How to Research Your House’s History
Numerous resources can help reveal the story of your Oakcroft house. That call button that may still exist in your dining room floor once summoned a servant who lived on your third floor. (Census records will tell you her nationality.) The first owner of your house may have held a job that no 21st century Monclair resident still has (silk mill manager, for one). Here are several places to start discovering your home’s past.
Montclair Public Library
The Local History Room contains deed abstracts, maps, city directories, phone books, tax records, biography and subject files, and more.
Available online through the library is The New York Times historic database. The Montclair historic photo collection is also available on the library’s website.
The library also has the townwide “Junior League” architectural survey, officially called “Montclair, 1694-1982: An Inventory of Historic, Cultural and Architectural Resources.” Pages from this multi-volume report can also be viewed online through the Township’s interactive Montclair Historic Inventory Viewer.
Ancestry.com is also available through the library and is useful for viewing street-by-street U.S. Census information, city directories, and other material.
Montclair History Center
The Albert P. Terhune Library & Archive contains historic maps, tax maps, vintage photos, phone books, city directories, yearbooks, postcards and other archival material. Some collections are digitized.
Historic permit cards kept at Montclair’s Municipal Building may show when a house was first built and later alterations.
Essex County Hall of Records, Newark
The deeds recorded here are complete, as opposed to the deed abstracts at the Montclair Public Library. A title search of your property, going back chronologically, will document all previous owners. Doing a title search yourself is a bit daunting, but you can pay a title company to do it for you. The Hall of Records also has a map archive.
The Montclair History Center and the Montclair Adult School both occasionally offer classes on how to research a Montclair house.
The New Jersey Historical Society in Newark has an archive, as does the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton.
The New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office publishes a booklet, “How to Research the History of a House.”
Online and available through subscription is The Montclair Times, digitized and searchable, on Newspapers.com.