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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How to Research the Ownership of Your Property, Part 2

Taking up where we left off yesterday, now we have to go to the county clerk's office in person.

Step Three
Take your worksheet and digital camera and go to the county clerk’s office, usually located in the county court house. Or if your county has outgrown the courthouse, like mine, it could be in a separate building.

Step Four
Gawk. Just kidding. Sort of.  But do spend a few minutes looking around to see where things are located.  I do like to gaze at court houses.  There is something about them that fascinates me. To think that my great great grandfather might have touched the same doorknobs, stood at the same counter, and looked through the same books makes me feel very connected to them. Even the new court houses like this one contain the past, threaded through the newness of the present.

Step Five
If you have never been there before, ask someone at the desk where things are located, and hopefully they can give you a mini tour. You are going to be looking primarily at deed records and probate records. You’ll need to know if they are on computer, microfilm, or books, and the dates covered by each. You’ll need to know where the indexes are too, and how to log on to the computers if there are any.

The main thing you will see is row after row of really big books or binders, something like this:

This is the only clerk’s office I have been in with so many tables. Most of the time, the books are in tall metal shelves. This one is new and very, very nice.

Step Six
Start with the name and date of the last grantee you have on your worksheet. If your worksheet is still blank except for your name, start there. If you bought your property in the last fifteen years, it should be on their computer if they have computers. Our county clerk’s office computers go back to 1992.

Find the computers and log in.

If your tour didn’t include how to use the computers, look for a search box or link to search by grantor and grantee, in this case GR-GE.  Click that and it should take you to a page where you can insert your name or the name of the last grantee you know.

You can search by last name only or narrow down by last name, space (no commas), first name. You can narrow further by putting in the instrument type, but you might miss out on a source of information that way, so I leave that blank. Or you can search by volume and page if you only want to see the deeds you have already found.

Then you can “View Document” and read or print it. If you aren’t picky about the picture quality, you can photograph the screen, but I think I got lucky here that I didn’t just get a glare or distorted photo of the document. Or you can just write down the information on your worksheet. I blotted it out, but the volume here is 845, page 380. The grantor is ERPS, Inc, and this is a warranty deed (WD). The date is actually November 1992. That’s as far back as I can go on the computer, so now I head to the books.

Step Seven
Because not all clerk’s offices have computers, or your start time may be prior to when they are on computer, I’m going to pretend we haven't used the computer and restart my search in the books. Also, other states may not be arranged the same way most are in Texas, so you may have to tweak my advice.  Find the grantee indexes. They will most likely be under or near the only tables in the clerk’s office, but in this office there are so many tables, I had to ask where they were. I know we bought the property in 1992, so I start there. The books are arranged chronologically, and then alphabetically within each book. However, in later years, there are so many deeds that they are divided alphabetically within the time period also.

It appears that 1992 is split up here, so I find the last half of the year in this stack, and the book with last names (or companies) that start with the letter W (for our last name).

At the beginning of the index book will be a guide to tell me what page our name will be on. There is a section for names that start with Wa, with We, with Wi, and Wh-Wy; and then subsections. Sometimes there are full last names written on the lines in the section, for names that have a lot of deeds, like Williams, or Smith, or Jones, etc.

My name is going to be on page 41. These books aren't numbered like any other books.  There may be five page 41’s before page 42 starts, and then six 42's before page 43 starts.  It depends on the number of instruments filed during that time period. If I didn’t know the date of the deed I’m looking for, I would start on the bottom of the last page 41, but since I know the approximate date, and since the all the pages numbered 41 are in chronological order, I look through those pages by date until I find my name. (I cropped my name off here so you’ll have to take my word for it that I’m on the right page.) Remember that I am the buyer or the grantee, and I want to know the name of the person or company who sold it to me, the grantor. And there it is, ERPS, Inc. On the far right side of the page is “Description of Property”. That’s important, because some people bought and sold real estate like kids trade video games and there might be a whole page with just their name on it. So I see that it’s 7.7 acres out of the Bingler Survey, and I know it’s the right one. So I fill in the blanks on my worksheet with that information. Now I need to find ERPS, Inc., as grantee, to find out who they bought it from.

Since I bought the property in the fall of 1992, I need to start there and work my way back in time to find them. I get out the E-K Grantee book for April 1990 through December 1991, find the page in the guide that tells me that the name will be on page 35. I turn to the last page 35, start at the bottom, and run my finger along the names until I get to the top, turn the page and look on every page until I get to the first entry on the first page 35. Nothing. Nada. Zippo.

So I get the E-K Grantee book for January 1980 through March 1990, and start on the last page 35 there too. Finally found their name in July 1984, in Vol. 707, Page 299. The grantor is W.C. Ralston and wife Margaret, but the “Description of Property” column says that it is 82 acres out of the Bingler Survey. If I didn’t already know that ERPS bought about 100 acres of farmland to divide and develop, I'd think I had the wrong one and keep looking until I found all the tracts that added up to 82.  But since I know this is the right piece, I go on.

(note: The grantor could have been written as W.C. Ralston et ux Margaret. Et ux just means "and wife". Et al means "and others". You’ll see et al when there are a lot of names and they won’t fit into the form.)

Here, I have a choice because I know a little history of the property. If I didn’t know anything, I’d look in the grantee index for W.C. Ralston, starting in 1984 and working my way back until I found him. But, since I knew Mrs. Ralston, and knew she had lived there a very long time, I knew I could be looking through several books before I found it and thought I’d try a shortcut by looking at the deed where Ralston sold to ERPS.

In the next post, I'll show how to locate the deeds from the volume and page numbers on your worksheet.

Until next time, may you have blessings and simple title,

Genealogy, Title research, Pix

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