Centuries of history abound for researching a home

Oct 2, 2017

You moved into the Elmwood Village and you wonder how whether changes have been made since your new house was built. The Buffalo History Museum may have the answer.

In the library of the Buffalo History Museum, there is a vast assemblage of centuries of our history and our buildings.

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

"Here at the Buffalo History Museum, we have about 200,000 photographs in our library and maybe 30,000 or so maybe, give or take a couple thousand, are house and building photos," said History Museum Library and Archives Director Cynthia Van Ness. "We don't have every single house in Buffalo, but we sure have a lot more than anybody else does and we might have a picture of your house."

Van Ness said people visit all the time to see what their house used to look like or what their grandmother's house looked like.

"If you didn't know where your grandmother lived, we would look her up in a city directory around the time that she lived here and see if we can come up with an address and then we see if we have a picture of that address," she said.

Van Ness said there have even been visits from people who are considering buying a house and want to know what it looked like when new.

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

"Photographs are one way of researching a house, of documenting a house's history," she said. "Another are fire insurance maps that show footprints of buildings in great detail, like how many stories, whether it was wood frame or brick or masonry, whether it had a porch or not. So, yes, we have those too."

Van Ness said there is a lot of similar information in the Grosvenor Room of the Central Library downtown, but her facility has many more pictures.

"If you're researching a house, you definitely want to visit us and the Grosvenor Room at the Central Library downtown," Van Ness said. "They have atlases. We have atlases. They have a few wonderful scrapbooks that we don't have here. So, between the two of us, you may be able to find out a lot about your house."