My House History

How Do I Find Out About My House…

  • When was it built?
  • Who lived there?
  • Who was the architect?

1. The very best local resource for property/architectural-related questions is BAHA—Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. They have resources (photos, building permits, real estate info, clippings) arranged by neighborhood, blocks, and specific addresses.  There is a fee for this service. 

2. The Berkeley Historical Society has "Block Books," which contains the early owner(s) of your land once it was subdivided.

3. If you know the name(s) of previous owners, try historic telephone books or city directories (both are in the Berkeley History Room, and many are on this webpage).   Working backwards, you may discover important details about the residents. 

4. Reverse directories from 1981 to present are also are a great resource and are located in the Berkeley History Room.  In addition, a handful from the 1960s & 70s are held by the Berkeley Historical Society - BHS.

5. Don’t forget about census records—we have 1860 to 1930 for Berkeley on microfilm - and via Ancestry FOR FREE at the Central Branch Library. These records are arranged by address, and contain A LOT of information about all the residents at any particular address.  Use the indexes to the left to discover which enumeration districts you house was located in for censuses older that 72 years.  For more information or assistance with this process, call the Reference Desk at 981-6148 for a Berkeley History Room appointment.

6. Consult the Sanborn maps in the Berkeley History Room from 1890, 1894, 1911, 1929, and 1950 (original copies also exist at BAHA and BHS).  These maps will show you what buildings were where, and (particularly the 1911 edition in the History Room) can hint at when the building was built – either before 1911, sometime between 1911 and 1929, or after 1929.

7. Ask at the Reference Desk for assistance in locating any of these items and agencies.

Use these indexes to discover which census enumeration districts your house was located in for the Decennial US Censuses listed below - 1900 to 1940. 

Then use our Ancestry database (available for free at the CENTRAL Branch only, or available online with subscription) to discover who lived in your abode for those years. 

Directories available on this research guide, and in the Berkeley History Room at the Central Branch, can further your research into past occupants of your home.

Call the library at 510-981-6142 for a "Berkeley History Room appointment" to best utilize these tools.


City and county records are great sources of past owners of your home.

  • Alameda County Recorder
    Property ownership records from 1853, when Alameda County was created. Before 1853, the area that became Berkeley was part of Contra Costa County.
  • City of Berkeley Records
    In 1954 the City of Berkeley gave many of its historic records to the Bancroft Library of U.C. Berkeley. Included are a host of records of when homes and businesses first got utility hookups from 1883-1927 and personal tax records from 1879-1936.


The City of Berkeley's Permit department is a good source of your home's history - at least as far as official, permitted changes were made.  Below is a link to permits pulled since 1991.