How To Research Your House in Elgin
Information provided by Steve Stroud
Go to the Historical Society Museum at 360 Park Street (847-742-4248) and talk to Steve Stroud and/or David Siegenthaler. Together they have researched several thousand homes in Elgin and may have information on your home. Click here to go to the Museum’s house research services page on their web site.
While at the museum go to the City Directories and look up your address. The museum has the real books, not microfilms, so they’re much easier to use. Find the earliest date that your address appears. If it appears in 1894, you will need a conversion chart to assist you since the city of Elgin changed almost the entire numbering system and many street names between 1892 and 1894. See Steve for the cross-reference. In the earlier city directories, the head of household is indicated by an asterisk*. When you have found the earliest record of your home, find out as much as you can about the family from the CD. Make a copy of the information to include in your application. If your home pre-dates 1886, there are tax records with which you can confirm your findings.
Again at the museum, check to see if there is a probate record for your homeowner. These are available at the museum and sometimes give wonderful reports of life in the days when the homeowner lived. I have found some records to contain complete inventories of the home, date of purchase of the home and even recipes for favorite foods. Steve has a database listing all the probate records that have real property listed. Also, check to see if your homeowner may have divorced. These records are also at the museum. If the homeowners were married in Kane County, you might want to look at those. Sometimes it’s good to have the parents of the wife listed since they often gave either land or the home to newlyweds. Take a look at the Sanborn maps to see if the footprint of your home has changed. Be sure to copy all these records for your application.
Go to the Elgin Township Assessor’s office at 729 S. McLean (847-741-5110) and ask to see the old records for your house. The old records only go back about 50 years, but they might contain a photograph from that time as well as a list of changes to the property. While looking at the records, note the PIN and the subdivision with the lot and block numbers – you will need these when you go to the Kane County Recorder’s office.
Go to the Kane County Recorder’s office (8:30 – 4:30) on Route 25 (719 Batavia Ave, Building C, 630-232-5935) in Geneva and get copies of the deeds and mortgage records for your homeowner.
If all this sound rather daunting and you don’t have the time to do all this, Steve will do all of it for a nominal fee. If you are part of the Bungalow Initiative, then Steve will do it for cost only. Contact him at the museum or e-mail [email protected]“
It is important for you to establish the validity of the information. To validate information, use the sources (reference materials) below and attach documentation to justify the validity of the information. (*) Denotes documentation required by the Heritage Commission.
Gail Borden Public Library
200 N. Grove Ave., Elgin, IL 60120
- Sanborn Maps on microfilm (1887, 1891, 1897, 1903, 1913, 1950) (*)
- Surveys and Local Studies
- City Directories dating back to about 1872 (*)
- Historic American Building Survey
- Old photographs
- Early local publications and biographical publications
- Newspaper building reports
- Books on architectural style describing general styles and characteristics, and providing pictures and drawings which could be helpful in determining the style of your building.
- Federal Census (on microfilm every ten years)
- County and local maps
- Pamphlet files
- Deaths and marriages (indexed by Elgin Genealogical Society)
Elgin Area Historical Society
360 Park St., Elgin, IL 60120
- Elgin probate records (Small fee required. Archives under development)
City of Elgin
150 Dexter Ct., Elgin, IL 60120
- Sanborn maps (also available at the Gail Borden Public Library on microfilm)
- Subdivision plats
- City directories (also available at Gail Borden Public Library)
- Building permits from 1920’s onwards
Recorder of Deeds/Kane County Government Center
719 S. Batavia Ave., Geneva, IL 60134
- Deed and Grant indexes (*)
- Property deeds (*)
Illinois Historic Preservation Agency
I Old Capital Plaza, Springfield, IL 62701
- National Register of Historic Places (listings)
- Illinois Register of Historic Places
- Illinois State Survey of Historic Places
If information is obtained from persons, attach signed statement as well as information that establishes them as qualified to attest to the historical and/or architectural value of the building.
How To Research A Building
Researching takes patience and organizational efforts. The following information will provide you with a starting point. Please include copies of original documentation for review.
Begin Here . . .
1. If your notebook is empty, visit the Recorder of Deeds Office in the Kane County Government Center in Geneva. Trace the chain of title and ownership. Look for unusual changes in valuation as you record the legal description of the property through warranty deeds, mortgages, abstracts, etc. Be sure to obtain copies of all relevant documentation.
2. Next . . . Stop in at the Elgin Planning Department in City Hall, 150 Dexter Court, and check the subdivision plats. Often building were not constructed until the area was subdivided. Also, building permits are available from the 1920’s forward.
3. The property’s architectural style can help to determine the era in which the building was constructed. Take heed of major remodeling, additions or other changes which modified the architecture, or you could be led in the wrong direction regarding construction dates.
Helpful Research Tips
Remember . . .
Houses were moved frequently in the 19th and early 20th centuries. If the architectural style is unusual for the indicated time of construction, or if the foot print, number of stories and lot location differ from that shown in the Sanborn maps, or if the address is not reflected in old city directory listings, the building may have been moved on site or the original building demolished or destroyed by fires.
As you spend time looking through city directories, note that address changes took place city-wide in 1884 and 1895, as well as in the 1870’s. Be aware that a building may have three different house numbers due to a change in the numbering system, and that street names have changed over the years.
An abstract of title transfers ownership of the land and not the date of construction. But it may provide clues. . .look for increases in the “consideration,” the taxes or for mortgages which may indicate construction. Note the names of owners which are useful when referring to the city directories.
Information about the occupants and/or owners obtained from city directories can often be found in the obituaries of old newspapers on microfilm at the library. Death records for those burned in Elgin are available at the offices of Bluff City Cemetery (ledgers), Lake Street Memorial Park and on microfilm at Gail Borden Public Library.
In addition to newspaper obituaries, bound copies of the Elgin National Watch Company’s “Watch Word” magazine contains accounts of the deceased. Thirty years of this publication are indexed on microfilm and available at the Gail Borden Public Library.
The Elgin Daily Courier published an annual review of local construction which is useful for discovering the date of some 19th and 20th century homes. The buildings are sometimes grouped under the architect or contractor name. The name of the street usually follows the name of the property owner. The papers are on microfilm at the Gail Borden Public Library. The listings were published on:
Dec. 24, 1886 Dec. 19, 1891 Jan. 4, 1902 Dec. 10, 1904 Jan. 29, 1909
Dec. 20, 1887 Dec. 31, 1892 (Includes 1901 yr.)Nov. 28, 1905 July 19, 1909
Dec. 14, 1889 Feb. 6, 1900 Dec. 31, 1903 Aug. 27, 1908 Aug. 5, 1909
Dec. 13, 1890 (Includes 1899 yr.)
There are construction review packages kept in a locked case at the library for years 1899, 1901, 1902 (covers 1900 yr. in Jan.), 1907, and 1910-1914. Reviews of new construction were discontinued after 1914.
Often, houses do not fit into any one architectural style. The following books may be helpful:
A Field Guide to American Houses.Authored by Virginia and Lee McAlester. 1984, 1987.
Identifying American Architecture: A Pictorial Guide to Styles and Terms. Authored by John J.G. Blumenson, 1977.
From the Walls In. Authored by Charles Wing, 1979.
Sanborn maps (Sanborn Fire Insurance Company Maps) are available at the Gail Borden Public Library and the Elgin Planning Department. Two detailed maps dated March 1897 and February 1903, available at the City’s Planning Department, show the outlines of structures and are color coded to indicate stone, wood or brick construction. By comparing the shape of the present building with the map outline, it may be possible to determine later additions.
Building plan books were also used by local builders for the design and layout of buildings and may be found at the library.
Other sources to consider are letters, diaries, genealogical records, dateable photographs, account books and scattered references in periodicals. County and city histories published in 1876, 1888, 1898, 1904, 1908, and 1927 are filled with biographies.
Old pictures copied from a 1920’s Realtors book. Click on the alphabetical column heading to view the pictures. The Historical Society has the actual pictures.
The following list is certainly not complete. . .but it provides a beginning. If a source states “Request,” it is in a locked bookcase in Adult Services at the Gail Borden Public Library.
The Past and Present of Kane County, Illinois. Published in 1878. Request.
Kane County Directory, 1859-1860. Request.
The History of Elgin From 1835 to 1875. Published by Lord and Bradford in 1867. Request.
Kane County Gazetteer. Published by John C.W. Bailey in 1867. Request.
Elgin Today–1904–Historical and Descriptive, Biographical. Published by Lowrie and Black in 1903.
Elgin, Illinois–Pictorial and Descriptive. Published by Artistic Publishing Association in 1886. Request.
Biographical Record of Kane County. Published in 1898.
Art Work of Kane County. Published by W.H. Parish Publishing Co. in 1898. Request.
Architecture of the Old Northwest Territory. Authored by Rexford Newcomb and published by the University of Chicago Press in 1950.
Golden Jubilee Souvenir, St. Mary’s Parish, Elgin, IL. Published in 1903
Northern Illinois Gazette, 1855-1856. Request.
The Elgin Historic District. Authored by E.C. Alft. Published in 1980.
National Register Nomination for the Elgin Historic District. Authored by Bruce Dahlquist and Patricia Andrews, 1983.
Elgin, Past and Present–Historical and Biographical. Authored by R. Waite Joslyn. Published by T.H. Kennel & Co. in 1927.
Kane County Illinois Early Families, 1833-1885. By the Elgin Genealogical Society, 1991.
Elgin: An American History. Authored by E.C. Alft. Published in 1984.
Elgin neighborhood historical/architectural surveys are available at Elgin City Hall.
There Used to Be. Authored by Steve Stroud