Research the History of your House
If you live in a vintage house and have even a fleeting interest in history, one of the most rewarding projects you can undertake is to research your story of the house, its builder and past dwellers. The growing amount of information available online - digitised maps, images, newspaper archives and records - is making this type of research easier every day and in most cases you should be able to produce a timeline and biographies of past owners from the comfort of your home office, or couch.
This page will give you a robust methodology, sources, hints and tricks to resolve any obstacles that you are likely to encounter. The key steps are:
Assess the built form of your house, to determine style and approximate age.
Consult historical maps to identify any changes to your suburb or street.
Examine aerial photography for changes and extensions to the house over time.
Source the historical tile deeds, to identify past owners and construction date.
Search Trove for biographical data on owners.
Search genealogical databases for more biographical data.
Consult other sources to fill any gaps.
If you're researching a relocated house, you may skip directly to the last section of this page - Researching Relocated Houses.
Step 1 - Determine the Style of the House
You can determine a rough construction date for your house simply by studying its built form and features. When doing so we must be aware that some styles were popular over extended periods of time - often several decades - so the assessment can never be precise. It is also the case that new architectural trends tended to start in large metropolitan areas, particularly Brisbane, and then spread into regional areas. As a result we often find "late colonial" designs, for example, being constructed in regional areas well into the 1910s.
Nevertheless, the style of the house is a critical clue to its construction date, and an obvious place to start the research. It may also be the first time that you're considering its form and components, and how it's all put together. This will be useful for later investigations of restorations, extensions and changes.
For vintage Queensland houses, the range of architectural styles can be broadly divided into five rough categories that represent an overlapping chronological sequence from the first free settlement of the mid-1800s through to the post-war era. The following sections provide a high-level overview of generic house styles by era, and much more detail can be found in the house designs section of this website.
1. Early Colonial. The Moreton Bay penal settlement, operating from 1825 to 1842, made use of prefabricated and locally constructed buildings with very specific purposes, and almost all of them have been obliterated by time and later development. The only surviving structures of this era are the windmill on Wickham Terrace and the Commissariat Store on North Quay.
As the penal colony was disbanded and free settlement progressed in the 1850s, the first residential buildings were generally constructed from locally sourced timber, stone and brick. The architecture was diverse and reflected building practices of the southern states as well as other colonial outposts around the world. Many dwellings had the fatal flaw of being built on the gound, or close to the ground, with insufficient termite barriers. Apart from a few elite residences, few houses from this era remain today, and those that do are well known and documented.
2. Late Colonial. This category includes designs used extensively from the 1880s through to the turn of the century. Perhaps the most recognisable is the humble gabled cottage which can be found in European outposts across the world. Gabled cottages typically have steeply pitched roofs and are one room deep and two rooms wide with a skillion-roofed kitchen extension to the back. The style went out of fashion in the 1890s although "kit homes" of a more modern interpretation were available well into the 20th century.
A more widespread type of worker's dwelling is the "pyramid" or "short-ridge" cottage which gave rise to the "Queenslander" style as we know it. Perched on timber stumps, these houses were generally of a square configuration with an internal layout comprising two bedrooms, a sitting room and kitchen. The street frontage had a veranda which sometimes extended around the sides of the house. The steeply pitched corrugated iron roofs, stepped veranda roofs and often brick chimneys set these houses apart from later bungalow styles.
The late colonial era also saw a range of more substantial middle and upper-middle class designs; including two-story villas with internal fireplaces, attic rooms and other remnants of European design that ultimately proved unsuitable for the Queensland climate.
Common Late Colonial styles: 1 - Gabled Cottage (mid-1800s to 1890s, with occasional examples from the early 1900s). 2 - Pyramid or Short-Ridged Cottages (ca 1880s to 1910). 3 - Asymmetrical Gabled Cottage with stepped veranda roof and "flying gable" infill that is offset from the facade (ca 1890s to 1910). 4 - Asymmetrical Gabled House with L-shaped veranda and two gables (ca 1880s to 1910). Click to enlarge.
3. Federation and Pre-War. The turn of the century saw the adoption of the Bungalow as the new standard for residential housing. The style is characterized by low-pitched roofs that are continuous across the verandas. Derivatives of the style include various configurations of front-facing or surrounding verandas, porches, projecting gables and sleepouts. The permutations of style elements are endless. By the time of the federation most houses no longer had brick chimneys but were fitted with stove alcoves - corrugated iron boxes with small tin chimneys attached to the external kitchen wall, designed to transfer heat away from the living areas.
Common Federation and Pre-War styles: 1 - Symmetrical Bungalow with U-shaped veranda and pediment (ca 1900 to 1920s). 2 - Symmertical Bungalow with full front veranda, a very common and basic worker’s dwelling design (ca 1900 - 1920s). 3 - Asymmetrical Bungalow with front veranda (ca 1900 to 1920s, with later interpretations in the 1930s). 4 - Porch and Gable Bungalow (ca 1910 to 1920s). Click to enlarge.
4. Inter-War. The 1920s to the late 1930s saw a continued evolution of the bungalow style, with more complex street-facing facades incorporating two or three gables with or without flanking verandas and sleepouts. The economic downturn of 1929 and depleting local timber stocks gave rise to a more compact footprint with smaller verandas but the houses were nevertheless often decorated with ornate gable infills, bay windows, brackets etc. By the late 1930s, the Queensland vernacular was increasingly displaced by new design trends such as the "conventional" timber and brick houses that showed no particular regional variation. The new era also embraced influences from the US such as the Mediterranean, Spanish Mission and Californian Bungalow styles, and the revival of Tudor and other traditional British styles. Functionalist and Art Deco-inspired buildings also made their mark in this period of unprecedented architectural diversity.
The presence of fibro sheeting, often made from asbestos, is a good indicator of buildings dating from the late 1910s. This cheap and versatile material was often used for gable infills as shown in pictures 1 and 2 below, in combination with decorative timber to imitate classical half-timbered construction. Fibro sheeting changed the trajectory of domestic architecture and enabled a range of new construction techniques and designs.
Common Inter-war styles: 1 - Multi Gable house with half-timbered gables (ca 1920s to mid-1930s). 2 - Double Gable house (ca 1920s to 1930s). 3 - Transverse Gable (ca 1920s to 1930s). 4 - Spanish Mission/Mediterranean house in rendered brick (1920s to 1930s). 5 - Modernist/Functionalist house in rendered brick (1930s with later interpretations in the 1940s and early 50s) and 6 - "Conventional" design, typically in timber but also in brick (1930s to 1950s). Click to enlarge.
5. Post War - covering a period extending into the 1960's and beyond where minimalist aesthetics, widespread car ownership and artificial building materials converged to create new ideas of municipal planning and residential housing design. Thus began the era of remote automobile commuter suburbs, severed from the constraints of architectural tradition and public transport. Perhaps a handful of these buildings will survive to celebrate their centenary birthdays, and at that point they may even be considered pretty, or at least quaint.
This is only a brief summary of Queensland's traditional building styles but you can find catalogues with hundreds of typical designs from 1887 through to the 1950s here. For a deep dive into the taxonomy of Queensland worker's homes you can't go past the comprehensive "Brisbane House Styles 1880 to 1940, A Guide to the Affordable House" (Judy Gale Rechner, Brisbane History Group) and for non-Queensland regions the excellent "Identifying Australian Architecture, Styles and Terms from 1788 to the recent" (Apperly, Irving & Reynolds; 1989).
Step 2 - Consult Historical Maps
The second step is optional and it may not be necessary, however historical maps can provide excellent contextual information on the evolution of your suburb, and more importantly they can help you identify any changes to street configurations and names, which are surprisingly frequent. If the street or suburb has changed over time, we must take this into account in later stages of the research.
There's a reasonable body of maps available on-line and it is growing constantly. Trove (more on this below) contains many collections and, if they aren't available on-line, will point you to their location. Libraries can often post you a high-resolution digital copy for a small fee. The Queensland Historical Atlas and the State Library One Search engine are also good sources.
The QLD Government Open Data Portal contains a large collection of historical maps. It's not easy to navigate, but it is the go-to resource for old military maps, cadastral (showing land ownership) maps etc.
Earlier maps can reveal the gradual settlement of your region, successive developments of suburbs and subdivisions, and early land owners. Later maps can shed light on the development of individual streets, changes to street names and the locations of schools and other public buildings that may have disappeared over time. You may also come across old Estate maps, essentially promotional leaflets for land sales, providing information on auction dates, allotment boundaries, public transport and other amenities of the time.
McKellar's 1895 map of the Western Suburbs, as viewed in the Queensland Historical Atlas (left), and 1884 estate map sourced from Trove (right). Click to enlarge.
Step 3 - Examine Aerial Photography
Historical aerial photography is now widely available, and it has proved key to solve many house history mysteries. Not only are the aerials useful for identifying the original configuration and later extensions of a particular house, they also allow you to track the evolution of a neighborhood in great details as houses are added, shifted and replaced over time. If you live in an older suburb, there's a reasonable chance that your vintage house is in fact a replacement of an even older dwelling. Aerial photos are also invaluable for identifying the origin of relocated houses, as we will see in a later section.
There are two primary sources for aerial photography in Queensland - Google Earth and QImagery.
Google Earth contains a fantastic series of historical imagery for most locations, however the date range is limited to the past 15-30 years. The number of dates for a location will decline as you move away from metropolitan areas. As of writing, Brisbane CBD has several dozen of images from the period 2001 through to 2017, whereas in contrast Barcaldine has only 10 dates in the same range. As time goes by we can expect both the range and number of images to grow.
To access the imagery you need to use Google Earth Pro, which is a free desktop application available here. Spend some time with the application and learn to navigate it - it's easy. To view the historical imagery click "View" on the toolbar, then tick "Historical Imagery". A slider appears in the top left corner, and using this you can then set the dates that you want to view.
The date "slider for Google Earth historical imagery.
As you examine the dates for a particular location, I recommend that you take screen "snips" of each image and paste them into a PowerPoint pack, so that you can easily compare them side-by-side. Use the Windows "snipping tool" for this, or equivalent. Below is an example of four dates side-by-side.
Disappearance of a Milton residential neighborhood between 2001 to 2017.
Images sourced from Google Earth Pro. Click to enlarge.
QImagery is a little bit trickier to navigate, but it has a far wider range of image dates. This is a free QLD Government online application, available here.
In the map window, click "Search" on the top left corner, then enter the address of the house. When the address match appears, click "Search". In the left hand menu a list of the available dates and "runs" appears. When you click on a run, the individual images are listed. Click on these and they will appear in the window, over-laid on the map.
Note that the images are not always matched to the map view - i.e. they are often rotated or misaligned. This can be confusing and may take some time to get used to.
The scale of these images varies hugely - look for the runs with a small scale for high-resolution photos. If you live in Brisbane, you may be fortunate that your house is covered by the very early, very high-resolution run from April 1936, which is as early as it gets. Again I recommend that you "snip" the aerials and paste them into a PowerPoint pack for easy reference.
Aerial photos of a neighborhood, from 1946 (left) and 2009 (right). Sourced from
QImagery. Click to enlarge.
Researchers in Brisbane may also want to access the BCC "PD online" interactive mapping tool, which has a comprehensive set of high-resolution 1946 images.
Step 4 - Source the Historical Titles
The Historical Titles for your property will provide a foundation for all of your detailed research on the builder of the house and subsequent owners. In Queensland the historical titles are kept electronically by the Department of Natural Resources and Mines. If you live outside Brisbane, the information can be obtained by a visit to your nearest QLD Government Business Centre. If you live in Brisbane, the friendly staff at the Titles Registry Customer Enquiry Service on Level 11 of 53 Albert St in Brisbane will guide you through the search process. You will need the Lot and RP number (Real Property Description or RPD) from your council rate notice - normally this is all they require to get the search underway.
The officers at the Titles Registry will search the sequence of certificates, working back in time from the current certificate. You should state up-front that you are undertaking historical research and that you want the search to cover all previous owners of the land, ideally all the way back to the Deed of Grant, which documents the transfer of virgin land from the Crown to the first owner. Every separate piece of paper printed will incur a fee and for a colonial-era property you may spend up to the $200-mark or so for a complete sequence, depending on the number of previous owners.
This is the only unavoidable cost in the research process, but it is well worth the money.
Beware that the title deeds define owners of the land, with or without buildings. In inner suburbs some deeds were issued for smaller town lots, but in the outer suburbs the crown land was generally sold as multi-acre portions which were subdivided and developed over time. The chain of subdivision and owners can proceed over a century or more, leading to ever smaller lots of land until finally a house was constructed on your particular lot.
When you have all the certificates I recommend that you paste the information into a PowerPoint pack including names, transaction years and any information on the land area covered by the deeds. Make a separate slide for each transaction in chronological order - this will form the backbone for your research. Some of the older deeds contain layers of ornate and faded handwriting that can be hard to decipher but again this is a matter of practice.
Interpreting the Deeds
For most of the history of Queensland, when a plot of land was transferred from the Crown to a private owner the transaction was documented in a Deed of Grant of Land under what is called the “Torrens Title” system. Below is an example from 1867 with key pieces of information highlighted in red, including location of the land (County of Aubigny, Clifton Parish), land area (109 acres), date of purchase (28 February 1867), and buyer (William Butler Tooth of Clifton). The deed also describes the boundaries of the land, where measurements and their equivalents in metric units are:
1 rood=0.25 acres=1012 square meters
1 acre=160 perches=4047 square meters
1 perch=25.29 square meters
1 chain=100 links=20.12 meters
Other trivia in the Deed of Grant includes sale price (109 pounds) and portion number (no. 65). The deed was signed by Governor Sir George Ferguson Bowen, Queensland's first governor, and includes the ubiquitous "peppercorn quit-rent” clause which is explained here.
Deed of Grant of Land, 1867. Click to enlarge.
The Deed of Grant of Land page is normally followed by one or more pages of transaction stamps which signify subsequent land subdivisions and sales, mortgages and transmissions by deaths or marriages. Let’s start with a simple transfer stamp, where the entirety of the land was transferred to a new owner. In this case a Mr Athol Ward Bickers Blair purchased a lot on the 28th August 1924, and the "WHOLE of the within land" statement confirms that no subdivision of the land occurred in conjunction with this particular transfer.
Transfer stamp, whole of the within land, 1924. Click to enlarge.
In other cases, a transfer stamp may convey that land was subdivided from a larger property and sold to a new owner. In the below example, 2 acres, 3 roods and 3 perches were carved off an existing property and transfered to a Mr Rogers in 1891. The subdivided lot of land would have been given a new Certificate of Title, with its own subsequent stamps for later transfers and subdivisions.
Transfer stamp, subdivided land, 1891. Click to enlarge.
Records were also made of changes of ownership resulting from marriages and deaths, as illustrated below.
Changes to ownership through marriage (left) and death (right). Click to enlarge.
Mortgage stamps can be very useful, particularly if they were issued by the Queensland Government Worker’s Dwelling Board or the later State Advances Corporation. These bodies funded the construction of dwellings only, not land purchases, and if the mortgage stamp mentions one of them you can assume that a house was built around the time of the mortgage date. Between 1910 and 1953 nearly 27,000 Queensland homes were financed under these schemes.
Mortgage stamp, State Advances Corporation. Click to enlarge.
As mentioned previously, a subdivision of land generally resulted in new Certificates of Title being issued for each of the new properties. In the below example from 1891, a Mr Gillam purchased a subdivision of land in Clifton, which originally formed part of the Deed of Grant of Land shown earlier. The subdivided property was documented in a new Certificate of Title in Mr Gillam's name. Key information is highlighted in red, including date (April 1891), recipient of the original Deed of Grant (William Butler Tooth), name of the owner of the subdivided land (William Gordon Gillam), land area (2 roods 30.2 perches) and a plan of the property boundary. On the upper left corner of the document is a reference to the previous Certificate of Title, which is used by the Titles Registry when tracing the sequence of deeds.
Certificate of Title, 1891. Click to enlarge.
Title deeds often include small maps of the properties, with dimensions. The distances along boundaries are marked on the inside of each boundary (normally in links), with the area of land in the centre of the plan (written as: acre . rood . perch). The precise locations of the boundaries can sometimes be confirmed by referring to historical cadastral maps which are available from the Department of Natural Resources and Mines.
It is also possible to identify the boundary by using the information in the deed in conjunction with Google Earth, to map out the measurements on a modern aerial photo. Use the measurement tool under Tools/Ruler to mark the dimensions from the Certificate of Title onto the modern aerial photo. In the below example, the yellow ruler line is 40.22 meters long, equivalent to about 2 chains.
Google Earth's "Ruler" tool
By drawing out property boundaries of successive title certificates, you will be able to unravel the full sequence of subdivision from the Deed of Grant through to today's property boundaries. More information on the history of planning regulations and practices for subdivision of land in Queensland can be found here.
Step 5 - Search Trove
We are very fortunate in Australia to have what is perhaps one of the best on-line historical document archives freely available to the public in the world. The Trove project is run by the National Library and contains material from all states. For historical research the database of digitized newspapers from 1803 to 1956 is particularly valuable and the number of publications included is growing constantly. This is indeed a great treasure, which you will appreciate during the course of your research.
The Trove start page - just type in your search terms
and watch the amazing range of hits from various sources
Search for the names of the people listed in the title certificates and any other information about these persons that you come across - addresses, street names, house names, occupations, companies, memberships of clubs and societies etc. Every new piece of relevant information will yield more names and terms for your search - keep pasting snippets into your chronologically ordered PowerPoint pack. The usual search rules apply but you should be aware of the following gotchas:
1 - Scanned and digitized document and newspaper texts often have digitisation errors. Trove contains a facility that allows readers to correct the digitized text but the sanitized sections constitute a small proportion of the overall material. When searching, for example for the surname "Eriksson", you should also do few follow-up searches for likely permutations that may arise from the digitization process. For example "Erlksson and "Enksson". In my experience this can generate additional hits. The * wildcard can also be used for this purpose.
2 - You will gradually learn the conventions of language and writing for the eras that you are researching. For example - a lady by the name of Jessie Martin married to Sidney Martin in 1910 would always be referred to as "Mrs Sidney Martin" or "Mrs S. Martin". "Jones Street" would be written as "Jones-Street".
3 - Legal notices in newspapers generally used full names - for example "Jessie Evelyn Martin". Make sure to include the full names as well as abbreviations in your search.
4 - The size and address of your house will influence the number of hits from the newspaper archives. Society in the late 1800's through to the first decades of the new century was strictly stratified and the daily lives of middle to upper-crust citizens subject to scrutiny and reporting. Victorian-era ladies would advertise if they weren't to be "at-home" on a particular day to receive visits. Well into the new century, society families would broadcast any inter-state visits from prominent friends, where and when they would take holiday and other social trivia. Dwellers of the more modest worker's cottages were unlikely to receive this level of attention, or at least any positive attention, and it will probably show in your search results.
5 - Street numbers were gradually rolled out across Brisbane's suburbs from about 1905 to 1940 and in their absence addresses were often identified by house names. You should beware that both house names and numbers had a tendency to change over time, as explained in this article.
Step 6 - Search the Corley Explorer
This source is relevant to people living in the Brisbane, Ipswich, Toowoomba and Bundaberg metro areas, and a handful of smaller towns in the region.
In the 1960s and 70s, Frank and Eunice Corley made a business from taking photographs of houses and selling them to homeowners. In 1995, 61,000 unsold images were donated to State Library. The collection is now available on-line and a dedicated community is working to tag each house with the correct address. If your house is on one of the photographed areas, there's a chance that it will appear in the collection.
The on-line "Corley Explorer" is located here.
Note that not all houses have been tagged, and you may have to look through several local collections to find your house. Also beware that some images may be incorrectly tagged - as illustrated here.
Step 7 - Search Genealogical Databases
From the historical title deeds you will now know the previous owners of the house land, and with a bit of luck you would have found some information on these people by searching the historical newspaper archives and other sources on Trove.
Another key source of biographical data is ancestry.com.au, and competing genealogical websites. Ancestry.com offers a comprehensive collection of records, constantly growing, and the service can be tried for free for a period of time. I would consider this resource essential and a subscription is well worth the cost. There are also subscription options that include international data, should one of your subjects have origins outside the country.
Use the search engine to track down as much information as you can on the previous owners - their birth place, year of marriage, spouse, children, address, occupations, year of death etc. Census records and electoral rolls will yield addresses and occupations that can be used for further searches in Trove. As with most other transcribed or digitized sources you'll need to be mindful of the accuracy of the text, and make some allowances for human and machine errors. Transcribed sources are particularly unreliable when it comes to non-English or uncommon names.
Users of Ancestry.com.au also create their own family trees which are often public. Perhaps one of the previous owners have descendants that can provide information? Why not ask them - using the messaging service. You may well be able to fill some gaps in their research in return.
If someone contacted you out of the blue, told you that they are the current owners of your childhood home and asked for some history on it - would you be offended? I certainly wouldn't. In fact I would be delighted to share my memories and in my experience so will most people. You will probably be able to trace down at least some of the past inhabitants, so why not give it a go and make contact? Facebook and LinkedIn are good places to start.
The same goes for the senior members of your neighborhood. Old timers love to talk about the olden days - ask if you can record the conversation and enjoy the trip back in time. A beer or glass of sherry may facilitate the discourse. Oral histories are very valuable and for every day that passes the opportunities to capture them diminish.
Perhaps some of the past owners, or their extended families, made their marks in the Queensland history books? It's more likely than you may think. The Text Queensland website http://www.textqueensland.com.au/ contains an excellent collection of searchable history books including the mammoth Fox's History of Queensland (1919-1921) and Aldine history of Queensland (1888). Also included in the collection is hundreds of articles from the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, Pugh's Almanack and other key sources. You can search all of this information and much more using the search box on the home page.
Plenty of archival materials are yet to be made available on-line, and in some cases they may never be. Useful paper-based sources include:
Parish maps - available from the State Library or Brisbane City archives. With a bit of luck, a parish map will include the details of the original owner of the land which should be confirmed by the Deed of Grant of Land.
For houses in the Brisbane area, Surveyor's field books for water and sewerage and accompanying detailed plans of your property - available from the Brisbane City Council archives in Moorooka. The field books, covering the period from the 1910s through to the 1960s, provide outlines of the houses including verandas and outbuildings. In some cases the house names are also included, where they existed. The staff at the archive are very helpful and will guide you through the process, but make sure to contact them first to check opening times.
Example of surveyor's plans, for a couple of blocks (left) and a zoomed-in image of houses. in this case, the house names are given.
Post office directories - available on microfilm or hard-copy at the State Library of Queensland. Digitised versions can also be accessed at the library or purchased from genealogical publishers.
Council rates ledgers - available from the Brisbane City Archives. Note that most council boundaries have changed over time and you need to know which council record to search for a particular period. The rates ledgers may be able to tell you every inhabitant of the house, including renters. A "jump" in the council rate may indicate that a house was built that year.
Cadastral and survey maps, available from the State Archives or the Department of Natural Resources and Mines.
Following the introduction of the 1909 Worker's Dwelling Act, records were made of mortgages granted by either the Queensland Government Savings Bank, the Queensland State Advances Corporation or the QLD Housing Commission, depending on the date of issue. The annual reports for mortgages issued are held on microfilm at the State Archives.
If your house was built under the "Worker's Homes" act of 1919 and subject to perpetual lease, you will be able to trace the chain of lessees in documents held by the State Archives. See this article for details.
"Property cards", documenting any planning approvals for individual houses post 1946, available from the BCC archives.
Archive Digital Book CDs, available for a fee through Gould Genalogy, include Queensland Post Office and Telephone Directories, Police Gazettes, Pastoral Directories, Education Gazettes and a host of other primary sources that are very useful for the serious researcher.
As your pack of information grows you be able to string together a coherent narrative and timeline. There will be gaps - of course - but we can always leave some for a rainy day or the next owners. Enjoy your trip back in time and let us know how you go.
Also - check out the House Histories Facebook page, with lots of useful examples of research projects, tools and techniques. The Facebook icon to the top right on this page will take you there.
Researching Relocated Houses
Queensland offers a particular challenge for house history researchers, in that the buildings are not necessarily stationary and tend to move around over time. There are even examples of houses being relocated multiple times. I receive a lot of queries on relocated houses, and in some cases (far from all) I've managed to trace them to their location of origin. But - it requires a different approach.
The first stop should be your council. This is hit and miss - some councils have robust records, others do not. It also depends on the timeframe, and whether the house spent some time in a holding yard or was transported directly from lot to lot. So give your council a call first, and ask for any records of where the house came from before it was moved to the present location.
If you draw a blank with the council, the next best source of information is the person that owned and relocated the house. You can use the historical title deeds described above to identify owners at various times, and then make contact. If you cannot locate the previous owner, I recommend you approach your neighbors for a chat. People that have lived in the area for a long time will often have information to share. It may not be 100% accurate, but any lead is useful.
For a successful research project, you need to know as a minimum:
Roughly where the house came from, and ideally which suburb, and;
The timeframe in which the house was transported to the block.
We'll illustrate the process with a house which now sites on the Scenic Rim. The owner knew that it came from Toowong in Brisbane, and that it was moved there sometime in the 1970s. There was no other information, but this is a good start.
We'll begin by taking a birds-eye view of the house in it's current location, using satellite imagery in Google Earth and QImagery. In this case we have a good, recent Google Eatth image of the house in its new rural setting.
This particular house is fairly distinctive - a large, square footprint with stepped verandas on four sides. On the front of the house (upper side on the aerial) is a protruding master bedroom, and to the rear is a rectangular kitchen extension which can also be seen in the photo. Based on the owner's information there were no obvious signs of significant alterations or extensions in recent times. In the aerial to the right I have highlighted the footprint and the roof design, which is critical in the next step.
We can now turn our attention to the alleged original location of the house - Toowong. Using the historical aerial images from Google Earth and QImagery, we will search for a house with the same footprint and roof design. We know that the house was moved sometime in the 70s, so we will need to examine aerials of Toowong that pre-dates this decade.
And it turns out that we're in luck - QImagery has a great run of high-resolution images from 1969. This is what one of the images looks like:
In this case the search is fairly straightforward - the footprint of the house is unique and we can quickly discard many hundreds of houses in the Toowong area. The house was eventually located to Brisbane Street, in a spot which now has a cluster of modern townhouses. By the 1980s this house had been removed from the lot, which fits the time when it arrived in its new location.
As you can see, the original house had significant extensions built at some point, but these were discarded before the move. This is not unusual - extensions are often not relocatable. On the imagery, the extensions are easy to distinguish from the core of the house and further investigation of earlier aerial photos confirmed that this was house we were looking for.
Another and even more complex case study of tracing a relocated house can be find here.
Once you have the location, you can use the on-line Queensland Globe application to identify the Lot and RP Number. Locate the property on the aerial photo, and click "Add Layers". On the Layers menu, tick Planning Cadastre/land Parcel and Land Parcel Label. You should see both the property boundary, and the Lot/RP number as shown below.
Take this number with you when you visit the QLD Government Business Centre, or to the Titles Registry in Brisbane, and ask for the historical title deeds as described above. You are now on your way.
In summary, it is possible to research a relocated house, with the right basic information and a bit of luck. It's worth giving it your best shot.