Where To Begin Your Research

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House Detective: A Guide to Researching Birmingham Buildings (Birmingham Historical Society) gives the best and most detailed discussion of sources and techniques for researching local structures. The book is available at libraries and bookstores, or from the Historical Society (251-1880).

The most commonly used sources for information on historic houses and buildings in Jefferson County are:

Real Estate Atlas of Jefferson County, available in the Birmingham Public Library’s Business Department (downtown library). This atlas will give you a Parcel Identification Number and other information. (You will also find your Parcel Identification Number on your property tax notice.) The construction date listed on the Real Estate Atlas is an often inaccurate approximation.

Jefferson County Board of Equalization Appraisal Files, available in the Birmingham Public Library’s Archives. These files can help to date a structure, identify previous owners, and usually contain historic photographs. A Parcel Identification Number is needed to retrieve the file.

City directories, available in the Birmingham Public Library’s Southern History Department Directories, can often help determine earliest or longest occupant of a building and may help date a building.

Your neighbors or previous occupants of a structure may be able to provide valuable information or photographs.

Property abstracts give a chain of title (ownership) for a piece of property. Abstracts are sometimes passed down by owners of older property, or can be purchased through a title company (see House Detective).

Published histories of some neighborhoods and towns, and newspaper clipping files on many neighborhoods and towns, are available in the Birmingham Public Library’s Southern History Department.

Depending on the type of structure or site that you are researching and where it is located, library staff or members of the Historical Commission may be able to recommend additional sources of information.

Research Strategy – Approach your research systematically.  A suggested strategy is to:

  1. Visit the Library’s Business Department to obtain a Parcel Identification Number
  2. Visit the Library’s Archives to see the Board of Equalization file on your property.
  3. Visit the Library’s Southern History Department to check city directories, published sources and clipping files.
  4. Supplement the information gathered from these sources by talking to neighbors or previous occupants, by consulting property abstracts, if available, or by checking other sources recommended by library staff or members of the Historical Commission.
  5. Be sure to photocopy those pages of your documentary sources that show dates and occupancies, obtain copies of historic photographs (photocopies are fine), and include these copies with your marker application.