Have you ever wondered who lived in your house before you? If your walls could talk, what stories would they tell? We asked these period homeowners to investigate the history of their homes.
In the popular television series A House Through Time, historian David Olusoga gives period houses the Who Do You Think You Are? treatment by exploring their history and previous occupants. If your home is over 80 years old, you can find who lived in your house too with our historical records. This way, you can honour and preserve your home’s history, while still making it your own.
Explore your home’s history with two weeks free
Many of us dream of owning a characterful period home. We might relish the opportunity to lovingly restore a historical property, or perhaps we yearn to make a home surrounded by period features. Either way, there’s something intriguing about a house with history.
Family history resources such as census records and historical newspapers can help you unlock exciting discoveries to treasure as you make your own memories. Don’t believe us yet? We set two period homeowners and Findmypast House History Ambassadors the challenge of researching the history of their homes.
History of my Victorian home
Elizabeth, aka @victorianhouse1896, owns a stunning Victorian property in South Shields. She’s been stylishly renovating her period home and sharing her progress on Instagram.
She’d often wondered about who had walked through her doorway over the years, and by using Findmypast’s records she’s been able to dig deeper. Elizabeth decided to explore the history of the first residents, the Robsons.
Using her deeds, Elizabeth found that her house was once the home of Reverend James Robson, his Swiss wife Adele, and their children, Adele Constance, James Eustace, Edward Rene, Francis Hubert, Reginald and John Maurice. She found details about them on the 1901 Census using our Address Search, but discovered that young Adele Constance was missing from the 1911 Census. From there, her interest was piqued.
A search of our National School Registers and Logbooks unearthed some clues: Adele attended the Clergy Daughters’ School at Casterton in Cumbria in 1910, described as ‘an institution to educate the daughters of financially disadvantaged clergymen’.
Did Reverend Robson have money problems? According to the record, Adele had diphtheria and arrived in very poor health, but also that her French was very good, no doubt a result of having a Swiss mother.
After this discovery, Elizabeth was keen to explore more.
A tragic end
Adele married respected doctor John Stratton Brogden in 1924. However, when exploring Findmypast’s newspaper collection, Elizabeth discovered her story didn’t have a happy ending.
In 1932, Dr Brogden fell to his death during a climbing accident while in mourning for Adele, who had died aged only 27 from tuberculosis. They’d only been married for 15 months.
Elizabeth was so moved by this story that she visited their grave in Hexham to pay her respects.
‘Researching the history of my house has given me a connection with the first family who lived here, and I feel like they’re a part of my family now.’
Elizabeth also explored the lives of the other Robson children, finding that James Eustace headed to Egypt as a schoolmaster in 1931, but died there aged only 32. John Maurice became a reverend like his father, and married Lady Jane Penelope Shirley.
He served in the Staffordshire Yeomanry in the Second World War. Elizabeth even spotted a photo of John himself with his regiment in the newspapers. Finding a photograph of one of her home's former residents was an incredible moment.
Further inspired, Elizabeth made a trip to All Saints Church where Reverend James Robson was the vicar back in his day. She found in the newspapers that he gifted a lectern to the church in 1890. And believe it or not, the lectern was still there.
Her journey into the past has given Elizabeth a new appreciation for her home, delighted that she's been able to uncover and preserve its history for generations to come.
My interwar house
A search of the 1939 Register quickly told her the names of its first occupants: Walter Shuttleworth, a retired bank manager, his wife Elsie and their son Geoffrey, a mechanic. Elle immediately began picturing them, and she wondered what Mr and Mrs Shuttleworth would have made of her renovations.
Walter was born in Worcestershire. At some point during his career as a bank manager, he moved to the Newcastle area. Elle was over the moon to find Walter’s RAF service record from the First World War. The record told her he enlisted in 1917 aged 32, just after his son Geoffrey was born. It must have been hard for him to leave his young son, but perhaps he was keen to make the world a better place.
As Elle continues to share photos of her stylish home over on Instagram, she envisions the Shuttleworths nodding in approval. Elle imagines they’d be rather proud that their home is now famous nearly a hundred years on.
We’d love to hear about your house history finds. Share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.