History of Your House - Public Records

Resources at the Oshkosh Public Library:

Did Someone Else Start the Work for You?

Under "Building History " of the Bibliography, we have listed a number of books in which work by previous researchers is summarized. Several of these were done by UW-O students under the direction of Professor Edward Noyes. These studies total less than 100 buildings, many of them commercial rather than residential. Janet Shepherd's "Not New Now" concentrates on homes. The Intensive Historic Resource Survey covers hundreds of Oshkosh buildings, but in less detail. Selected properties may also be found in the Wisconsin Architecture & History Inventory. No luck or need to search for more details? It's time to start digging!

Using City Directories to Trace Home Ownership

A city directory is a book which lists businesses and people, rather like a telephone directory, but dating from before telephones were invented and continuing through the present time. Individuals are listed with their home addresses. Often occupations or employers are given. The first Oshkosh directory appeared in 1857. The second was not until 1866. After that they appeared every few years, becoming annual in 1971. Most directories were arranged two ways: alphabetically by name and by street address.

Using a directory is, essentially, a matter of working backwards. Early city directories listed residents alphabetically but beginning in 1891, street indexes were included in Oshkosh city directories. These indexes list occupants by street address and sometimes indicate whether it is an individual dwelling or apartment. Only the head of the household is listed, not every occupant. Often it shows whether the occupant is the owner or a renter. Note that Oshkosh city directories have never listed young children. Until 1910 married women were generally not listed - they were considered covered by their husbands' entries. Adult working children were listed, however.

Do not try to skip back in checking listings, because most street addresses have been renumbered over the years. Early numbering started with "1" no matter where the street itself began or how many houses there were. If a new house was built between number 7 and number 9, it became number 9 and all other beyond it were renumbered. Nearly every Oshkosh street address changed in 1958, when both street names and numbers were adjusted. Before that, even numbers were sometimes on the east side of the street, sometimes on the west. Now all even numbers are on the north or east sides of the streets. There were large number changes on the South side in the early 1900s as well. When in doubt, comparing the list of neighbors can help.

City directories spanning the years 1857 to 1922 and can be browsed or searched online.

Additional information on using city directories can be found on the Wisconsin Historical Society's web site.

Maps

Fire insurance maps are very detailed maps showing the shape - down to the bay windows - of the buildings. They also show if the buildings were brick, stone or wood. Oshkosh Public Library has some of these on microfilm:

The Library also has a print copy of the Sanborn 1903 with additions and corrections to 1953. Both print and microfilm maps are in the Local History Locked Shelves Collection.

Plat maps sometimes show commercial buildings and the homes of prominent citizens. The Library owns and has digitized with the State of Wisconsin Collection:

Plat maps often show homes in the rural areas simply with a dot. These maps can also help determine a legal description for the property.

Newspapers

Sometimes the newspapers summarized the building activities of the year. Check the Oshkosh Public Library newspaper indexing for stories under "buildings, new" and "houses, new." If you have a probable first owner, check under that name as well.

County & Regional Histories and Biographical Volumes

These often include biographies of prominent citizens or first settlers. Occasionally there is an engraving of the home of a sponsor of the volume. These items are listed below under "Histories/Biographies" in the Bibliography.

Local History Books

Books of photos were published in 1887, 1892 and 1902. These show homes of prominent citizens who paid to be sponsors. The Northwestern also published smaller photo booklets from about 1903 to 1919, frequently featuring new structures. The Local History Books can be browsed and searched online as part of the library's digital collection.