August 12, 2010

Do You Live in an Older Uptown Residence? Researching Your Old Chicago House, Part II

There are a number of great online resources for researching your building's particular history. Resources courtesy the Chicago History Museum.

Building Permits

Visitors to the Chicago History Museum Research Center can access information on Chicago building permits from 1872 to 1954 on microfilm. In addition, the Museum has created a database with information on building permits cited in the American Contractor magazine from 1898 through 1912.

Historic Resources Survey
Commission on Chicago Landmarks, 1996

Organized according to the city's 77 community areas, this inventory lists architecturally and historically significant pre-1940 structures in Chicago. Each section begins with a short history of the community, followed by a list of the significant properties identified in that area, searchable by building address. Each listing provides up to eight pieces of information, including: address, date of construction, architect, building style and type, survey ranking, landmark status, and identification number.

Address Conversions

In 1909, the city of Chicago changed its street-numbering system for most of the city. In 1911, changes for the Loop area were made. Use the address conversion guide to find a building’s original address.

Street names also changed periodically throughout Chicago's history. The Museum’s street name changes document is based on a 1948 compilation with updates by Father John McNalis.

Old Chicago Directories

Criss-cross directories are Chicago directories organized by address.. They are useful for identifying previous owners or occupants. Consult the 1928-1929 Polk Directory online or visit the Research Center for directories from 1928, 1950, 1952, 1953, and 1978 to present. A searchable database of a selection of early city directories is available in the Research Center.

Newspaper Directories

Local newspaper files contain historical information about specific buildings, streets, and community areas. Consult the subscription databases for the Chicago Tribune, Historical Chicago Tribune and the Historical Chicago Defender. The Research Center also has an extensive collection of other Chicago newspapers on microfilm and in paper. Paper newspapers are usually stored off-site and require an advance appointment for viewing.

Fire Insurance Maps (Atlases) 1868 to 1951

Fire insurance maps provide block-by-block details of specific areas within Chicago. Information includes lot sizes, outlines of buildings, heights, and construction materials. Consult an electronic version of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps from 1894 to 1951 in the Research Center. Paper copies for earlier and later dates are available for some areas of the city.

Photographic Collections

Photographs can be helpful in providing a historic view of how a house has changed over time. Consult the self-serve ready-print file or the original collection of prints and photographs in the Research Center

Photographs in the Chicago Daily News Collection, 1902-1933, can be searched online by keyword, including street and community names. The postcard collection also contains some photographic or illustrated views of buildings and streets.

Trade Publications

Lists of building permits and, in some cases, other information relating to the architect or contractors appeared in several newspaper and magazine publications, which is helpful if you know the month and year the structure was built. Contact the Research Center for exact holdings of the following periodicals:
  • American Contractor, 1898-1912
  • The Economist, 1888-1929
  • Inland Architect, 1883-1908
  • Real Estate and Building Journal, 1872-1909
  • Inter Ocean, 1872-1914
  • The Chicago Tribune, 1872-1940

Other Resources

Online Catalog

The Museum's online catalog, ARCHIE, may help you find information relating to your street, community, previous owners and occupants, or architect.

Architectural Blueprints, Elevations, and Drawings

Inventories of the drawings and archives of Chicago architects and architectural firms held by the Museum are available in the Research Center. These inventories are organized by architect or firm name and are not searchable by building or date.

Aerial Photographs

A geographic index of this collection is available in the Research Center.

Staff assistance

Research Center staff will assist you during your visit. Staff can provide limited assistance by e-mail. For searches too extensive for staff to undertake, patrons may wish to hire a freelance researcher.

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