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Librarian tells how to search a house’s history

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maureen-neely.jpgBy Nick Diamantides, Staff Writer

If your house could talk, what stories would it tell? Many people wish they could find out something about the people that once occupied their home. Last Thursday, Maureen Neeley, a librarian with the Long Beach Public Library outlined a step-by-step process for discovering the history of houses in Long Beach. She did that for an audience of about 30 at a California Heights Neighborhood Association meeting held at the Long Beach Petroleum Club.
The first step in uncovering your house’s past is to get a copy of the original building permit. “You can get that by going to City Hall or phoning the planning and building department,” she said.
Neeley added that the county assessor’s office at Willow Street and Gundry Avenue also contains a wealth of historical information about buildings in the area. “You bring in your identification that shows you live at the address for which you are requesting information and ask for the old assessor’s record of that house,” she said. “It shows the footprint of the original house as well as details of the building components; sometimes it will even have the names of the architect and builder.”
Another place to find those names is Southwest Builder and Contractor Magazine. The magazine was published from 1914 to the early 1960s. Original copies may be perused at the University of Southern California’s architecture library. Microfilm copies are available at the University of California, Los Angeles library as well as the Los Angeles Public Library in downtown L.A. If you only know the year your house’s building permit was issued, you will have to scroll through all 52 issues of that year’s magazines.
Many people want to take the research a step further and find out about their house’s past occupants. “City directories are great resources for finding out who lived in your home, “ Neeley said. “The old ones are in crisscross style; you can look by address or by last name.” City directories are in the main branch of Long Beach’s Public Library and go back to the late 1890s.
“Some of the directories tell you if the occupants were owners or renters,” she said. “But if you want a list of all previous owners, you need to go to the Los Angeles County Title and Records Department in Norwalk.”
Once you have the names of the people associated with your house in the past, you can also look for old newspaper articles about them. “Go to the Long Beach Library web site––and click on the Long Beach history index,” Neeley said. “You can search by keyword for the address or names of people, and if there is an old news article about the house of people the index will give you the title and the date of the article.” She added that once you have that, you must go to the library’s main branch and pull the microfilm of that article.
“You can find additional historical records and photographs of neighborhoods at the Long Beach Historical Society,” Neeley said.
To get more information on the people of your house’s past go to the Long Beach Library’s Web site and click on a data base called “It contains census records, Social Security death records, the California death index and other vital statistics,” Neeley said, explaining that by researching the various indexes on that Web site, you might be able to find the names of living descendants of the previous occupants. “You could then find their addresses or phone numbers at or,” Neeley said. “Those people might be interested in visiting the former house of their parents or grandparents and they might also have interesting stories or photographs to share with you.”
Neeley added that talking to some of the long-time residents of your neighborhood could also provide you with a wealth of stories and information.
Long Beach as well as Los Angeles library cards are useful research tools according to Neeley. “Los Angeles has useful data bases like archives of the Los Angeles Times and Sanborn Maps that have old hand-drawn sketches of most of the city blocks in this region,” she said
Neeley lives in Long Beach with her husband Daniel Roberts. She encourages people to take the time to research the history of their homes, but she will also do that for a fee.
“It’s important that we understand our place in history because we are just passing through,” Neeley said, adding that people with historical perspectives tend to be better caretakers of their homes. “I encourage people to keep the future occupants in mind when they do restorations or renovations of their home,” she said.
Neeley can be reached at (562) 438-4687 or [email protected].

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Librarian tells how to search a house’s history