Step Two: Beginning Your Research
Now that you have a general idea of the time period of your home, you will be better prepared to start your research. Organize your information that you already have to maximize your time, and use the following helpful hints to minimize trips to each place of research. The Aurora Public Library’s Main Branch is probably the best place to begin.
City Directories - These are very similar to phone books but include much more information. The earliest directories include general information about Aurora citizens, businesses, churches, schools, and organizations. You will need the general date you have for your home and the current and pre-1929 addresses. The 1929 City Directory includes this conversion chart in the street guide section. Prior to 1895, residents were not listed according to street address. To find the resident of your home before 1895, try looking up the name of the resident listed at your address in the 1895 directory. You will need to take the same approach to find the listing before 1886 because the addresses were changed in that year and there is no conversion table. The earliest city directory dates back to 1858. It is also important to note that several of the street names also changed in the 1960’s when the west and east sides of Aurora were integrated by bridges over the Fox River. For example, Downer Place and Fox became known as just Downer and Walnut and New York became just New York. The 1868, 1876, and 1886 city directories have maps in the front that shows the old street names.
Census Records - (1840-1910) these records are indexed by name only, and they can be hard to read since they are handwritten. It should be noted that records from the 1840-1860 censuses have a high error rate. In some cases, the census records indicate the number of people residing in each household, and sometimes the birthplace of the occupants.
Prominent Citizens Obituaries - Scrapbook of newspaper obituaries from 1900-1945, listed alphabetically. If you the exact date of death, try looking up the obituary in the Aurora Beacon News on microfilm.
Now and Then clippings - Biographical sketches from the 1920-1980 Aurora Beacon columns by “Putt” and later Bob Barclay. The file is alphabetically indexed in a small wooden card catalog outside the genealogical room.
Newspapers - Several local newspapers can be accessed on microfilm. The Beacon News is indexed back to the 1940s.
Plat Maps - These can be helpful in determining when your property was developed.
- Thompson and Everts 1872 Combination Atlas map of Kane County.
- D.W. Ensign’s 1892 Atlas of Kane County
Local History, Reference, and Genealogical Resource - Look here for further information about your home and past residents.
Aurora Historical Society
If you are in search of more information about your building and its previous residents, try the Aurora Historical Society. They also have a complete set of city directories and have various other historical sources. Some of the most helpful are listed below.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps - These maps were published for communities all across the United States beginning in 1867. They are very detailed and can help you determine the size, shape, and building and building material of a building. Sanborn Maps for Aurora were conducted in 1885, 1897, 1907, and 1957.
Probate Inventories - Probates can be helpful to see descriptions of property, who inherited property, and how much it was worth at that time. An index for the probates can also be found at the Aurora Public Library.
1867 Aerial Map
Aerial Maps - Drawn in 1867 and 1882, these maps show a birds-eye view of Aurora. They can also be found online at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/gmdhtml/cityhome.html. Conduct a search for Aurora, Illinois and you will find the 1867 and 1882 maps and a zoom capability.
Aurora Preservation Commission
The Aurora Preservation Commission is another important place to check for information, even if your home is not located in a historic district. Please call and set up an appointment to look at our resources or to inquire if we have any additional information.
Building permits - Records from 1913 to 1980 provide information about date, cost, contractor, owner, and often times the type of construction.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps - Collection includes maps from 1888, 1897, and 1907.
County Recorder’s Office
At your county’s Recorder’s office, you can find deed and mortgage transactions for the land your house is on. You will need the legal description or parcel number in order to locate your house’s information. Each county’s records are slightly different and some helpful tips are included below.
Kane County - Information for records before about 1980 are found in the Tract Book section, off to the right when you enter the office. The Aurora books are grouped together alphabetically by subdivision. (This is found in the legal description) The subdivision’s entries are in order by Block and Lot in chronological order. These books are guides to the documents that have been recorded on the property, so all of the information may not be of interest to you. The type of transaction is abbreviated, and some of the abbreviations are listed to the right.
Look for large increases in the purchase price between 2 consecutive sales. This could indicate the owner constructed a new building or added to an existing one. You may view the original documents on microfilm or make copies for a fee. Any questions can be directed to the staff in the Tracts section.
DuPage County - The records here are not organized by legal description and you will need to know specific property owners’ names and approximate dates of residence in order to search for deeds and mortgages. Please ask the staff in the Archives Department for further assistance.
The Kane County Clerk’s Office has property tax records since 1881. Substantial increases in taxes or mortgages between years can indicate if construction occurred on the property. If needed, the old tax ID number can be obtained from the Supervisor of Assessments Office in the Mapping Department.
City of Aurora Water and Sewer Department
The Water and Sewer Department has recorded water taps since about 1884. These records show when the house line was tapped to the city’s main water line in the street. They often show the materials that were used and the name of the plumber.
In addition to the legal description and PIN number, you can find property tax records that indicate if a property is ‘improved’ or ‘unimproved.’ The township assessor’s record can show when an assessed value changed noticeably which can indicate when a structure or an addition was built. The Aurora Township assessor’s records date back only to 1899. Most of this information can be found on the Township’s website, but beware, some of it can be misleading, especially the date of construction which is often times only an estimate.
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