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Ever Wonder Who Lived In Your Home Before You? Here's How To Find Out

By Alex Nitkin | April 27, 2017 5:51am
 These houses in the 5200 block of West Winona Street both used to be churches, and a cemetery had been planned between them.
These houses in the 5200 block of West Winona Street both used to be churches, and a cemetery had been planned between them.
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Northwest Chicago Historical Society

CHICAGO — You wouldn't know by looking at them, but the two colonial-style houses presiding over the 5200 block of West Winona Street in Jefferson Park didn't always have people living in them.

The four-unit dwelling at 5216 W. Winona St. used to be the German Evangelical Congregational Church, a refuge for the huge population of Volga Germans who were some of the neighborhood's earlier settlers, according to the Northwest Chicago Historical Society.

Records show that the brick Queen Anne-style house a few doors down at 5208 W. Winona St., now home to just one family, also was built as a church, in 1907. A graveyard originally was planned between the two structures, but new homes filled the land instead.

Neighborhood historians dug up all that information from a few quick online searches, and they want you to do the same for your home.

For this week's #ThrowbackThursday, leaders of the Northwest Chicago Historical Society sent along a step-by-step guide, published by the city's Commission on Chicago Landmarks, on how to sleuth out everyone who's ever owned the property you call home.

Here are the basics:

• For the simplest record of your property, see if it's listed in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey. You can search by address in the survey's online database, or find a hard copy in any Chicago Public Library branch.

If you find your home, that means the Commission on Chicago Landmarks already has researched the property's history from the day it first saw construction.

• If the property isn't listed in the survey, you'll need to look up the building's original construction permit to see when it was built. If it was built before 1954, you can find it in the Documents & Maps Department on the third floor of the University of Illinois at Chicago Library, 801 S. Morgan St.

Otherwise, any building's construction permit can be requested through a Freedom of Information Act Request by filling out a simple form with the city's Department of Buildings, or emailing dobfoia@cityofchicago.org.

• If you're looking for more detail on your property than who built it and when, the UIC library and Chicago Public Library have access to huge troves of documents called "fire insurance maps," which show "lot sizes, the outlines of buildings, their heights and materials, any changes made to lot or buildings, and when those changes were made" approximately, according to the commission's guide.

• To see the names of everyone who's owned a title to your property, take a quick search through the Cook County Recorder of Deeds website. You'll need the property's pin number, which you can find by plugging your address into the Cook County Property Tax Portal.

• You can find information on everyone who lived in a home before 1940 — including their relationships to one another — by looking through complete census records at the Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton St., or the Chicago National Archives, 7358 S. Pulaski Road.

The U.S. Census Bureau waits 70 years to publish full census records out of privacy concerns.

DNAinfo is partnering with the Northwest Chicago Historical Society for a new history post each week. All photos are the property of Northwest Chicago Historical Society unless otherwise indicated.

For more photos and information, visit the Northwest Chicago Historical Society's Facebook page.