Searching your property

What you need to know to start

  • To search for your house you will need to know the street number and street name, and suburb. The lot number is also useful but not essential.
  • The valuation lists from the NSW Valuer General can be used to find out the lot number and subdivision name on which your house was built if you don't already know this. Sometimes it isn't possible to find this detail, particularly for some parts of Woollahra suburb.
  • Before you come in to the Local History Centre you can use the online catalogue to find out if any information has already been compiled on your house or if there are photographs. It may be that the research files already have a report on your property that would tell you when the house was built and some of the people who lived there (up until about 1968).

Which ward is your house in?

  • Council rates and assessments information is arranged in wards. To search these records you will have to know which ward your address is in. The Local History Centre has maps that will assist you to find the right ward - this may change over time, as there have been changes in ward boundaries.

Undertaking the property search

  • In general our advice is to start as close as possible to today and search back systematically through the records. We recommend this because changes such as street names or street numbering can be more easily identified. Jumping into the records at a much earlier date can lead to all sorts of confusions and errors.
  • As you search, note when any changes occur and what those changes are, such as
    • a transfer from one owner to another
    • changes in street numbers or names
    • changes to house names
    • changes to allotment numbers when a re-subdivision occurs
    • changes to any building on the site
    These are the details that will give you the history of your property and will also be vital factors in identifying your property in the records as the details become scarcer the farther back you go.

The Sands Directory - estimating date of construction and occupants

  • The Sands Directory - published between 1858 and 1932 - is an annual listing of Sydney residents and where they lived. The Directory may be used to identify successive occupants of a property as well as assisting with finding a date of construction. Starting with the Sands Directory can be useful because, although some caution needs to be applied to the information, the arrangement is fairly consistent and in typed script.

Council building applications - estimating date of construction

  • The card index to the building applications is arranged in alphabetical order by street, and then by property number. The cards record applications made to Council to construct a new building or alter existing ones. The BA number found on the index card could then be used to find information in the Building Registers, which are arranged in chronological sequence of applications. The Building Registers would be used to find out about owners, builder and/or architect, nature of the work, estimated cost and Council decisions.
  • Applications to build were not required before 1909 and the earliest date available in the registers for applications to Woollahra Council are c1912. The index cards for Woollahra start from c1919. The Vaucluse Council building register starts from 1910 and ends with 1948. The index cards for Paddington cover the period c1948-c1967.
  • If you want to view the plans you will need to contact Customer Services at Woollahra Council.

Valuation lists from the Valuer General NSW

  • The Department of the Valuer General NSW compiled these lists, every three to four years. The earliest such records available in the collection are for 1919 (but not for all wards in Woollahra and Vaucluse) and the last held in the collection are for 1968. They are arranged in a similar manner to the rate books - that is divided into Council wards and listed by street names and then numbers. You may find details about owners, possibly occupations of owners, estate or subdivision name, allotment numbers, what building/s were on the site, re-subdivisions, and sometimes house name.
  • Estate name and allotment number information can be important if you reach a stage in your research that pre-dates the use of house numbers and street names, so it is well worth noting these details before progressing on to the Council rate records.
  • Note: for Paddington the only rate records held are for 1963 and 1968.

Council rate records - estimating date of construction and owners/occupants

  • Councils created rate books in the process of identifying and assessing properties in order to raise revenue from landholders in their municipalities. Although the expression rate books is used at Woollahra you will also find included in these records the assessments and valuations undertaken by Council.
  • In these records the information is arranged within wards by street name, and then by house numbers. In the case of Woollahra Council the streets are listed alphabetically from 1922 but prior to that they are grouped by locality - however that locality arrangement is fairly consistent from year to year. Woollahra, Vaucluse and Paddington Council rate records vary from each other in scope and arrangement - for example Vaucluse rates were done every 3 years and Paddington Council in the late 1920s and early 1930s arranged rate information by owner instead of by street.
  • From the rates you may be able to find out who owned the property, when the property changed hands, what was standing on the site and when, and whether it was freehold or leased. Depending on the municipality, and the amount of detail recorded, the rates may provide information from about 1860 up to about the 1940s.

General histories of the suburbs

  • Books on the history of Woollahra and the other suburbs can provide useful general information about the development of the area in which your property is situated. In addition to these histories are also books about architectural styles - these too may be of value to your property research. Look in the Library catalogue to find what is held in the collection.

Heritage inventories

  • The collection includes a number of heritage studies that contain useful observations about the properties surveyed, as well as photographs in some cases.

Council block plans

  • These plans show the boundaries of allotments and can give street and lot numbers. A current version of block plans is held in the collection along with an incomplete set from the 1930s. This visual format can help make sense of the information in the documentary records. The 1930s block plans are kept in drawers in the Local History Centre and are organised by suburb.

Subdivision plans

  • These plans describe and promote releases of land and show the allotments of the particular subdivision. The collection contains both paper copies and a series copied on aperture cards taken from the collection held at the State Library of NSW. The card index in the local history centre includes references to the aperture card series and they can be searched for by estate name or by the suburb followed by the heading "maps" (eg. Rose Bay - maps, plans etc).

Research and vertical files

  • The vertical files are arranged alphabetically by subject and contain a wide variety of materials such brochures, pamphlets, news clippings and ephemera.
  • The research files contain written reports and the supporting documentation of the research undertaken by the staff. In general most of the research is on properties in the municipality, and have been filed alphabetically by address, however there is also some information on people, events and landmarks as well. These files are indexed and can be searched for on the library catalogue by address, name or subject.