Historic Property Research



Historic property research relies on Block and Lot numbers.  They are the basic identifiers of real property, traceable throughout its developed history.  Assessor’s parcel numbers remain tools for tax administration, rarely mentioned in deeds.  Street addresses came later, in some cases – years later. Some early homes were simply too far from the city core with few neighbors.  Addresses were often irrelevant in early years as some residents were serviced via rural route mail delivery or preferred picking up their mail “in town.” Too, addresses changed over time as buildings were renumbered, streets were renamed or front doors were relocated to face a different road.


Wherever possible, copies of the original tract maps designating the property are included.  The earliest were drawn by the Huntington Beach Company, but other early developers did so as well.  It is very important to note that property lines as originally mapped were often somewhat fluidic over time.  Early deeds often specified the inclusion of a portion of an adjacent lot. Later, this resized parcel was often simply recognized in deeds with the original lot number and no mention of its components.  When possible, a copy of the early tract maps are juxtaposed with current lot lines to show this transition.

In addition to tract maps, fire insurance maps may be consulted.  Known commonly as “Sanborn Maps”, these are consulted when relevant to clarification of other building data.


Title companies use their own proprietary databases to track property ownership.  While some newer tools are now available to public researchers, the process of documenting the ownership of a property can be very complicated.  Generally, one owner is identified from one of a variety of sources and the title is then traced back from them to prior owners or forward from them to subsequent ones using the grantor/grantee records of the County. This can be especially daunting in a city like ours own where many homes were built (or moved to the site) to be rented and the owner did not live in them.  A list of all early known owners since the lot(s) was originally plotted in a tract map is included for your reference. More recent information is not provided to protect the privacy of individuals who may be possibly still living.  Note that deeds only are used.  Mortgage records and oil leases were not consulted. 


Once all early owners of the property have been identified, assessment records are used to learn when the house appeared on the site.  Tracking back from a probable year, generally the 1930s or so, all of the owner’s properties are checked, looking for the Block and Lot in question.  It is not uncommon for one owner to have a number of properties, so this must be carefully done. The first year in which an “improvement” is listed on the tax records indicates the period during which the structure was erected.  Homes and other buildings were commonly moved during various periods in Huntington Beach history, so the appearance of a structure may not necessarily prove the actual year of construction, only the year in which it was located on the site. When available, additional material will be provided to clarify the date in which a structure was actually constructed. 


Very few early city directories exist for Huntington Beach, but they are critical tools for researching property history.  Of these, only a few are “reverse” directories, so each must be read page by page to find the address in question. Some directories specifically mark the entry if the named individual is the owner of the property.  This is sometimes in error, but these provide an excellent starting place from which to track ownership.  Regardless of whether or not the occupant owned the property, these provide valuable information about who once lived there.   In Huntington Beach, many early properties were rentals and many of the most interesting people from the city’s past were tenants.  Note that some entries are followed by comments like “meat market” or “pool hall”.  These refer to the occupation of the listed individual and not the use of the property.


Electoral rolls (also known as the “Great Registers”) are lists of registered voters compiled every two years.  It is interesting to note that the 1908 electoral roll for Huntington Beach which prescribed those eligible to vote for our cityhood numbered fewer than 190 men.  Women could not vote at the time.

Like city directories, electoral rolls are valuable sources for learning who lived at a specific place at a specific time. Also like city directories, they must be read line by line to find the relevant address. The rolls do have some particular drawbacks.  Street addresses were omitted from the earliest rolls.  Even after that time, some people chose another way to receive their mail so did not provide an address.  When an address was provided, it was often only a partial reference such as the north side of the street. Until 1911, women could not vote. They first appear in the 1912 rolls.  For all years, ineligible residents like recent immigrants do not appear.  Nor do those who were eligible but simply chose not to participate.  In later years, party affiliation is listed for each voter which sheds light on the sentiments of individuals particularly in years of historic significance such as periods of war time or economic disruption. As with city directories, any reference to a business refers to an individual’s occupation and not the use of the property.


The federal census is taken every ten years.  Those available for Huntington Beach are from 1900, 1910 (our first as a city), 1920, 1930 and 1940.  The census must be read line by line to find the specific address or name being sought.  As with other sources, addresses may have changed or been left off.  When relevant entries are found, they provide information not available elsewhere such as names of all family members, not just the head of household or other adult occupants.  Information about income, origin, and even education can be found in the census telling us much about all the occupants at that time. Of course, no census entry will appear prior to dwelling construction at the location.


Because so few are readily available or easily accessible, this property research does not rely heavily on newspapers.  Where possible, however, this source is consulted – especially to learn more about particular occupants. 


Various additional sources may be used to learn more about specific early occupants.  Examples include military information, lifetime achievements, notoriety or even association with other places of significance.  When used and reproduction is possible, copies of this supporting material is included.

Click for: National Register Researching a Historic Property