As mentioned in my article “Researching House History”, before you can begin to research a house, you need to have the legal description of the character, which can be obtained by looking at the deed you received when you purchased the character. If you are extremely lucky, you received an recondite of the character when you bought your house. Also referred to as a chain of title, an recondite contains a legal description of the character in addition as all transactions on the character back to the patentee – the original purchaser of the character from the federal government. References to deeds, mortgages, wills, probate records, divorces, and lawsuits may be included in the recondite. In the past, abstracts were ordinarily prepared and updated by the owner’s mortgage company each time a home changed hands. This practice went by the wayside when title insurance began to replace abstracts in the 1970’s. If there is no recondite, you will need to form a chain of title by other records.
Most chain of title searches will begin at your local county Recorder of Deeds office. This office has records and files instruments of writing affecting real character or personal character. Deeds are the beginning point in your search for records, as they will tell you the names of the past owners in addition as provide clues as to what may have been located on the character at the time the deed was drawn up. A deed tells you who owned the character, the buy price, provides a legal description, and possibly, if there was a mortgage. It also may mention the existence of the house and additions to it. A sharp increase in the buy price may indicate that a building was additional to the character. Pay special attention to the legal description in each deed that you come across to make certain you are nevertheless looking at the correct character. Just because the correct grantee or grantor is listed doesn’t average it is necessarily your character. Make sure each legal description matches yours.
Before beginning your search by the deeds, you will need to be familiar with two terms – Grantor and Grantee. The Grantor is the seller of the character, and is usually listed first. The Grantee is the buyer. So in looking at your own deed, you will be listed as the Grantee and the person you bought the house from will be shown as the Grantor. Starting with yourself as the buyer, you can work your way backwards by the deed indexes to find prior sellers/buyers. Usually the past deed will be mentioned in the present deed, and you can see when the current Grantor was a Grantee. If not, you will need to look up the current Grantor in the Grantee Indexes. In fact, it is advisable to look for all of your character owners in both indexes, because sometimes the character transaction only appears in one of the indexes. This is the method you will use to work your way back by the owners of the character. I made photocopies of each deed I came across because I found it interesting to read the different descriptions of the character and because sometimes the instrument was not a just listed as a deed but was noted as something else. For example, if you come across a Deed of Trust, it generally does not average that the character changed hands, but instead the grantor gives title of the character to a grantee (usually the person lending the money) until the grantor pays the loan back in complete. It is not necessary to make the copies, but do make observe of anything different about the deed.
As you come across deeds on your character, check the deeds that were recorded on the pages before and after your deed. You might find other deeds relating to your character. A caution – remember that while the deeds will tell you who owned the character, they won’t tell you who lived there. You will need to search other records to determine who truly occupied the house.
If you come across any references to court situations within your deeds, make observe of them on your reference sheet as they might contain useful information about your house or its owners. Ask the reference person in the Recorder of Deeds office where you might locate the listed records.
Make a list of all the families who owned your house, showing the dates they bought and sold the character. This sheet will be a handy reference of all the names and time periods as you search by other records to learn about your families.
Now, if all of this seems overwhelming to you or you are just not interested in doing the research yourself, you can have a Title Insurance Company acquire the list of owners for you. There will be a fee charged for the service, but if you provide the company with a legal description of your character they can do the work for you.