Thanks to Al for today's guest post... Don't forget you can order deeds on microfilm directly from the Family History Library.
Where to Find Real Estate Deeds
The first two installments of this series discussed various uses of real estate deeds in genealogical research. This installment will discuss where the researcher can find real estate deeds.
When a property is acquired, an original deed is prepared and becomes the evidence of ownership for the buyer. The genealogical researcher is typically interested in those deeds from the early 20th century backwards. The writer has worked extensively with early deeds from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the early deeds were written on preprinted forms and then a copy was made into the master deed books maintained at the county level. This was the process of recording the transaction onto the official land records. In Connecticut, the deeds were recorded at the town level. Each deed was referenced by its Book and Page number.
These old deed books are available for inspection by the public at either the county or town repository. In Connecticut, the town clerk will often not allow the general public to inspect these books, but will make copies requested. Having a Godfrey Library card generally allows the holder direct access.
A more efficient way to examine the old deeds is to view them on microfilm at a local Family History Center such as at Godfrey. The Family History Library at the Church of LDS has microfilmed numerous old deed books around the nation. For instance, the writer found all the old deeds on microfilm for his areas of interest in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Generally, there are also master index books for the old deeds, so obtaining the microfilm for the index books is the best place to start. These books are typically divided by grantor (seller) and grantee (buyer). With this knowledge in hand, the specific microfilm of interest can be ordered for viewing. Knowing the year title passed on a property will not be sufficient to zero in on the correct deed book since often times the recording authority had multiple books going at the same time in which deeds were recorded and often times many months, if not years, passed between the date of the sale and the date it was recorded in the deed books. To find these master indexes, search in the FHL catalogue with the state name, followed by the county name and look for land records. In Connecticut, add the town name to the search string as deeds are recorded at the town level here.
More recently, the FHL has been digitizing microfilms of these deeds. This process has just begun; however, if you find a film of interest, the FHL will note if it is available for online viewing.