Property Search

Purpose

To obtain historical data about a place and/or persons associated with it.

Method

A property search is often part of a larger investigation, perhaps for genealogical purposes, or to prepare for renovation of a home.

The main resources are legal documents (collectively referred to as land records) including original grants, deeds, mortgages, leases and tax records. Because these documents were the legal proof of ownership and inheritance, all relevant facts were recorded, and archives were kept in standardized locations.

Using these land records and related sources, a property search can produce several types of historical evidence, including: biographical details about the owners, from first to last; construction information such as the building date, architect and builder, and sometimes the original plans and cost of construction.

Supporting data may be found in probate, tax and insurance records, building permits, old maps and atlases, census files, and other period materials.

Although a property search can provide critical facts, some researchers are put off by the problems. For example, it can be hard to navigate the archive levels (e.g. city, state, national).

Some material is indexed by number instead of name. Some transactions were recorded years after the event, or not at all. Above all, these are generally secondary-source documents, copied from originals retained by owners. If they were copied by hand, the records may have errors, and the writing can be difficult to decipher.

Despite these issues, land records are still a prime place to search for missing pieces of a historical puzzle.

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