If you are researching the history of buildings in Fairfax County, Virginia, you will find these suggested resources useful.
Fairfax County was established in 1742. To research your property before 1742, search deeds from:
Start with current owner at county’s Department of Tax Administration's website. It’s possible to search by address, but not by owner. Sales tab shows last few transactions; note deed book and page number.
Court Access Public Network (CPAN)
Use CPAN to see actual deeds and trace the history back by prior deed references or by grantor’s name. CPAN includes deeds from 1742, although several deed books are missing. CPAN also has wills from 1742.
The public can access CPAN in the Virginia Room during opening hours and at several offices at the Fairfax County Courthouse:
A former owner could also have acquired the land as a result of a partition when the previous owner died with or without a will. Many chancery court records can be found on the Library of Virginia's Chancery Records Index.
Real Estate Sales
Lusk/TRW REDI Fairfax County real estate sales directory, VREF 333.33 L 1953-1995, provides names of property buyers and sellers. Other volumes have slightly different titles, but all have the subject “Real property Virginia Fairfax County Periodicals.” They cover the years 1996-1997 and 1999-2002.
Discover the meanings of terms found in deeds in:
Consult The Historical Newspaper Index, which contains over one million records from ten local Fairfax County newspapers. Search Last Name AND house. Select “search entire subject field”).
Search Fairfax County Public Library's catalog for books about places, villages, towns, or neighborhoods. Search the catalog for “Subject “ - ”place name (Va.)--history”
Also ask for the Fairfax County History Index, VREF 975.529 F 2001 at the Virginia Room Information Desk, which indexes many useful sources in the Virginia Room.
We have Biography Files on 1200 families and individuals (ask at the Virginia Room Information Desk). The inventory of Biography files can be browsed here.
In 1965, the county changed the name of 400 duplicated street names and the street number of almost every house in the county, in order to conform to a numbering system that would help emergency services and others find the right house.
For streets that run east-west, any block that’s in the easternmost part of the county will have house numbers in the 100s. As you go further west, each block gets higher numbers, until blocks in the westernmost part of the county have house numbers in the 16000s.
For streets that run north-south, any block that’s in the northernmost part of the county will have house numbers in the 100s. As you go further south, each block gets higher numbers, until blocks in the southernmost part of the county have house numbers in the 10000s.
To find the new or old house number, try searching for a name or address in a pre-1965 city directory or telephone book, and then in a post-1965 edition—and then hope that at least someone on the block stayed in the same house! It was unusual to have addresses written on deeds pre-1965, but the legal description of the land (Lot 10, Section 8, Bryn Mawr) will be there and almost certainly remain the same through different owners. Compare an older deed with the legal description on the tax site , http://icare.fairfaxcounty.gov, to verify that it’s the same parcel.
A list of our holdings of city directories and telephone books is available here: Virginia Room City Directories & Telephone Books
Fairfax County Old-New Street Name List
On April 17, 1963, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance to create a uniform system for numbering properties and buildings in Fairfax County. This resulted in the renaming of existing street names and the naming of unnamed streets. Contained in this list are old street names alongside their new street names which became effective on April 1, 1965.
Fairfax County Confederate Names Inventory Report
In June 2020, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors tasked the Fairfax County History Commission to research and create an inventory of Confederate named streets, monuments and public places in the county. 26,552 named places were researched. This report includes not only an inventory of places with Confederate names, but historical information about non-Confederate streets, subdivisions, and more.
Land Tax Records
Land tax records will show how much tax was charged for land and how much for buildings. If the value of the building tax went up substantially, a new house was probably built or a previously built house was considerably enlarged. To search for tax assessment values from 2000-present visit the Department of Tax Administration's website. Contact DTA for information on how much tax was paid on properties from 2001-present.
Personal Property Tax Records
Personal property taxes were collected on both individuals (white males and slaves) and on personal items. Different items were taxed in various years, but at times, especially the year 1815, the tax records could show that a person’s home was fancy enough to have multiple windows or fine furniture, such as watches, clocks, pianos and harps, gold and silver plate and jewelry, and various household and kitchen furniture.
How can I get a copy of an historical building permit?
The Zoning Administration Division of the Department of Planning and Development, located in Suite 250 of the Herrity Building (12055 Government Center Pkwy) has an archive of “Street Files”. Files are organized by property type: residential, commercial, and acreage/forestral. Almost every address in Fairfax County has a file which may contain building permits, plats, photographs, and architectural drawings dating back to about the early 1950s.
How can I get a copy of my residential construction plans?
Please note: records for residential construction are kept for three years past the date of final inspection. Plans older than three years have been destroyed and are not available.
Questions about land development records can be emailed to the Records and Information Branch of Land Development Services or by calling 703-324-1895, TTY 711.
You could also try to contact the architect or developer of the subdivision to see if they have copies. Floor plans for a subdivision may be found online at the neighborhood or realtor web sites. Plats show the boundary lines of a parcel, and modern plats show the footprint of your house with dimensions. Buyers should have received one as part of the closing process.
Where can I get a copy of my house location plat?
Fairfax County Department of Planning and Development now has an online form for requesting plats.
Review your residential loan closing documents to see if a plat is included. House location plats show the location of structures on an individual property. These are maintained by the Zoning Administration Division of the Department of Planning and Development, located in Suite 250 of the Herrity Building (12055 Government Center Pkwy). For more information, call 703-222-1082. Please note: not all plats are available. If the county does not have a copy of your house location plat, contact the lending institution from which the mortgage was obtained.
For older deeds, plats are occasionally recorded with the deed and can be found in CPAN, but it’s pretty rare. Sometimes, a survey was recorded in a chancery case when a parcel was being partitioned and may be found on the Library of Virginia's Chancery Records Index. The Circuit Court Historic Records office also has some surveys.
Subdivision plats show how a subdivision will be laid out, with streets and lots. These are found in the “deed of dedication” just after the developer first buys the property. Many later deeds will reference this such as “Lot xxx, section xx, SUBDIVISION NAME, as the same is duly dedicated, platted and recorded in deed book xxxx, page xx among the land records of Fairfax County, Virginia.”
(All maps created by Fairfax County use the same quadrant system.)
Some other maps in our collection may show owners’ names for a smaller area. Check the catalog under subject “place name (Va.)--Maps”
These are a very useful type of map created by the Sanborn Insurance Company. Unfortunately, they weren’t created for mostly rural Fairfax County. Some were done for the City of Falls Church (1929-1959) and Alexandria (1885-1959), and the later maps for both cities include a small part of Fairfax County surrounding the cities. They can be found at the Library of Congress and/or through the Library of Virginia's FIMo (Fire Insurance Maps Online) and ProQuest Digital Sanborn Maps (1867-1970) databases.
The Virginia Room has topographic maps that cover a large part of Virginia. The top drawer of cabinet 1 has a map index of Virginia that tells you the name of the quadrant. If the square is yellow, we have at least one topo map. The earliest Fairfax quadrant is 1915. All historical topo maps are now accessible online on the USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer.
Real Estate Maps
The county has real estate maps from 1960 to present which show the outline of land parcels. You can also see maps which describe the soils and topography of the land. These use the same grid system as other county maps:
To see Fairfax County maps online, including some early years that are not in the Virginia Room’s Collection, view the Fairfax County GIS & Mapping Services Digital Map Viewer. Select the type of map you want and the appropriate grid number.
Searching digitized newspaper archives can also shed light on a property’s history. Search for articles using an owner’s name, address, or neighborhood.
Historical Newspaper Index
This database contains over one million records from ten local Fairfax County newspapers. The indexed newspapers are available on microfilm in the Virginia Room.
Issues from the Washington Post dating from 1877-2004 can be accessed by using a Fairfax County Public Library card.
Washington Evening Star
Current and some historical aerial photos from the county are available online. Fairfax County GIS & Mapping Services has made aerials digitally available on their Historic Imagery Viewer website. Currently this application includes: 1937, 1953, 1960, 1976, 1980, 1990, 1997, 2002, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017. Other historic aerials can be found on HistoricAerials.com.
The Virginia Room has aerial photos of Fairfax County in print format from 1967-1999.
The Virginia Room has thousands of photos of Fairfax County for review. View our Photographs Collection page.
Search for neighborhoods, street names or historic house names. (Sometimes you’ll see the house in the background of a photo that focuses on a different building.) Ask at the Virginia Room desk to view these images. Digital copies may be purchased by contacting the library.
If your house is truly historic, the Virginia Room may have a file on it. Browse the inventory of files.
Virginia Record was an independent trade journal first published in 1946 under the name Virginia and the Virginia County. The magazine focused on the building, construction, agricultural, road, and other industries in Virginia. The periodical often spotlighted notable buildings that were being constructed throughout the state. The Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects later assumed publication of Virginia Record. In 1989, AIA Virginia phased out this magazine and replaced it with Inform magazine which ran from 1990-2014.
This index was created from the Virginia Record volumes available in the Virginia Room, and contains the entries for all of the Fairfax County buildings that were profiled. Detailed articles on buildings often included photographs, architectural renderings, or floor plans. Buildings also might've appeared in advertisements, award winner profiles, and Garden Week announcements. Some buildings from Arlington County and the City of Alexandria have also been indexed.
Also featured are subject entries for Fairfax County/Northern Virginia-based architects or architectural firms, including buildings they designed that were not built in Fairfax County.
Browse the Virginia Record Index to Fairfax County Buildings and Architects, 1947-1989
Fairfax County has multiple structures and historic districts listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register, National Register of Historic Places, and more locally on the Fairfax County Inventory of Historic Sites. Nomination forms were researched and submitted to local preservation offices to argue for historic status. The locations of these structures and accompanying nomination forms and reports are available below.
Books about house styles might give you clues about when the house was built or when additions were made to the property. See Architecture, Domestic as a subject, usually at 728.37 (VREF, REF and circulating books). Examples include:
Notable Modern Architecture in Virginia, 1940-1990
A list of Virginia modernist buildings created by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. It includes modernist buildings in Fairfax County.
If you're interested in hiring an architectural historian, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources has an Historic Trades & Consultants Directory.