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Monday, August 3, 2009

A gold mine in county land records for genealogists

Almost every county in the United States has a recorder's office and/or an assessor's office. Here in Maricopa County, Arizona we have both. What is not generally known or mentioned in genealogical circles is that these records are mostly online and may go back years and years. Usually, you can search by property and by owner. I picked one county at random, Grayson County, Texas. The Tax Assessor-Collector for Grayson county lists the owner's name or names, address and the property address. The description also contains the legal description of the property and of course, the tax valuation. In the case of Grayson County, they also show the history of the property, indicating when it was first developed and sold.

Another selection, Berks County, Pennsylvania, has an Interactive GIS Web Maps Parcel Viewer. This online function shows plat maps of the entire county. There is also a Berks County Parcel Search where you can look up the ownership information. The Google search is for the county, by name and the word assessor. Try looking up your own tax information. Perhaps you thought there was some measure of privacy? Not exactly, this is all public information. For Pennsylvania, here is a list of all of the counties and links to the assessor's offices. In fact, here is the link to the national directory.

Now to the Recorder's offices. Some sites require you to register but many, if not most, allow public searches of the records. In Maricopa County, Arizona, the Recorder's Office allows you to print an unofficial copy of deeds. Using these sites, it is possible to reconstruct the ownership of a piece of property as far back as the records are online, sometimes hundreds of years. For example, the Barnstable County, Massachusetts Registry of Deeds goes back to 1704 with online images and indexes. However, in Maricopa County, the records only go back about forty years. You can find these records by doing a Google search on the county name plus the word "recorder."

Try this out and see what you can find.

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