Researching buildings and houses

Learn how to research the history of your house or a prominent Melbourne building using the Library’s collection of architectural drawings, maps and online tools.

Researching your house

Narrow free standing double storey house, H2005.34/46

Narrow free standing double storey house, H2005.34/46There are a number of resources you can use to trace the history of your house. Generally, information is more readily available for houses built pre World War Two.

Many of these resources are not available on the internet so be prepared to visit libraries, local history centres and government organisations to thumb through indexes, card catalogues and books.

If you are looking for original certificates relating to land selection, i.e. pastoral runs and land bought from the Crown, these are held at the Public Record Office and date from 1862-1960s.

You can begin by searching the catalogue and the Australiana index, to check for any references to your house. These might include auction plans, maps, drawings and books.

To get an understanding of the scope of your search, it is a good idea to initially try to consult a published source, where experts have already done all the running around.

The available resources may vary depending on the age, location and size of your house. For example, if the building you are interested in is located within the Melbourne City Council boundaries, you can try i-Heritage, a database which includes studies of Melbourne houses.

Various architectural resources will yield different information. For example, in the MMBW plans, you may find the dimensions of your property, and in directories and rate books, you may trace the previous occupants of your house.

Use the tabs across the top of the page to help you navigate your search.

New book

Australian house styles / Maisy Stapleton & Ian Stapleton.
This book spans the history of Australian architectural, from the bark and split-slab cottages of the early colonial period to the sleek corrugated-steel pavilions of the twenty-first century. In between are country homesteads, city terraces, Federation villas, Californian bungalows and the austere fibro-clad cottages of the 1940s and 1950s. Includes sixty-three detailed drawings, an illustrated glossary of building terms and a short history of our domestic architecture. -- Back cover.


Timeline of Melbourne's building styles

This PDF, produced by property researchers Secret Agent, provides a brief overview of Melbourne's housing styles, including construction methods and styles spanning early Victorian to the 1990s. 

Researching historic homes

The Public Record Office Victoria holds many valuable and historic records which can help with your house research. This booklet outlines what they have, how to access them and what to look for.

Local councils

Heritage area studies: Local councils are responsible for identifying and protecting places of local heritage significance. These places are usually identified through a heritage study. Many of these heritage studies can be found online via council websites, at State Library Victoria, or in local libraries.

City of Glen Eira- Post war and hidden gems: heritage review 2020

City of Yarra has listed many links and resources to studies undertaken in their area, including Richmond, Fitzroy and Collingwood.

North and West Melbourne is a conservation study for the City of Melbourne of North and West Melbourne, by Graeme Butler. It includes many images of houses and streets which can be viewed on the author's Flickr page.

Planning schemes online provides access to all approved planning schemes in Victoria. Very useful for locating planning zones, and also heritage places within local areas. Heritage places of local significance are usually identified in the local planning scheme as part of a ‘heritage overlay’. The planning schemes identify them through maps.

Stonnington Council provides a checklist: Research the history of your house.

Rate books

Rate books usually contain the names of the owner and the occupant, their occupation, address, date, description of property and rate assessed. We have a detailed page outlining where resources are held.


What houses used to cost

This page, on pricing chronology from another SLV research guide, lists resources by date, the median house price range from the 1970's onwards, research papers and includes a great photo of a house crossing a channel!