If you read my first two posts in my blog, you can see I have a HUGE amount of information on my house. I ended up choosing it as the subject for my admissions paper for a master's in historic preservation.
So, here is how I did it...
(1) Go to the county courthouse and head for the register of deeds. The paper file at our courthouse started in 1920... which meant I had to spend hours flipping thru microfilm to get farther back. I got all the transactions back to the original claim the pony express contractor made claim to the land from Abe Lincoln. The people there are super nice and will get you started.
The index for the records are usually done in two entries - grantor to grantee, and grantee to grantor... meaning, if John Doe sells like land to Jim Brown, there will be 2 entries. One showing John Doe selling the land to Jim. And one for Jim buying the land from John. What this means to you is, you look at the paper record shows your first entry. In my case, it was FX Jardon selling the lots to Thomas L. Harris. So I knew I had to scroll through the film and find an entry that shows FX Jardon as the Grantee for the lots. This gave me the Grantor being Julia Lowe . Next, I scrolled back to find Julia Lowe as a Grantee. You just keep going back until you hit someone buying land from the government... A very long and eye-straining process.
Anyway, you get the book and page number of the transaction from the index, and you can look up the actual recording of the deed.
My favorite part if how pretty people wrote back then. BEAUTIFUL handwriting. They actually took pride in their work then.
(2) Go to the local library, armed with the names of people who have owned the property and when, and scan thru the microfilm of census records. This will give you names of family members, ages, occupation, where they immigrated from, etc. Good stuff. Later census records had more information than the early ones. Oh, farms would often list what they farmed, how many head of livestock they had, etc.
(3) Go to the local library. Mine had a section for local obituaries and some old deeds that had been turned in by a bank. Obits are great sources of information.
(4) Hit rootsweb and start doing searches on the names to get even more genealogy information.
(5) Find out where historic property tax records are housed. In my case, KU has a collection in their historical library. When property tax makes a huge jump, that tells you when a lot went from farmed land to a residence with a house on it. Particularly useful information to those of us in the Midwest.
Just comment there if you have any questions or need further help. I don't mind lending a hand!