Monday, August 16, 2010

How to Research Ownership of Your Property, Part 4

After writing parts 1-3, I thought I was ready to move on to researching the people, but then I thought about the problems that often arise in a search. So this takes up where I left off in Part 3. I thought I’d just cover a few problems and how to overcome them.

Problem 1
I can’t find the previous owner in the grantee index.

This usually happens when you are really on a roll, everything is falling into place nicely, and you think to yourself “I’m going to have this done in just a few minutes.” That was your first mistake. Never ever say to yourself that you are going to have something done quickly; you just don’t want to tempt fate.

Let’s look at another example where such a problem has come up. This is my worksheet for property currently owned by Josh McDonald.

We can find that Josh McDonald bought from Eleanor Ivey in 2005 and Eleanor Ivey bought from James Johnson in 1999. But we can’t find who James Johnson bought from. On the computer we have looked back to 1992 and only found the deed from him to Eleanor Ivey. Since it’s on computer, we can also view the document, but it doesn’t reveal any references to past instruments. We have searched by Johnson James, Johnson Jim, and Johnson J.

Nada. Zippo. Big, fat, nothing. No warranty deed. And we would also expect a release of lien to be filed soon after he sold to Eleanor Ivey when his loan (if he had one) was paid, and we didn’t find that either. We have looked in the Grantee index books back to 1939 and didn’t find him.

Remember that we record the “Instrument Date” and the “Recording Date”. Most of the time, they are within a week of each other. But sometimes a person buys property, and the deed isn’t filed with the county clerk’s office for quite a while. Sometimes, in cash transactions, it could be years between signing the deed and filing the deed, and the oversight isn’t caught until the property is sold again and a title search reveals a break in the chain. Then, you’ll find the missing deed filed with the current warranty deed for the property. But that wasn’t the case this time.

Next, we go to the Grantor index to see if he signed a Deed of Trust for a mortgage on the property. We’ll start at June 9, 1999 on the computer and work backward just as we did with the grantee index, and that is how we found him. James Johnson et ux (remember that means and wife) Victoria signed a Deed of Trust on October 31, 1991 and it is located in Vol. 600, page 352. We’ll look up that instrument and see if it references the warranty deed. Unfortunately, all it says is that there is a warranty deed of even date, meaning of the same date. See what we get for tempting fate?

Just to make sure we didn’t miss it, we go back to the Grantee book for October 31, 1991. The book only goes to October 6, 1991, and there is no note at the bottom of the page saying it is continued on page xxx (which often happens when they run out of room on the last page of the section). We know the computer starts with January 1992, so where is the index for October 7, 1991 through December 31, 1991? Lost? Misplaced?

We go ask a clerk who has another resource that can be checked. It is the daily log, which records every document in chronological order as it is received by the clerk’s office, regardless of type. So if a warranty deed and a deed of trust are received at the same time, they are going to be listed one after the other in this log. The clerk finds not only the missing warranty deed, but also the deed of trust and the release of lien, all in that three month period!

So now we have the warranty deed and find that James Johnson and wife Victoria bought the property from Holly Oak Development Corp. on Oct. 31, 1991, and they paid off the loan on Nov. 10, 1991. The release was filed Dec. 11, 1991. (Various reasons for taking out a loan and then paying it off immediately:  private loan that wasn’t complete at the time of sale, cashing out stocks that didn’t happen in time, inheritance, etc.)

Problem 2
The previous grantee is a big corporation, yet I can’t find them in the index.

Let’s take Holly Oak Development Corp. as an example. Remember that at the front of the index books is a guide page to tell us on what page the name will be located. See if the guide is just for names of people....

If so, see if there is another page behind that one that is for names of corporations - which has a different set of pages:

Problem 3
The corporation bought and sold so many properties that I don’t know which ones to look at.

Right now our worksheet looks like this:

Whether on the computer or in the books, look on the right side of the page for the description of the property.  That will help us narrow our search even if it just lists the subdivision or survey, and will pinpoint the deed if our exact description is there.

(See the computer screen above, and  the index book below)

We are looking for Hamilton Heights, lot 12 in block 59. But if this is a developer, it may not be listed as each lot or even each block, and it’s possible (and most likely) the developer bought the land before it was named the Hamilton Heights subdivision. Let’s add the name of the survey to our worksheet. Since our deeds have only had the name of the lot, block and subdivision, we need to go to the plat records to find out what survey it is in.

Ask the clerk where the plat records are, and how to search them for your subdivision. They will either be in a hanging file (they are quite large, at least 36 inches by 36 inches), or in a file cabinet with lots of shallow drawers. Most of the time, they are in alphabetical order, so you merely look for the letter “H” and then find Hamilton Heights. When we find it, at the top of the plat map, it will tell us the name of the survey, along with the legal description for the entire subdivision, which says it has a total of 112 acres. Now we find that our subdivision is out of parts of the the Isaac Kingsley Survey, Abstract 172, and the William Culbertson Survey, Abstract 293.

Now we continue with the grantee index. At the bottom of our worksheet, we can write down every document that pertains to either the “Hamilton Heights subdivision” or the “Kingsley and Culbertson Surveys”, and if we don’t find the exact acreage, we’ll have to look up every document until we find a legal description that matches the one on the plat. Skip any that specify a lot and block of the Hamilton Heights subdivision that isn’t ours. As we work backward, we find that Holly Oak Development Corp. bought two pieces of land in the Kingsley and Culbertson Surveys. One is for 247 acres and the other is for 112 acres. Bingo, we found it.

*note* If we hadn’t found the exact acreage, it would most likely be because pieces were cut off for roads, etc. In the legal description, it should have wording ending with "and containing 120 acres, save and except the 8 acres within the county road” and you will have to subtract to make sure it is our 112 acres. Or it might end with “less 8 acres, and containing 112 acres”.

Now our worksheet looks like this:

Problem 4
The previous grantee bought several tracts out of the same survey, and none of the acreages match the one I am looking for.

It could be the same as my example in Part 3, and the grantee divided the land and sold pieces to different people.

Or it could be that the grantee bought small pieces and combined them into a larger tract. In that case, you have to find all the pieces he bought and find the ones that fit within the 120 acres he later sold. With any luck, the grantee combined everything he bought and into our 120 acres.

If the pieces are not an obvious fit, each piece will need to be plotted onto a graph to make certain they belong in the larger tract, and I’m not prepared to explain that at this time. If you ever come across this problem, feel free to contact me for help.

I can’t find the address on the deed.

Property isn’t described by address, because addresses can change. Property is described by legal description, often called metes and bounds which is the surveyor’s description of a measured piece of land. The measurement is in feet and the corners or turns are described by degrees. In Texas, older deeds will give the lengths in varas which was a form of measurement in Mexico, and thus in the early Texas. One vara is a few inches short of a yard.

Here is an easy one, a simple square:

Beginning at an iron rod being the SE corner of the Jacob Davis Survey, Abstract #543,
Thence south, 30° 220’ 11”
Thence east, 60° 220’ 11”
Thence north, 30° 220’ 11”
Thence west, 60° 220’ 11” to the place of Beginning and containing 1.121 acres, more or less.

Here’s a quiz for you. Is this land in the Jacob Davis Survey? (Scroll to bottom for map answer)

Here is a harder one, but very typical for older descriptions:  (drawing below with red outline around described tract)

Situated on the waters of Red Dog Creek about 4 miles NW from Casonville.
Beginning at the NE corner of the 116 acres Tucker tract,
Thence South with the East line of said tract 475 varas to a corner in the North line of 160 acres in the name of J.C. Wilson.
West 475 varas to Red Dog Creek.
Northeasterly along Red Dog Creek to a large live oak tree.
Thence North 45 feet to the south line of 200 acres in the name of W. Martin,
Thence east 400 varas to the place of beginning and containing 100 acres more or less.

Did you get the right answer to the first one?

I hope all this isn’t too hard to understand and that it answers the questions that will come up when you do research. If you have any questions or need a better explanation, please ask.

Until next time, may you have blessings and a simple search,

p.s.  Professional title researchers and landmen usually have an account with a title company.  That gives them access to the company records and makes searching much easier, because most title companies sort their records by the Survey.


Genealogy, Title research