Courthouse Deed Research

Deborah K. Vick

Courthouse deed research involves going to the courthouse to look up the deed to a property. This can be a notoriously frustrating process because old records can be hard to locate. It can take several hours to find some deeds. The older the records are, the harder they will usually be to find. Although fires were common at courthouses through the 1920’s, typically land deeds and property records were the first to be saved. Still, if you are looking for records that predate the 1900’s, the records may simply not exist.

If the records you seek are very old, call the courthouse ahead of time; they may have been transferred to the state archives building, or they may simply be nonexistent. In many cases, the laws requiring land deeds were not enforced until the 1920’s, making it difficult to trace land ownership prior to this period. Do not be shy about asking for help finding the deeds you need; this type of research can be intimidating at first, as you walk into the courthouse on your quest. Courthouse clerks can be a great help in finding the information you need.

Deeds can be an excellent way to trace the history of your land. They also contain information on the purchaser, which is useful for those conducting genealogical research. The deed typically includes the original owner’s name, the new owner’s name, and the date. It signifies the formal transfer of property from one party to the other. Depending upon the information you seek, there may be records other than deeds that will provide this information. For example, there may be a section of records called ‘land taken for back taxes’ that provides the landowner’s information. Probate records, mortgage records, and leases can also provide information about land ownership. Plat books, if available, can provide additional information about the actual land in question.

The amount and type of records available will depend, of course, on the jurisdiction in which you are looking. There is no standard for how these records should be kept. Some may be kept in a small and cramped record room, while others may be kept in a large, warehouse-style building. Security varies widely between jurisdictions; the records you seek may be kept under lock and key, or have other restrictions placed on them. You may or may not be allowed to make copies of these records.

Many old deed records are kept on microfilm; in some cases, these films may also be available from the local LDS (Latter Day Saints) Family History Center, where they are mainly used for genealogical research. If you do not wish to visit the courthouse, this can be an alternate way to access the deed records.

Before conducting courthouse deed research, be sure that the property you are interested in is, in fact, located in the county whose courthouse you plan on visiting. Otherwise, your search will be fruitless.

Consider taking your trip in the middle of the month; this is often a quieter time in the records rooms of courthouses, because most real estate closing take place at the end of the month, and title attorneys and clerks may need access to these deed records in order to complete the sale.

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