Research My Home - Old Omaha

Every Home Has a Story

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How to Research a Building 

Martha Grenzeback, 

Genealogy & Local History Librarian / Omaha Public Library

Revised 2/7/2023 

Where Do You Start? 

  1. When was it built? 
  • The tax assessor’s website (every county has one; for Douglas County, it is ) usually has an approximate year.). Also includes other information you will need, including the legal description (necessary when looking up deeds). You can also access this kind of information (and more) via the county’s GIS hub:
  • Omaha Public Library has a large collection of water permits (partially indexed) that may reveal when the building was first connected to the city water supply. They are stored at the Library Administrative Building, and can be viewed in the Genealogy & Local History Room. An in-progress index is available at (along with other tips). Newspapers may mention a building being planned, finished, or made available for the first time. For Omaha, search the Omaha World-Herald Digital Archive (1866-1983), the Omaha Star (North Omaha, 1938-2011)–both available from home with library card from –and/or the Omaha Bee (1872-1922) ( 

  • Look at the building: determine style, architecture, etc. How many stories? Obvious alterations? Outbuildings? Compare with the structure depicted in the Fire Insurance Maps Online (FIMo) database (available with a library card at Omaha Sanborn maps are also available on microfilm at Omaha Public Library (Genealogy & Local History Room). And the Library of Congress has been digitizing their Sanborn Maps for the whole country: 

  • A great source for information about building trends: The Building Technology Heritage Library,
  1. Who built it? 
  • Building permits are usually a good source, but unfortunately the earlier permits for the City of Omaha were misguidedly destroyed in 2006. Only the permits for the Dundee neighborhood have survived, and they are available online 


  • Newspapers can be a good source–see under #1. 

How to Research a Building–Omaha Public Library 

  • Search trade publications, such as American Contractor, at Google Books,, or Hathitrust. (Hint: search for the address in quotation marks, and add the city name.) 
  • Place Makers of Nebraska: The Architects is a great source for information about Nebraska architects and the buildings they designed. 
  1. Where are the blueprints/house plans? 
  • It used to be a tradition to put a set of plans in the newel post on the front stairs (if there was one). Doesn’t hurt to check. 
  • If the architect is still in business, plans might be with that office. 
  • A previous owner might have one. 
  • The Landmarks Heritage Preservation Commission has a collection on their website (mostly old, prominent buildings): 

  • Omaha Public Library has a large collection of architectural plans donated by REO (Restoration Exchange Omaha)–currently being indexed. 
  • Blueprints may not exist for many old houses–especially if they are part of a tract housing development. Try looking for “pattern books” 

( such as the “Dodds Home” book 

(, or books of typical plans for a type of house, such as Craftsman homes (

  • Newspapers of past eras regularly published house plans. 
  • Use the Fire Insurance Maps Online (FIMo) database (OPL website) or other sources of Sanborn maps to get an idea of: building construction date, materials used, number of openings, porches, stairs, number of floors, boundaries, outbuildings, streetcar lines, neighborhood context. 
  1. Who owned it and who lived there? 
  • Trace ownership by gathering the deeds for your property: records of each time ownership of the property passed from one person (or company) to the next. Property records can be obtained at the Register of Deeds (for Douglas Co.,, click on Premium Services to view records online; you will need to create a log-in, but it’s free). Or you might already have an abstract of title (document detailing chain of ownership). 
  • Create a timeline for your building, and note any jump in value; it might indicate improvements to the property. 
  • You can see who lived there (not necessarily the building’s owner) by tracing the address through city directories. All the Omaha city directories ever printed (some years none was published), from 1866 to current, can be consulted in print at 

How to Research a Building–Omaha Public Library 

Omaha Public Library (Genealogy & Local History Room). Properties can be searched by address as well as personal names beginning in 1912 and for the years between 1887-1891. A list of city directories available at OPL in print and on microfilm can be seen at Ancestry Library Edition also has a good collection of city directories from around the country, including Omaha (up to 1959), entitled U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995; and so does MyHeritage Library Edition, U.S. City Directories Collection. 

  • For 1950 and earlier, the U.S. census (every 10 years; also some state censuses) can provide more information about the residents and their neighbors. The census is available at Ancestry Library Edition, MyHeritage Library Edition (home access with library card), and (free). All are linked at 

  • Use newspapers, obituaries (card index in OPL’s Genealogy & Local History Room; online index at, and other genealogical resources (Ancestry Library Edition, etc., at to learn more about owners or residents and events that may have taken place in your building. 

  1. Putting the building in its social and historical context Find original plat maps and surveys for Omaha at Douglas County Engineer Land Survey Records: 

Finding Historic Photos of a Building 

  1. Historically significant buildings… 

How to Research a Building–Omaha Public Library 

  1. Buildings that are part of a historically interesting neighborhood… 
  • might be shown in the City of Omaha Reconnaissance Surveys

(, also mostly available in print at Omaha Public Library). If your building is not pictured, you may find some very similar ones in style and history. 

  • might appear in one of the three books by the Landmarks Heritage Preservation Commission or in any number of local history books–look at the library, or digital library sites such as or

Community Resources 

Douglas County Register of Deeds 

1819 Farnam St., Suite H-09 


Copies of property records (ownership, mortgages, etc.) can be obtained here. Make sure you know the legal description of your property (you can look that up by address on their website). 

Douglas County Historical Society 

5730 N 30th St #11b 


Directories, historical newspapers, maps, platbooks, photos, architectural drawings, letters, memorabilia. 

Durham Museum Photo Archive 

801 S 10th Street 


Over 1 million images spanning the history of Omaha from the 1860s to the 1990s; some 700,000 have been digitized and are available online. New images are added regularly. Contact the archive if you don’t find what you need.