County, the entire collection of Sanborn maps for the state of New York can be found at SUNY Stony Brook library on microfilm. These maps show buildings and are coded to indicate the type of construction, such as, wood or steel frame.
Researching the history of your house is usually a time-consuming process; so make sure you are ready to spend most of the day at County Center when you make your trip. There are copy machines available in the Records Room (25¢ a page). Some of the older deed volumes have been encapsulated in Mylar, which makes photocopying difficult, so you may have to transcribe the information you find there. There is a Cafeteria in the building. Remember to bring paper and a pencil for taking notes.