Welcome, fellow genealogists! My blog will teach you about U.S. land records and United Kingdom research. My family has roots in Niagara County, New York; Norfolk, England; and northeast Germany.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Glossary of Land Records

Land records are kept in county recorders’ offices, sometimes called county records offices, county registrars’ offices, registries of deeds or bureaus of conveyances. Any changes in rights, estates or interests in land are recorded. Below in ‘almost’ alphabetical order are the main documents that you can find, with a note or two about their usefulness to genealogists.

            Deed – a written document that transfers ownership of real property from one entity to another. Real property or real estate is land and its improvements. Without this piece of paper, the rest of the documents at the recorder’s office are useless and unnecessary. Deeds have the most genealogical information while facts in all the other documents only add to your family story.
            Declarations of Homestead – documents that under state laws protect real estate from forced sale by creditors and in some cases, provide a home for a surviving spouse for life. Each state’s law is slightly different. (This meaning of homestead has nothing to do with acquiring state or federally-owned land by filing and establishing residence.)

            Easements – the right of a party to use land that belongs to someone else for a special purpose not inconsistent with the owner’s use of the land – commonly, a driveway easement which lets someone pass over a property to get to another property or a utility easement which allows gas lines, telephone and electrical wires to pass over or under the surface of a property.

            Lien – a claim that an entity (government or person) has on property that belongs to another to secure payment of a debt or obligation. The two most common are ‘municipal liens’ for non-payment of taxes and ‘mechanic’s liens’ for non-payment of bills from tradesmen whose work or materials have improved the property. 
            Mortgage – a pledge of property to secure a debt; Mortgagor – the people who pledge their property, the borrowers, the property owners; Mortgagee – the lender; Mortgage Release – a document issued by mortgagee (lender) to state that the debt has been paid. Before banks became almost the only mortgage lenders in the country, people paid cash or borrowed money from rich people or relatives so check who both the mortgagor and mortgagee are.
            Other documents can be recorded such as leases, especially, long-term commercial leases. Government bodies have the right to take private property for public purposes, such as schools, providing that fair market value is paid to the owner. This process is called eminent domain, and the paperwork is filed. In some case, the owner simply issues a deed to the government body, however. Bills of sale for slaves can be found in old records both in the North and South.

©Susan Lewis Well, 2011

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