House History Resources

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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. 

City Directories

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.

Plat Maps

Indicate land owners and building locations.

Photographs

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:

Assessor Records

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.

Aerial and topographic maps

View current or historic aerial or topographic maps of a location.

Property deeds

Property records showing transfers in ownership.

Other Resources

Heritage Hill: Architectural/Historical Inventory Cards, opens a new windowPrepared for National Register of Historic Places nomination

Statewide Plat Maps, opens a new window -All subdivision plats recorded in Michigan. Tip: see instructions here, opens a new window.

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

FAQs

  • 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.

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