Historic District Email Updates
Sign up now and have email notices about Aurora’s Historic Districts delivered to you.
Researching Your Aurora Home
A Guide to Uncovering the Past
Why Would You Want to Research Your Home?
The process of uncovering your home’s past can be a fun and worthwhile project. This guide has been developed to help direct you through the research process and allow you to make the most of the resources discussed here. Hopefully, you will be able to answer these questions about your home:
- When was your house built?
- Who built your house?
- Who were the previous residents?
- What was the original appearance?
- What was the neighborhood or city like when the house was built?
When conducting your research it is important to understand that at times, research can be challenging and frustrating since you may not be able to find all the information you are looking for. Sometimes you can exhaust every resource and still not find what you are looking for, but don’t be discouraged. The process of researching can be interesting and rewarding in itself. Good Luck!
How Do You Get Started?
What Do You Already Know?
- Information from the purchase of your home.
- Clues from previous owners and neighbors. Do they remember any alterations made to the house? Do they have any old photographs with your house included?
What information do you need to begin your search?
Example: 411 Oak Avenue
Pre-1929 Address: 179 Oak Avenue
Legal Description: The north 51 feet of lots 31 and 32 in Block 4 of JR and JC Hanna’s Addition to Aurora, in the City of Aurora, Kane County, Illinois.
- The current and pre-1929 street address—the conversion table can be found in the 1929 Aurora City Directory. The city directories can be found at the Aurora Historical Society (appointments needed) or at the Aurora Public Library. Up until the 1960s, some of the major east-west streets had different names on each side of Stolp Avenue. For example, Downer Place was Fox on the east side, Galena was Main Street on the east side, and New York was Walnut on the west side.
- The Property Identification Number (also called the PIN or parcel number)—this 10-digit number is unique to your property and is determined by County, section, parcel, and lot. If you own your property, you should be able to find it in your closing documents or own your property tax bill. You can also get your PIN number from your township office or the City of Aurora.
- The legal description of your property—located in your legal documents, or attainable from your county recorder or township tax assessor’s office. This is the key to researching your home if it is in Kane County.
Step One: Visual Assessment of Your Home
Before you begin actual research, you can use clues from the appearance and building materials of your home to determine an approximate age of the house. One of the first things you can determine about your home is the ‘style.’ Different styles of homes were fashionable during different periods of time and by determining what the style is you can sometimes estimate the age of your house within 20 years. Listed below are some of the architectural styles found in Aurora. Other historic styles found in Aurora include: Second Empire, Gothic Revival, Italian Renaissance Revival, Romanesque Revival, Neoclassical, Eastlake, Modern, and Ranch. Check out the books listed below for more information on architectural styles and elements. Most of these books can be found at the Aurora Public Library.
National Style (1840-1930)
- 1 or 2 stories, front or side gabled
- Usually square or rectangular in shape
- May have 1 or 2 story wing
Greek Revival (1840-1870)
- Low pitched gable or hipped roof, often with “returns”
- Cornice line emphasized with wide band of trim
- Elements of Greek architecture—fluted columns, multi-paned windows
- Most have porches
- Entry sidelights or transoms
- Square or rectangular in shape, 2 or 3 stories
- Brick, wood, masonry
- Brackets under wide, overhanging leaves
- Decorative window hoods
- Tall first floor windows
- Some have cupolas atop the low pitch roof
Stick Style (1870-1890)
- Steep pitched roofs with cross gables
- Decorative roof truss work at peak of gable ends
- Pattern of wood boards (vertical, horizontal, sometimes diagonal) breaking up clapboard into sections
- Decorative millwork (brackets, rafter tails, porch details)
Queen Anne (1880-1905)
- Steeply pitched, compound roof
- Irregular plan, asymmetrical facade
- Variety of materials and textures, elaborate detailing
- One story porch—sometimes wraps around facade
- Towers, turrets, projecting bays are common
- Large scale massing, asymmetrical forms, and irregular and steeply pitched roofline
- Continuous simple wood shingle cladding on walls and roof
- Extensive porches
Late Queen Anne (1895-1915)
- Transition between Queen Anne and Four Square
- Square with front gable
- Patterned shingles in the 3rd story
Four Square (1900-1930)
- Simple 2 story box form with low pitched hipped roof (sometimes with a clipped peak)
- One story porch on front facade
- Symmetrical front facade, entry may be off center
- Hipped dormers are common
Prairie Style (1905-1925)
- Low pitched hipped roof, wide overhanging eaves
- 2 stories with 1 story wings or porches
- Horizontal detailing
- Massive square porch supports
- Windows grouped in horizontal bands
- Brick or stucco with decorative banding
- Low pitched roof, wide overhanging eaves
- Exposed brackets
- Tapered porch columns, often resting on brick or stone piers
- Roof dormers, exposed rafters
- Double hung windows with 3 or more lights in upper sash and 1 in lower sash
Colonial/Dutch Colonial Revival (1890-1945)
- Side gable or gambrel roof (Dutch Colonial)
- Symmetrical windows, double hung with multiple panes in upper or both sashes
- Dormers and window shutters
- Smaller entry porches with classical columns or pilasters
English Cottage/Tudor Revival (1920-1940)
- Stucco, brick, or masonry veneers
- Many arched features
- Steep rooflines, one or more front facing asymmetrical gables
- Half-timbering detailing (Tudor Revival)
- Double hung or casement windows with multiple panes
- Shed dormers
Other Visual Clues
Types of Foundation
Rusticated Concrete Block
After you’ve determined the style, try investigating around your home to find if any original conditions exist that could also help date your home. The foundation of your home if unaltered can be a fairly good determinant of age. Limestone block foundations are found on the earliest homes in Aurora and are often “parged” or covered with cement or another material. Concrete block foundations were first used around the turn of the 20th century. Both plain and rusticated concrete blocks were used. Poured concrete foundations are often found on masonry structures and, since they lie below ground level are usually not visible from the exterior of building. Original lighting, heating, cooling, and water systems as well as interior paint, wall coverings, and floor coverings can also offer clues to when the home was built.
Step Two: Beginning Your Research
Now that you have a general idea of the time period of your home, you will be better prepared to start your research. Organize your information that you already have to maximize your time, and use the following helpful hints to minimize trips to each place of research. The Aurora Public Library’s Main Branch is probably the best place to begin.
City Directories - These are very similar to phone books but include much more information. The earliest directories include general information about Aurora citizens, businesses, churches, schools, and organizations. You will need the general date you have for your home and the current and pre-1929 addresses. The 1929 City Directory includes this conversion chart in the street guide section. Prior to 1895, residents were not listed according to street address. To find the resident of your home before 1895, try looking up the name of the resident listed at your address in the 1895 directory. You will need to take the same approach to find the listing before 1886 because the addresses were changed in that year and there is no conversion table. The earliest city directory dates back to 1858. It is also important to note that several of the street names also changed in the 1960’s when the west and east sides of Aurora were integrated by bridges over the Fox River. For example, Downer Place and Fox became known as just Downer and Walnut and New York became just New York. The 1868, 1876, and 1886 city directories have maps in the front that shows the old street names.
Census Records - (1840-1910) these records are indexed by name only, and they can be hard to read since they are handwritten. It should be noted that records from the 1840-1860 censuses have a high error rate. In some cases, the census records indicate the number of people residing in each household, and sometimes the birthplace of the occupants.
Prominent Citizens Obituaries - Scrapbook of newspaper obituaries from 1900-1945, listed alphabetically. If you the exact date of death, try looking up the obituary in the Aurora Beacon News on microfilm.
Now and Then clippings - Biographical sketches from the 1920-1980 Aurora Beacon columns by “Putt” and later Bob Barclay. The file is alphabetically indexed in a small wooden card catalog outside the genealogical room.
Newspapers - Several local newspapers can be accessed on microfilm. The Beacon News is indexed back to the 1940s.
Plat Maps - These can be helpful in determining when your property was developed.
- Thompson and Everts 1872 Combination Atlas map of Kane County.
- D.W. Ensign’s 1892 Atlas of Kane County
Local History, Reference, and Genealogical Resource - Look here for further information about your home and past residents.
Aurora Historical Society
If you are in search of more information about your building and its previous residents, try the Aurora Historical Society. They also have a complete set of city directories and have various other historical sources. Some of the most helpful are listed below.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps - These maps were published for communities all across the United States beginning in 1867. They are very detailed and can help you determine the size, shape, and building and building material of a building. Sanborn Maps for Aurora were conducted in 1885, 1897, 1907, and 1957.
Probate Inventories - Probates can be helpful to see descriptions of property, who inherited property, and how much it was worth at that time. An index for the probates can also be found at the Aurora Public Library.
1867 Aerial Map
Aerial Maps - Drawn in 1867 and 1882, these maps show a birds-eye view of Aurora. They can also be found online at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/gmdhtml/cityhome.html. Conduct a search for Aurora, Illinois and you will find the 1867 and 1882 maps and a zoom capability.
Aurora Preservation Commission
The Aurora Preservation Commission is another important place to check for information, even if your home is not located in a historic district. Please call and set up an appointment to look at our resources or to inquire if we have any additional information.
Building permits - Records from 1913 to 1980 provide information about date, cost, contractor, owner, and often times the type of construction.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps - Collection includes maps from 1888, 1897, and 1907.
County Recorder’s Office
At your county’s Recorder’s office, you can find deed and mortgage transactions for the land your house is on. You will need the legal description or parcel number in order to locate your house’s information. Each county’s records are slightly different and some helpful tips are included below.
Kane County - Information for records before about 1980 are found in the Tract Book section, off to the right when you enter the office. The Aurora books are grouped together alphabetically by subdivision. (This is found in the legal description) The subdivision’s entries are in order by Block and Lot in chronological order. These books are guides to the documents that have been recorded on the property, so all of the information may not be of interest to you. The type of transaction is abbreviated, and some of the abbreviations are listed to the right.
Look for large increases in the purchase price between 2 consecutive sales. This could indicate the owner constructed a new building or added to an existing one. You may view the original documents on microfilm or make copies for a fee. Any questions can be directed to the staff in the Tracts section.
DuPage County - The records here are not organized by legal description and you will need to know specific property owners’ names and approximate dates of residence in order to search for deeds and mortgages. Please ask the staff in the Archives Department for further assistance.
The Kane County Clerk’s Office has property tax records since 1881. Substantial increases in taxes or mortgages between years can indicate if construction occurred on the property. If needed, the old tax ID number can be obtained from the Supervisor of Assessments Office in the Mapping Department.
City of Aurora Water and Sewer Department
The Water and Sewer Department has recorded water taps since about 1884. These records show when the house line was tapped to the city’s main water line in the street. They often show the materials that were used and the name of the plumber.
In addition to the legal description and PIN number, you can find property tax records that indicate if a property is ‘improved’ or ‘unimproved.’ The township assessor’s record can show when an assessed value changed noticeably which can indicate when a structure or an addition was built. The Aurora Township assessor’s records date back only to 1899. Most of this information can be found on the Township’s website, but beware, some of it can be misleading, especially the date of construction which is often times only an estimate.
Step Three: Compiling Your Research
Now that you’ve invested the time and effort to research your home, you should make your information accessible to others. Put all known facts in writing with your sources noted. Include hearsay and educated guesses, but identify them as such. Create a chain of ownership chart, write a biographical sketch of previous owners, or write the architectural history of your home.
You’re Finished! Now What?
Here are some suggestions to make sure your hard work will be appreciated in the future.
- Keep copies of your deed and mortgage papers with instructions to pass on to any new owners in the future.
- Keep a copy in a secure, permanent place in the house itself such as a metal box attached to a main beam in the basement or in a niche in the foundation.
- Place copies in your permanent files. Take them with you when you move and give copies to your children and heirs.
- Give a copy to the Aurora Historical Society and the Aurora Preservation Commission to keep in their files.
- If the original building date has been determined, it might be a good idea to have the information inscribed on a metal plate that can be attached to the foundation or a main beam.