LAND AND PROBATE RECORDS
ESTABLISHING A TITLE CHAIN FOR HISTORIC SITES
NEARA RESEARCH AND SPECIAL PROJECTS, SPRING 1994
What Is A Title Chain?
A title chain is a chronological list of property owners, which gives us not only the span of each occupation but often chronicles changes in boundaries. Topographical features, buildings and boundary markers are sometimes cited. A title chain is one of the primary ways to investigate a site's history from a search of land and probate records.
How does a title chain develop?
Each "link" in the chain will usually be a deed, but when an owner dies still owning the property, the deceased's probate record becomes the next link in the chain.
What can a probate record tell me?
Early probate records reveal important and interesting information about the family's social and economic status. A listing of heirs gives us names and ages of spouses and children. Inventories, if included, catalog material possessions, and give us a much more detailed picture of day-to-day life.
How do I start a title chain?
The process of chaining a title starts with locating the deed into the present owner (or probate record, if inherited) and then finding the preceding owner, going back as far as the records allow.
What do I need to begin?
You must have the current owner's name, and you must be reasonably familiar with the property description, so that if several parcels are owned, you will chain the correct parcel. (You may find that an assessor's map of the area is helpful in making that determination.)
What terms should I know?
The two most important words in using land records are grantor and grantee. The grantor is the seller or owner right up until the time of sale: the grantee is the new owner.
Then what do I do?
Once you have found the current deed, by using the grantee index, abstract any information you think may be useful. You may want to photocopy each document in the chain, especially if the legal description (metes and bounds) is lengthy. If a plan in cited, obtain a copy. Look for a "being clause" after the legal description; it will give you a prior deed reference, allowing you to proceed immediately to the next record book. Otherwise, you will have to grantee the previous owner back, until you find the preceding deed.
How are land records arranged?
Land record indices are alphabetized by last name for an individual or by the first word for a business or trust. Probate files are assigned docket numbers and are found in probate indices which are also alphabetical and chronological. You will be looking up your deceased's last name during the period in which he died or sometime thereafter.
Is the chaining process as easy as it sounds?
The chaining process is a simple one in theory, but in practice, snags will occur which often require patience and some ingenuity to circumvent. The title chain is really an historical skeletal framework. Upon the "bare bones" of names and dates, you can add the "flesh" of genealogical information, details of early maps and atlases, quotations from personal diaries and account books, newspaper articles, and information from secondary sources such as town and regional histories and gazetteers.
From NEARA JOURNAL VOL. XXVIII, 3 & 4, Page 70