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Expert Q&A :: House history and archaeology with Adam Ford

For our Expert Q&A on Thursday, March 21 we had Adam Ford from ABC’s Who’s Been Sleeping In My House? to discuss researching house history and archaeology. Thanks again to Adam for giving us all the benefit of his time and expertise.

Please find the transcript of the Q&A and links below.

Don’t forget our Expert Q&As happen every Thursday night on the Inside History Magazine facebook page

When: NSW – ACT – VIC – TAS: 8:30-9:30pm AEDT | QLD: 7:30-8:30pm | WA: 5:30-6:30pm | NT: 7:00-8:00pm | SA: 8:00-9:00pm | Weekly on Thursdays nights!

Summary of links from the Q&A:


Transcript of Expert Q&A – Adam Ford 

Our Expert Q&A with Adam Ford  starts in 30 minutes at 8:30pm AEDT on this page. Tonight we’ll be answering questions on researching house history and doing archaeology. Please ask your questions in a comment below and Adam will answer in a following comment.

Comment: IHM: Welcome everyone, thanks for joining us. Please welcome ABC’s Adam to tonight’s Q&A!
A. IHM: Tip for tonight. Keep refreshing your browser to see the answers as they appear.
A. Lesley: I am ready and waiting to go, cant wait to pick Adam’s brain!!
A. Lesley: Hi Adam, love the show, cant wait to pick your brain about house history and how to go about it!
A. Adam: Hi everyone – great to be here (wherever here is)…
A. Beky: Hello to Adam. Wonderful show, it must bring a lot of joy to you and the crew to find out answers for the current occupants of the homes.
A. Corrinne: Hi Adam and welcome… I have no question, just wanted to say I LOVE your show 🙂
A. Adam: Hey Corrinne – thanks loads!
A. Adam: Beky – so far all the owners have taken a lot from the experience and many times it has been quite an emotional roller coaster – hopefully no one will run screaming from the house….

Q. From Beky: Congrats Adam Ford on the second series. Really enjoy the show. My question. Where should someone first start? My neighbours or the local council?
A. Adam: Beky – first off the mark I go straight to the titles records to establish the names and chain of ownership. Neighbours are good to fill in some of the recent history but I reckon build the framework first.
A. Beky: Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!
A. IHM: Hi Beky, here’s the link on the WBSIMH site to the various state & territory titles offices ::
Q (b): Beky: Is there any news of a Season 3? I so hope so.
A. Adam: Beky – Series 3 is definitely on the cards…watch this space….
A. Beky: Oh you have made my night, hearing there will be a Season 3.
A. IHM: And ours Beky!

Q. From Mary Lou: Hello Adam – love the show ! When you tell the owners what you’ve discovered about their property on screen have you told them before? How much of the show is scripted?
A. Adam: Hi Mary Lou, Of course a lot of research goes on before the shoot but neither I or the home owners see any of it! I’m the only member of the crew that has no idea about the history of the house.
A. Adam: so none of it is scripted – well may be the pieces to camera – but I write them about 2 mins before saying them based on what I’ve just found out.
Q (b): Mary Lou: Wow that’s great. As an archaeologist is this more recent house history just as exciting as dusting off some bones in a Middle Eastern dig ?
A. Adam: Mary Lou, it is – archaeology is all about telling the story of our past, whether it be the ancient past or recent history – immediately after filming series 2 I went to turkey to dig in a 10,000 year old village – I was finding out who lived in these very old houses – quite easy actually – the original occupants were buried under the floor!
Q (c): Mary Lou: Thanks Adam, makes it easy when the body is under the house! As an amateur house historian, I often find myself going off on tangents. For a half hour show, is it difficult not to explore all the discoveries you make any further?
A. Geoff: Adam said ” archaeology is all about telling the story of our past, whether it be the ancient past or recent history “. I give occasional historical talkson communication devices to 7 and 8 ear olds. I start with an early iPod, because it was releaased about the time they were born. At the end, I reinforce that with the statement “History starts from yesterday”. I do love your show, Adam, though I missed the start of Series 2. Thank goodness for iView.
A. Adam: Mary Lou – it is always difficult to keep to the show format and the restrictions it has. In one way it is a great way of telling wonderful social history, but we have to make sure that it is tight and relevant to the owners questions and to the time allowed.
A. IHM: What a great approach for a talk Geoff, we like and yes, ABC iview is brilliant!

Q. From Alison: Following on from Beky’s question can Adam suggest some alternative sources for research into a building when natural disasters (flood/fire/eathquake/tsunami/cyclone) have destroyed local Council records about land subdivision, builder’s registrations, suburban development etc.
A. Adam: Alison – this is a tough situation but like most archaeological sites you can still find the story if you dig hard enough – in this instance you will need to go to state archives, public records office, business and street registers like the Sands directory, old maps and plans, census data even aerial photos.
A. Alison: Thanks Adam. Another source I have found useful is TROVE newspapes listing house / property sales, there are sometimes maps, photos. Sometimes social items such as Open Gardens for Fetes, or Garden competitions. Found a fair bit on TROVE for “Ravenscag” in Sydney thsat way. Photos and videos on real estate sites can unearth the odd gem, e.g. for Ravenscrag the estate agent inserted details of the builder, the architect and the carver who did decorative woodwork.
Q (b): Alison: Adam do you have a favourite “attic find”? Something the owners were not aware was there?
A. Adam: Alison – in the last series the Sexton family in the house in Hobart found a little metal tin hidden under the floor boards that held a curious selection of personal items belonging to the previous owner. I loved that find because it was a little doorway into this old man’s life – a very rare find.

Q. From Lesley: So can anyone request title info from the Land Records office or do you have to provide some kind of background info to legitimise your interest in it?
A. Adam: Hi Lesley, title information is of the public record, as are most other land records. Some departments will require an admin fee to find records for you – best thing to do is call the local titles office or even talk to the local historical society – they are experts at accessing this info.
Q (b): Lesley: so looking at the NSW Land & Property website, if I wanted to research the house my grandparents lived in (which has since been demolished) in Belmore NSW, would I start off with a Title Search or a History of title transactions?
A. Adam: Lesley if the title has been extinguished I recommend the Public Records Office – if still extant and just a new property I would still head to the Titles office
A. IHM: Hi Lesley, here’s the link to State Records NSW :: and the City of Canterbury which we think covers Belmore ::
A. Lesley: Thanks for the link, yes Belmore is in the Canterbury district and when I look at their historic photos collection there is actually a pic of my grandparents house in there
Q (c): Lesley: Adam do you have any tips on tracing houses built by a particular builder? My g-grandfather was a builder in and around Belmore, I’d be interested to see if any of the houses he constructed are still standing
A. IHM: That’s terrific Lesley, that’s put a smile on our faces 🙂
A. Lesley: Inside History Magazine, the house was considered for heritage listing in the 1980s (I remember all of this!!) and was considered as a possible film set for the movie/TV show Come In Spinner but my grandparents refused because they were worried that the income they received from the producers would affect their pension!
A. Adam: Lesley – maybe search for the old business directories or newspapers for his name – maybe he advertised – not sure what else to suggest.
A. Lesley: Oh good idea, might give Trove a shot to see if it comes up with anything
A. Susie: Sorry Adam – I can’t help butting in – forgive me! Depending on the years in question, check for council planning permits – often includes the builders and quite a lot of detail. Also newspaper tender notices when the tender is awarded to a builder – you can’t always identify the particular property but often there’s enough to locate it.
A. Susie: Bother – I should have said that was in response to Leslie’s question – sorry again!
A. Lesley: great idea Susie, I will give that a try because I believe he built quite a lot of houses in the area (my grandmother used to go around with her father and collect the rents due on them all!
A. IHM: Hi Lesley, it might also be worth checking the government gazettes – they can contain details of business partnerships & registrations but it depends on what period you’re looking. They are on Aust & NZ if you have a subscription.

Comment: Geoff: Not a question, nor an answer, but a typical Geoff ramble. When I was doing Environmental Site Assessments, it was great to be able to use the client’s money to do a full title search and end up with a pile of paper that included one ornate document where Governor Bowen signed off on a lease for the payment of one peppercorn a year. (That was the Pick’n’Pay site at Aspley, Brisbane.)
A. Adam: Geoff – research is great when you turf up stuff like that isn’t it?
A. Geoff: Yeah – you get a real buzz. At Sandgate Historical Soc we get a lot of requests for house information, but donot have the resources to do the amount of research we’d like to. At least I can rely on personal experience when people ask about my great grandfather’s house.

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