The trouble with inscriptions, useful though they are, is that you cannot be sure that they are right (many have been added by later owners) or that they date more than a particular feature or phase of development.
The datestone has to be treated with the same critical eye as the rest of the building. That might seem axiomatic, but surprisingly few of the half million or so listed buildings have ever been thoroughly investigated.
But don't overlook trace evidence of daily life, relationships, and events on site or nearby.
Pursue every lead to the bitter end, and you still won't uncover the entire truth.
As I attempt to revive this neglected 18th Century New England colonial, I'm rather obsessed with the lives lived here long ago.
So one day in March, when my son Jude didn't have college classes, I played hookey and we did a little more research on our house.
The rise of a specialist role of architectural historian has gone hand-in-hand with the growth of the conservation movement over the last half-century. How can they contribute both to an understanding of architecture of all periods and to the selection of what we should seek to conserve? Those who listed historic buildings for many years worked to the acronym DAMPFISHES, later BDAMPFISHES.
Architectural historians find out about buildings; who built them and when; what they were for; how they have been altered and take the form they do now; what people and events have been associated with them. 'D' for date, 'A' for architect, 'M' for materials and so on.
The inquiry will have two stages: Investigation and Corroboration. Investigation Tracking down clues directly connected with the physical structure, architecture, or construction.
The most reliable method for dating a house is to use street directories, usually available at local history departments of local libraries.
By looking for the first reference to the building, perhaps even 'Vacant', you can prove that the house existed by that year. Beware of the compilation dates of each of these sources.
When we were framing, a carpenter found a British coin on the front sill dated 1739.
King George II is on one side and a woman on the other.