Thanks to the increasing digitization of archival material, you can find a wealth of information about your historic home from your computer. The guide below will help you along the process of discovering when your home was built and the people who have owned and loved it before you.
Historic Macon and private researchers have already investigated and published the history of many of Macon's most important historic homes. The easiest place to begin your search is by browsing these published accounts. All can be browsed or checked out at your local branch of the Macon-Bib County Public Libraries. The most comprehensive survey of Macon's houses is Macon...An Architectural and Historical Guide which is available at Historic Macon's offices. The volume was last updated in 1995. It lists approximately 150 historic buildings and brief notes about their history. A Tour Through Time: An Architectural Guidebook to the Houses of Macon, GA by David Lewis was published in 2010 and includes the history of 38 historic homes in Macon. Other helpful books with published histories of homes include:
Macon's Treasures Remembered: The Antebellum Years • Living Macon Style • Architecture of Neel Reid in Georgia • J. Neel Reid, Architect • Architectural Works of W. Elliott Dunwody, Jr., FAIA
sanborn fire insurance maps
The Sanborn Fire Insurance Company made maps of 12,000 towns and cities in the United States from 1867 to 2007. The company mapped the City of Macon in 1884, 1889, 1895, 1908 and limited maps in 1920, all which are available online. Other years and updates made in years between these digitized versions can be browsed at the Middle Georgia Archives at Washington Library.
Begin your investigation by browsing the earliest Sanborn Maps on the Internet. The earlier the map, the smaller geographic area covered, so you will have the best luck using these maps to date the construction of your home if it is in the heart of downtown Macon. If you are lucky, your home will show up as a vacant lot in the 1884 map and as a constructed home in the 1889 map, proving that your home was constructed between 1884 and 1889.
Each map includes a legend to help you make sure that the building depicted in the map is the building you are investigating. For instance, each building is a color-coded based on the materials used to build it. Each building is also notated with a number indicating the number of levels. Pay close attention to the footprint of the building, the porch (indicated by dotted lines) and its relationship to other buildings. Google Maps can be used to compare satellite imagery to the Sanborn Maps to show change over time.
The online Sanborn Maps collection is also helpful with another very important research topic: determining the historic address of your home. Most homes in Macon were renumbered, some several times. In some cases, the same home was not only renumbered, but the street was also renamed! At this point, use the Sanborn Maps to make a list of addresses that applied to your home and the years that these addresses were used.
Middle Georgia Archives
After creating the Middle Georgia Archives, Historic Macon (then known as the Middle Georgia Historical Society) placed the archival materials on permanent loan with Macon-Bibb Public Libraries. Today, these materials are curated on the first level of Washington Memorial Library (1180 Washington Ave.) in the Genealogical and Historical Room. The professional staff, headed by Muriel Jackson, cares for these treasures and also assists patrons in exploring the collection.
After signing in at the front desk, ask a curator to help you find either the Sanborn Maps that you still need to browse or the City Directory. The Archives also holds collections of historic photographs. Curators can search indices of these collections to see if there is historic photograph of your home. However, finding a historic photograph of your home is rare.
One of the most useful collections in the archives is the previously mentioned City Directory. Using the addresses for your house, begin searching the most recent year of the City Directory available by address. The directory will include the name of the person in residence at your home that year and often the place, business or trade of their employment. Keep a list of residents and begin searching backward in time through the directories for previous years. Some streets were renamed and renumbered. In years where these items changed, both the old and new names an numbers will be listed. Remember to jot down the change and search the correct name and number as you move back in time. When your address no longer appears, it may be an indication of when the home was built.
Historic Macon foundation archives
Historic Macon retains a limited archival collection at our offices in the Sidney Lanier Cottage (935 High St). The collection holds records on approximately 1,000 homes and buildings in Middle Georgia. Records vary from brief survey files to extensive information about properties that Historic Macon Foundation owned and restored. The collection is open by appointment only, Monday through Friday, 10a.m. until 4p.m. Call (478) 742-5084 if you would like to schedule an appointment.
The Telegraph ONline
Now that you know the names of some of the previous owners and residents of your home, use The Telegraph's online archives to search their names or businesses. A diligent search may turn up an obituary for the first owner or builder of your home, or even advertisements for the business where they worked. Try searching by previous owner's names. You may find out where they worked and try searching the name of that business next. You may even search the address of the property (just remember to the use the address from the 19th century).
Bibb County Superior Court
Now for the most difficult and time-consuming part of your search. If your previous activities did not conclusively reveal the year your home was constructed or left gaps in the history, deed records are the most dependable resource. Begin by looking up your Property Record Card on the Macon-Bibb Tax Assessor's website.
Your property record card will list the most recent transfers of your property at the bottom. Write down the list of transfets and the Deed Book and page number that recorded these transfers. You can use this chain of ownership to trace back the title to your property to all of its previous owners and even before the home was constructed.
Next, head over to the office of Bibb County Superior Court in the Bibb Country Courthouse (601 Mulberry St). Enter the office of the Clerk of Superior Court and go back to the record room where all of the county's deed records are stored. You can begin your search at the computer terminal by looking up the earliest deed on your list from your property record card by searching for the book and page number.
Each deed should reference the book and page number of the deed previous. Continue to search backwards in time until you exhaust the computerized records. At that point, you can continue your search by deed book and page number by locating the physical deed book in this room and turning to the appropriate page. A key determinant to finding out when your home was constructed would be a jump in a value paid for the property at transfer or a reference to improvements made on the property.
Riverside Cemetery Website
After referencing the City Directories at the local archives and Deed Records at the courthouse, you should have a list of previous owners of your home. There's a chance that one of these owners may be interred at Riverside Cemetery here in Macon. If so, Riverside Cemetery's sophisticated and comprehensive website allows you to search every burial in the entire cemetery. A quick search of each name will allow you to pull up a picture of the gravesite, a map so that you can find the grave, and most helpfully, the obituary of the person buried. Obituaries can tell you about the occupation of previous owners of your homes, their families and their survivors.
U.S. Census Records
After determining the owners and occupants of your home through the City Directories and a search of Deeds, you may be able to use the U.S. Census records to learn more about the history of your home.
Digital Library of Georgia
Another interesting collection of archival material that can be browsed online is the Digital Library of Georgia, which contains 200 collections from 60 institutions. Eleven of these collections contain information about Bibb County, including aerial photographs, historic architecture and the Georgia State Fair.
Georgia State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO)
The Georgia SHPO website is frequently updated with the latest in online and physical archival materials. This website provides critical guidance if the purpose of your search is to nominate your house to the National Register of Historic Places, or if you are interested in learning about your home's style.