Beginning your research

Sources of information

To get the most out of your visit to the Record Office, try to find out as much as you can about the history of your house beforehand. Three key sources of information may help you with this:

1. Previous residents, estate agents and neighbours: They may know something about the property’s history and who lived there before.

2. Title deeds, which may be held by your solicitor, bank or mortgage lender: These usually contain names of previous owners and dates of changes of ownership.

If a property has been registered with HM Land Registry, you can search their online database and download a copy of the title register for a fee.     

3. Your local library: May have books about the local history of your area containing useful background information and old photographs.

Find details of North Yorkshire libraries and search the North Yorkshire Library Catalogue online.

You may also find it useful to:

  • Browse a selection of our historic maps, photographs and publications via our online shop.

The majority of our collections can be searched within our online catalogue, NYCRO Guide no.1 and our other nine search room guides. In some instances, detailed item-level collection descriptions are available in the online catalogue, in others there is a summary overview. Detailed printed catalogues for most collections are held on our search room shelves for public consultation.

Our online catalogue is an index to our collections, it does not enable you to view the records themselves. To do this, you will need to visit our search room.

Contact Us: For further information about our collections or to book an appointment to visit our search room, please contact us by email: or telephone: 01609 777585.

Some questions to consider before your visit:

Where is your house?

This may seem an obvious question, but local administrative boundaries have changed over time (see our administrative background web page). Which of the former Yorkshire ridings, and which township or parish you live in, will determine which of our collections are relevant and whether you are likely to find records held elsewhere in a different archive.

Some of our records relate only to current areas of North Yorkshire that were formerly part of the North Riding prior to 1974. This includes, for example, the North Riding Registry of Deeds and North Riding electoral registers. For the former West Riding (parts of Craven, Harrogate and Selby Districts), records may be held by the West Yorkshire Archive Service. For the former East Riding (parts of Ryedale District), records may be held by the East Riding Archives. The Borthwick Institute for Archives may also hold material relating to areas currently within North Yorkshire.

Was, or is, your house part of a larger landed estate? If so, we may hold a related estate collection that contains relevant material. The National Archives has produced a short guide on researching landed estates.

Blaeu’s map of the North Riding, 1648

Has your house name or address changed?

Make a note of any earlier house names, numbers or street names that you are aware of. It is not always possible to search our records by modern address; when it is, be aware that house names, numbers and street names may have changed over time. Some historic records refer to a settlement name, but neither street names or numbers, so you may not be able to positively identify a specific property within them.

House numbering generally began in the 18th century and postcodes were not widely used until the mid-20th century. Before then, in rural areas in particular, houses were often known by the name of the person who lived there. There is an interesting blog on house numbering by The Postal Museum.

How old is your house?

This is very likely the question you will be asking us! For older buildings especially, it may not be possible to find an exact construction date. However, knowing even an approximate age of the building will help you to identify which types of historic records will be relevant to your research.

The physical appearance of a building, its style and architectural features such as windows and doorways can often provide clues to its age. An archaeological approach may be helpful, looking at structural evidence and building materials. Properties may have been altered, extended or rebuilt over time through changes in ownership and use. 

Date stones may indicate construction dates (unless they’ve been reused or repositioned), although they may also commemorate a particular person or event. Scientific dating methods, such as dendrochronology (tree ring dating) of oak timbers, can reveal the year in which a tree was felled although, as with stonework & other architectural features, timbers may be reused over time.

For a house built after 1947, the local planning authority may have a record of when planning permission was granted. If your house looks similar to others in your local area, ask around, someone else might know their age.

Useful links:

Listed building descriptions: National Heritage List for England

Archaeological & building recording records: Heritage Gateway & Yorkshire Vernacular Buildings Study Group

Historic England Listing Selection Guides provide a useful overview of the history of a range of building types.

For publications on local building history see our further reading page

Has your house had a previous use?

Has your home always been a house, or was it converted from a previous use, such as a church or chapel, a public house, school, workhouse, barn or other farm building?

If so, we might hold specific collections that can tell you more about this earlier history and use.

See our webpage about buildings which had other uses.