Researching the history of a place
On this page:
You can use this guide to research local houses, properties, factories or public buildings.
Starting your research
To start your research you should:
- Think about the history of the property as a part of the broader history of the city, suburb and individual families.
- Talk to neighbours who have lived in the street a long time. They may be able to provide some useful information about the house.
- Search both library catalogues. There are some published histories or conservation reports about some buildings in Merri-bek such as the Brunswick Town Hall, Brunswick Baths, Hoffman Brickworks that have not yet been digitised. Also look in the index of published histories on local areas.
- Search the internet using the address as this may give you some clues for further research.
- Use the Historic Homes magazine on the Issuu website
- Read How to trace the history of your house by Des Regan and Kate Press, available on the Merri-bek Libraries borrowing website
- Using the Reseaching buildings and Houses (State Library of Victoria) instruction guide on the State Library Victoria website
- Using the Researching land and property guide on the Public record office Victoria website - in particular Prove Guide 6 (Property building and research) and 55 (land records)
Please consider that you might find information about the property that could be upsetting.
Conservation and Heritage Studies
Historical information about some heritage or significant local properties are listed in local conservation reports, heritage studies or databases.
The Victorian Heritage Database provides access to all places and objects of State significant on the Victorian Heritage Register protected under the 'Heritage Act 2017' and the Victorian Heritage Inventory. This is available on the Hertiage Council Victoria website.
The database stores the records of local heritage places, including those significant to Merri-bek and included in the Merri-bek Heritage Overlay.
The database also contains the records of non-statutory listings held by the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) and the Victorian War Heritage Inventory.
You can find out whether a property is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register, the Victorian Heritage Inventory or is affected by a Heritage Overlay in a local planning scheme by using Heritage Victoria's 'Is my place heritage listed' search tool on the Department of Environment, Land, Water, and Planning website.
The City of Moreland Heritage Review, Allom Lovell and Associates, Volumes 1 to 5, January 1999
- Moreland Heritage Review - Volume 1 - Thematic History (PDF 1.3MB)
- Moreland Heritage Review - Volume 2 Part 1 - Building Citations - A to K (PDF 4.0MB)
- Moreland Heritage Review - Volume 2 Part 2 - Building Citations - L to Z (PDF 3.9MB)
- Moreland Heritage Review - Volume 3 - Heritage Overlay Precincts (PDF 2.9MB)
- Moreland Heritage Review - Volume 4 - Heritage Overlay Guide (PDF 230.2kB)
- Moreland Heritage Review - Volume 5 - Landscape Citations (PDF 1.5MB)
- Moreland Heritage Review - Additional Heritage Overlay Precincts (PDF 10.4Mb), September 2001
- Moreland Heritage Review - Additional Building Citations (PDF 4.7Mb, September 2001
Moreland Local Heritage Places Review, Context Pty Ltd for Moreland Council, 2004 (Amended April 2008) (PDF 2.1MB)
North of Bell Street Heritage Study, Context Pty Ltd for Moreland City Council, Volumes 1 and 2, 2013
- North of Bell Street Heritage Study - Volume 1 (PDF 2.7MB)
- North of Bell Street Heritage Study - Volume 2 (PDF 6.8MB)
Gallipoli Parade Heritage Precinct and Beaufort Houses - Review of Heritage Significance (PDF 4.3MB), Context Pty Ltd for Moreland City Council, 2013
Lygon Street Heritage Study Stage 2 (PDF 1.7MB), Context Pty Ltd, June 2012
Moreland Heritage Gap Study, Context Pty Ltd for Moreland City Council, Volumes 1-3, 2019
- Moreland Heritage Gap Study - Volume 1 - Report and Methodology (PDF 3.0MB)
- Moreland Heritage Gap Study - Volume 2A - Residential Citations (PDF 10.6MB)
- Moreland Heritage Gap Study - Volume 2B - Residential Citations (PDF 7.9MB)
- Moreland Heritage Gap Study - Volume 3 - Non-Residential (PDF 6.9MB)
Moreland Heritage Nominations Study, Extent Heritage Pty Ltd for Moreland City Council, Volumes 1-2, 2022:
Brunswick Conservation Study by Nigel Lewis and Associates, 1982
Keeping Brunswick’s Heritage: A Report on the Review of the Brunswick Conservation Study, Context Pty Ltd, Volumes 1 to 4, 1990
The City of Coburg Heritage Conservation and Streetscape Study, Timothy Hubbard Pty Ltd, in five parts, October 1990 – March 1991
- Coburg Heritage Conservation and Streetscape Study - Volume 1 - Text, October 1990 (PDF 17.2MB)
- Coburg Heritage Conservation and Streetscape Study - Volume 2 - Data sheets (A to Ra), March 1991 (PDF 13MB)
- Coburg Heritage Conservation and Streetscape Study - Volume 3 - Data Sheets (Re to Z), October 1990 (PDF 4MB)
- Coburg Heritage Conservation and Streetscape Study - Extract - Building Guidelines (PDF 13.0MB)
- Coburg Heritage Conservation and Streetscape Study - Extract - Guidelines for Public Works (PDF 35.4MB)
Upfield Railway Heritage Study - Park Street Brunswick to Bell Street Coburg, Andrew C Ward and Associates, May 1990 (PDF 16.2MB)
Northern Suburbes Factory Study, Gary Vines and Matthew Churchward, 1992
- Northern Suburbs Factory Study - Part 1 - History and Analysis (PDF 9Mb)
- Northern Suburbs Factory Study - Part 2 - Citations(PDF 9Mb)
Inner Circle Railway Linear Parklands Conservation Managment Plan, Lovell Chen, 2022 (prepared on behalf of City of Yarra). (PDF)
The City of Merri-bek's Thematic History addresses the history of the physical development of the municipality since post contact occupation.
It explains how and why the municipality looks like it does today. It identifies and explains those aspects and themes that help us understand the area and its historic physical fabric.
The Thematic History is centred around themes, such as agriculture, industry, governance, and migration, that have shaped the municipality and provides a framework for identifying and assessing potential heritage places.
It does not provide a chronological account of everything that happened in the municipality. It is not a record of all the individuals, events, schools, sporting clubs, institutions that may have left their mark on the municipality or study area.
The Thematic History is essential in being able to identify potential heritage places and ultimately assess and determine their heritage significance. It highlights the importance of protecting Merri-bek’s heritage places as it identifies a number of significant heritage places that have been lost over the years due to these places not being protected under the provisions of a Heritage Overlay in the Moreland Planning Scheme.
You can download a copy:
Other resources include:
- There are some files on well-known local properties on the Coburg Historical Society website
- There are files on properties that they classify as heritage properties in their offices in the city on the National Trust of Australia website
- the Moreland History Publications (PDF) includes a list of articles in local historical society newsletters
- Mansions of Merri-bek presentation for 2018 Australian Heritage Festival is available through the Merri-bek Library borrowing website
Historical information about some specific properties are also listed under the street in the Street Names of Brunswick and the Street Names of Coburg. Refer Street Development and Maps section below.
You can find out more about Merri-bek's Indigenous history through:
- our Local and family history page
- Aboriginal Melbourne: the lost land of the Kulin which is available on the Merri-bek Libraries borrowing website
- People of the Merri Merri which is available on the Merri-bek Libraries borrowing website
Early suburb history
Local history books sometimes describe early settlement such as Crown grants, parish maps or early subdivisions. Some key suburb histories are:
- City of Merri-bek: a thematic history
- Coburg: Between Two Creeks
- Brunswick: One History Many Voices
- Broadmeadows: a forgotten history
Subdivision / estate history
- Search Moreland City Libraries Local History catalogue for posters of early subdivisions of estates.
- State Library of Victoria holds some posters advertising auctions of land in early subdivisions.
- Coburg Historical Society also holds some subdivision auction posters.
- Search estate name on Trove.
Street development and maps
Some street names and numbers changed over time so it is a good idea to research the street history before you go further.
Historical information about some specific properties are also listed under the street in the Street Names of Brunswick and the Street Names of Coburg.
- The street names of Brunswick (1987)
- The street names of Brunswick: the story behind the sign (2013) includes newer streets
- Street names of Coburg
- Melbourne street directories 1912-52. (State Library of Victoria)
- Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works maps (State Library of Victoria)
- Coburg Historical Society has bound copies of the first MMBW maps of Coburg and Pascoe Vale 1909-49.
- Maps on Trove
- Royal Historical Society of Victoria has a large range of maps. View by appointment.
Many street numbers may have also changed over time.
Albion Street numbers changed 1955 - 1960.
Munro Street, Brunswick changed around 1928.
Park Street, Brunswick numbers changed in the early 1970s.
Sydney Road numbers changed from 1920s - 1940s.
To work out the number changes you can try using Postal Directories. Follow the main resident names in the postal directories over various years to see how the house number changed around them. Sometimes the number change is listed on rate record cards.
Design and construction
The style of a building can suggest the building date. In Victoria, the main periods of house building were 1887-1890, 1920-30 and 1950 onwards. There was no building after April 1942 during World War II.
- Heritage Council of Victoria What house is that: housing styles in Victoria
- Australian house styles by Maisy and Ian Stapleton
- A pictorial guide to identifying Australian architecture
- Recognising house styles by Laurie Burchell
- Australian houses of the twenties and thirties
- Australian houses of the forties and fifties
If you know the name of the architect, the following resources can give more information about them:
- Encyclopedia of Australian Architecture
- Informit database of Art, Architecture and Building. You need to be a member of the State Library to use this database from home.
- State Library of Victoria Architectural Resources
Building permits and plans
Full building plans were only required to be submitted to Councils after 1916.
Coburg Historical Society holds a Building Licence File Index for the late 1940s - 1950s.
Moreland Council has records for building constructions or alterations after 1994. See property information for information on how to apply.
The local government authority in which the property is located may have changed. You may need to contact neighbouring Councils, such as City of Yarra, City of Moonee Valley or Hume City Council
Plans for some public buildings are available in the following locations:
- State Library of Victoria Architectural Drawings Collection
- Public Record of Victoria Public Buildings Plans and Files
Resident and occupier records
The Sands and Kenny (1857-1861) and Sands and MacDougall Post Office Directories (1862-1974) are a good record of who lived at an address each year. To estimate the year the house was built you can try researching back in time through Postal Directories until there is no listing of the house.
Sands and MacDougall Directories are being progressively digitised by the State Library of Victoria and made available online.
If you are searching by house or property, go to the Suburban Streets section. Find the suburb, then the street, then the house number.If you are searching by name of resident, go to the Alphabetical Index section towards the back of the directory.
Some Postal Directories for Australian states are also now available for searching on Ancestry Library Edition. See Australian City Directories.
Electorall rolls are arranged by electorate and surname, rather than by street or house number. You can't search Electoral Rolls by street or house number. You have to know the name of the resident first.
- Australian Electoral Rolls 1903-80 on Ancestry Library Edition at local libraries.
- Original local voter rolls for the electorate of Wills (1970s and 1980s) in the Local History Room at Brunswick Library
- Historic electoral rolls can be searched on microfiche at the State Library of Victoria.
Council rate records sometimes include a property or house description, information on building material, rooms, residents, owners and property valuations.
In the past, rates may have been collected by a different Council. Sometimes rates were collected from tenants rather than owners. Records were organised by Council ward. Within wards records follow the path the collectors took. For Coburg and Pascoe Vales streets, use the index at the front of the Sands and MacDougall Post Office Directories for the years 1885-86 to 1937-38.
Wards, street names and house numbers sometimes changed over time. Lot numbers help limit the property you are researching. Lot numbers 1, 2 and 3 can be the result of re-subdivision and may appear more than once. If rates increased a lot in one year it could be due to major renovations or a new building being added to the property.
Rates information is not available for every house for every year. Please be aware there are gaps in records, particularly in the mid-1990s.
Moreland Council's Rates Department only hold rate information from 2008 onward due to an IT system change over. It is unlikely that Rates will be able to provide information prior to this.
City of Brunswick
Moreland City Libraries have the following Brunswick rate records on microfiche.
1860 - 1959, 1971 - 1982, 1987, 1989 (Les Barnes Local History Room, Brunswick) 1860 - 1955, 1971 - 1977 (held at Coburg Library).
The State Library of Victoria holds City of Brunswick (1860 - 1930) rate records on microfilm.
Original rate books (1871 - 1981) are at the Public Record Office of Victoria.
City of Coburg
Moreland City Libraries have the following Coburg rate records on microfiche.
Pentridge District Road Baord 1863 - 1868 (Coburg Library) Coburg District Road Board 1869 - 1874 (Coburg Library) Shire of Coburg 1875 - 1904 (Coburg Library) Borough of Coburg 1905 - 1920 (Coburg Library) City of Coburg 1921 - 1976 (Coburg Library)
City of Coburg Rates 1863 - 1900 are on Ancestry Library Edition. Select Victorian records.
The State Library of Victoria holds City of Coburg rate records on microfilm (1918 - 1986).
Original Rate records for the City of Coburg (1863 - 1986) are at the Public Records Office of Victoria.
City of Broadmeadows
City of Broadmeadows 1863-1899 are also on Ancestry Library Edition (available for use at libraries). Select Victorian records.
See the Cole-Tetlow Index at the State Library of Victoria.
The Public Record Office of Victoria also holds records about publicans' licenses.
Some historic national, state and local newspapers are now digitised and available to search online.
Try searching with abbreviations as well as the full name of the street (St), road (Rd) or avenue (Ave). If you search on just a street name you will also find articles about other events in the street. Use inverted commas to keep the words together in the search, e.g. "Saxon Street", "Saxon St"
- Trove Digitised Historic Australian newspapers lets you search across historic copies of The Argus (1848-1957), The Age (1854-1954) and some historic local newspapers (currently digitised to 1914-18).
- State Library of Victoria has databases of more recent newspaper articles available for their members to search from home. You can become a member online.
Sale and ownership records
Titles can show when property ownership was transferred. This information was required after 1862. Titles can be searched online for a fee. See property information for information on how to apply for title information.
Once you have a Volume and Folio number, you can view a digitised version of the title on a database at the Public Records Office of Victoria.
Wills and probate
Owners of properties will specify in their Will who the property is to pass to upon their death. Original wills are at the Public Records Office of Victoria and some are digitised and available online.
Probate documents may include important details such as property description, location, valuation, contents and reference numbers. See Wills and probate on the Public Record Office of Victoria website.
Property sales advertisements and results
Advertising and auction descriptions can give good information about how a house has changed. Search for advertisements in the period before you know the house was sold.
There have been many different local papers since the 1850s. Brunswick, Glenroy and Coburg Libraries hold hard copies of some local papers. The State Library of Victoria Newspaper Room should have complete sets either in hard copy or on microfiche.
You can also search the street address on an internet search engine and old online property advertisements are likely to still be available.
Auction results are often listed in The Sunday Age or on property websites on Sunday.
There are businesses that package information about sales history of properties for a fee. These can be found online using search terms such as ‘property sales history’ in a search engine
Historic photos of specific properties can be hard to find unless they have a heritage listing and are on the Victorian Heritage Database.
There may be some old photos of the street or road. Try searching on the full name of the street as well as abbreviations, e.g. Dawson Street and Dawson St.
See Historic local photographs.