House History Resources
House History Resources
Curious about your house?
We can help you research your house or any other type of building. This guide lists local resources you can use. We included material found at the Grand Rapids History Center, and also from other sources.
*Home access to the subscription databases is limited to Grand Rapids Public Library cardholders only. Sign up for a library card here.
Real Estate Listing Cards
Shows information and a picture for houses listed for sale through a realtor from the 1950s-1990s. These are physical items, visit us or contact us to request the cards for a specific address.
Lists who lived at an address, or what business was there. They also show what people’s occupations were. Tip: Many addresses in Grand Rapids changed in 1912.
- Physical city directories, opens a new window - at the Grand Rapids History Center
- Google Books, opens a new window - various years from 1856 to 1924)
- HathiTrust, opens a new window - various years from 1859 to 1933
- Grand Rapids area directories in the archives, opens a new window - specialized directories, telephone books
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
Show building structures, property uses and other information
Indicate land owners and building locations.
- Kent County – physical copies available from 1855 to 2007
- Kent County digital copies available, opens a new window - on Kent County GenWeb from 1855 to 1921
- Michigan, opens a new window – physical copies for most counties available
Photographs of specific houses or buildings can be challenging to find. Real estate listing cards and appraisal cards are the best places to check. Tip: for commercial buildings you can use city directories to find previous occupants and search using those names.
You can also try:
- GRPL Digital Collections, opens a new window – Browse by location with the map view, opens a new window
- GRPL Archival Collections, opens a new window – Search for street or address
- Father Dennis Morrow collection, opens a new window - Focus on buildings that were demolished or had fires
- Robinson Studio address index, opens a new window - Photographs with identified addresses
Assessing records contain information about properties and buildings, such as owner, legal description, build date, structure description and photographs. Tip: You can request assessor records from most city or township offices.
- Grand Rapids City Archives and Research Center, opens a new window – Historic Real Estate Property Appraisal Cards (1936-2009). Tip: These are a good source for photographs.
- Grand Rapids City Property Tax & Assessment Search , opens a new window- search current information for properties in Grand Rapids
- Kent County Property Tax & Assessment Search, opens a new window - search current information for properties in Kent County
Aerial and topographic maps
View current or historic aerial or topographic maps of a location.
- Kent County Parcel Mapper, opens a new window - View property lines and aerial photographs (2003, 2009, 2014, and 2018)
- Sidwell Aeroplat atlases, opens a new window - Aerial photographs and ownership information, circa 1960-1972
- Kent County Property Description & Mapping, opens a new window - Historic aerial photographs
- topoView, opens a new window - Historical topographic maps from the United States Geological Survey. Tip: Physical copies of Michigan maps for some years are available at the Grand Rapids History Center.
Property records showing transfers in ownership.
- Kent County Register of Deeds, opens a new window - Deeds back to 1970 available digitally; older records in ledgers and on microfilm
- Index to Kent County deeds, circa 1841 to 1870, opens a new window - These deeds are available on microfilm at the Grand Rapids History Center
- Kent County tract books (abstracts of deeds), 1830-1860, opens a new window - Available digitally on FamilySearch and on microfilm at the Grand Rapids History Center
Heritage Hill: Architectural/Historical Inventory Cards, opens a new window - Prepared for National Register of Historic Places nomination
Albert Builders collection, opens a new window - Architectural drawings from Grand Rapids-based firm, 1950s-1960s.
James Bronkema's Midcentury Homes, opens a new window - Photographs of local homes built by Bronkema Builders
The Grand Rapids History Center collects, preserves, and shares the history of our community, through photographs, diaries, posters, maps and other records. You can research your house, your family, a business, or your neighborhood.
Staff are ready to assist you with your research needs, whether it be finding material on our shelves, tips on where to start, or with navigating our archival collections. We’re here to help you explore at your own pace. You may drop in at any time, or you can contact us ahead of time with questions. If you’re traveling from out of town, we recommend that you check in with us before your visit (but it isn’t required).
The Grand Rapids History Center is located on level four of the Main Library, and is open the same hours.
Please note that while covered beverages are allowed on other floors of the library, no food or beverages (including water) are permitted on level four.
Contact us with details of your research request. We’re happy to answer quick questions and provide suggestions for further research. Due to the time and staff resources involved in researching answers to local history, genealogy, and furniture questions, some fees apply to certain types of requests. We encourage researchers to come to our library to be assisted for free.
Family history queries can also be submitted to the Western Michigan Genealogical Society research committee.
We love when people use and share images from our archives. Our digital collections were designed with sharing in mind and if you find content that you would like to download and share, you are welcome to do so. If you do, we ask that you please let people know that it came from the Grand Rapids Public Library, so others may find it as well.
There are some fees that apply to scanning and using images. If the content is not available through our digital collections, there is a $5 processing fee per image. If you would like to include an image in a published book or use it for commercial purposes (such as selling a t-shirt or creating artwork for a restaurant or office), there is a use fee of $15 per image. For additional information and to order images, please visit our order form.
There are also exceptions for content where the copyright is held by someone else. In those instances, you need to seek permission from the copyright holder. In our digital collections we use RightsStatements.org categories to share, to the best of our knowledge, if content is in the public domain or under copyright.
You can search our finding aids here. When you arrive, you will fill out a request card for each folder or box. The request card asks for your name and contact information, and the location of the material you would like to view (usually a collection number, box number and folder number). You may have one box or five folders at your table at a time. All materials are stored on-site. If you would like any guidance in searching or in preparing your requests, please contact us.
We are always looking for items to tell the story of our community, from the recent past to the 1800s. If you have unique books, papers, letters, scrapbooks or photographs you think would contribute to this cause, please contact us.
If you are interested in making a monetary donation, please contact the Grand Rapids Public Library Foundation.