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History of a house

Have you ever wondered who lived in your house before you? Our librarians help you discover the story of your home — from the streets and suburbs around it, to the people who sheltered inside.

Two Villas, Burwood, 1882, Edmund Thomas Blacket
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STEP 1 What do you know?

Make a list of everything you already know about the history of your house. Can you find clues in the architectural features, building materials and floorplan? Are there any documents from when you purchased your property that might help?

STEP 2 What do other people know?

If your house is heritage listed, especially State heritage listed, information will have already been collated on its history. Check on the New South Wales Heritage Register. There are other places where heritage listings may occur such as local council and community organisations, for example the National Trust. This is explained on the Heritage NSW website.

STEP 3 Who came before?

Finding out about previous occupants of a house can be an interesting and enlightening project. Using the Sands Sydney and NSW Directory you may be able to trace who has lived at your address and their occupation. Searching their name in newspapers on Trove can turn up information about your home, like DA applications or of a business being run from the property. You might also find that the previous owner had some colourful life events. The Sands directory can also shed light on when streets were named or when suburbs were divided. This will help with STEP FOUR.

The Sands directories were published between 1858 and 1933 and are available on microfiche in the Library and have been digitised in full by the City of Sydney.

The free website Historical Land Records Viewer produced by NSW Land Registry Services can also assist you to find some previous land titles from 1863 to 1961.

STEP 4 Is there a plan (or a map)?

If your house was architect-designed, then the architectural plans may still exist. They might be with the original design company or even in the State Library’s collection. Although this will not be the case for most houses, you might still be able to find a plan that matches your house (or a variation of it) produced by services and publications like the Small Homes Service (NSW), Grace Bros Home Plans Service or Australian Women’s Weekly. These can help you narrow down the date of your house.

It is more likely that you will be able to find a subdivision plan for your area, street and even your lot. A subdivision plan can help you to understand the growth and development of your suburb or town and show how land in your area was subdivided and sold over the years. They can also be beautifully illustrated, making them perfect for framing and hanging in your home.

The Library holds county and parish maps, as well as town maps dating back to 1856 until 1990. Some of these parish and town maps have been digitised and are available on our catalogue, and some are available on the Historical Land Records Viewer.

STEP 5 What did they pay?

For financial details relating to your home or property you can look for rate and valuation books, which are held by local councils. These can include information such as your rate assessment number, house number within a street, names of occupier/lessee and owner, description of property type, valuation amounts and details of the levying and payment of rates over the years. These records generally have not been digitised by councils, so you may need to make an appointment with council to review them. You could also speak to your council to find out what they hold in relation to Building Applications and Rate and Assessment Books for your property. 

Here's an example...

‘I just moved into an apartment that looks like it was once a large old stately home. I don’t know much about it but the word “Bentham” appears above the entrance.’ – Geoff  from Hunters Hill. Re: 13 Wybalena Road, Hunters Hill, NSW 2110

Box 59 No. 766. Sydney Suburbs - Hunters Hill - Bentham, Wybalena Road, residence of A.G. Cureton, Arthur Ernest Foster glass negatives, chiefly Sydney, ca. 1916-1947
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Looking at subdivision plans of the area we found one from 1918 which clearly shows the location of a ‘Bentham’ house on the map. It also includes the name AG Cureton Esq next to the plot. Searching the Sands directory, an Albert Cureton is listed at that address from 1916. Searching Trove we see Albert Glaze Cureton mentioned several times, from an early mention of him as clerk in the head office of the Central Silver Mining Company, to the death notice of his wife, Annie Alfreda in January 1951, which lists her as ‘dearly beloved mother of Myee Alvarez and Gilbert Cureton and widow of Albert Glaze Cureton’. A rare treat, searching the State Library’s catalogue for scenes of Sydney suburbs of the time delivered a result from photographs by Arthur Ernest Foster, which included this charming view of ‘Bentham’ from around the time when it was occupied by Albert Glaze Cureton and his family.


Maroubra Auction Sale 12 January 1918
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Starting out

Record everything you find and where you found it as you go. This will save you doubling back over resources.

Pretty pictures

While finding a historical photograph of your house can be hard, we do have a very extensive collection of images where you might find shots of your local area. This can give you a sense of how the area has developed over the years. You should also check out the local studies section of your local library or your local historical society to see what gems they have in their collection.

Resource list

NSW Heritage Register

Sands Postal Directory


Historical land records viewer (HLRV)

Subdivision plans, NSW maps & architectural plans

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