Researching the History of Your Neighborhood (Part Two)

In Part One of this neighborhood history series, I wrote about finding secondary sources of information about the history of your neighborhood. In this post I’ll take a look at some top sources for conducting your own original research.

Plat Map of the Byron Addition to Seattle, 1890. Plat maps are accessible via the King County Parcel Viewer website. Select a parcel, click “Property Report,” then “Scanned images of plats.”

Part Two: Primary Research—in other words, how do you find the history that hasn’t been written yet?

  • With the King County Parcel Viewer you can find detailed property reports for buildings in your neighborhood. Each report includes the current taxpayer’s name, a legal description, a parcel number, the year built, and often a historic photograph. Also included are links to additional information, such as original plats and surveys.
  • Maps and atlases can show you how streets, blocks, buildings, and other neighborhood features have changed over time. Online Seattle map collections include:

          —Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (requires Seattle Public Library card and PIN)
          —Seattle Municipal Archives Map Index

Many other maps and atlases are available in person in the Hugh and Jane Ferguson Seattle Room on the 10th floor of the Central Library.

  • Historic newspapers are prime sources for all kinds of information about the history of a neighborhood. With the Seattle Times Historical Archives database, you can search the complete Seattle Times from 1900–1984 for free; (it also requires a Seattle Public Library card and PIN). Try searching for the neighborhood name, streets, addresses, people—anything that might have made it into the newspaper.
  • Take a look at historic photos to see what things used to look like. Excellent online photo collections include:

          –The University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections
          –The Seattle Public Library Seattle Historical Photograph Collection 
          —Seattle Municipal Archives Photograph Collection

Horse Drawn Garbage Wagon, 1500 Belmont Street, October 28, 1915. Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives. Item #871.

  • City directories are available in the Seattle Room from the late 1800s through 1996 and were published every year, with few exceptions. City directories typically include the names, occupations, and addresses of residents. Starting in 1938, the directories began reverse listings by address, making it relatively easy to find out who was living at a particular address.
  • Your neighbors can be great sources of neighborhood history and lore. Talk to them! Many Seattle neighborhoods also have their own historical organizations. Historic Seattle’s survey profiles of local historical organizations include contact information for many neighborhood historical societies.

Stuck? Need help? Ask a librarian or visit the Seattle Room to find more sources and get reference assistance.

~ Bo K., Central Library

This entry was posted in databases, Events, local history, LOCAL INTEREST, re:SEARCH and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Researching the History of Your Neighborhood (Part Two)

  1. Sandy says:

    I am following a blog called which posts one entry a day from an anonymous Seattle lady’s 5 year diary from 50 years ago. On today’s entry (3/1/61), she indicated that she visited the Seattle library’s University Branch, so that led me here, and your links are very helpful in finding out more about the mysterious diary lady!

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