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How to Search Land Records

by Sandra Webster

Land records are documents that pertain to real estate. They may be recorded in deed books and plat cabinets and may include deeds, deeds of trust, authorities to cancel, plats, name change orders as well as other records. You may want to search a land record to find out who presently owns a piece of property or who the previous owners were. Reasons include needing to notify a property owner of a potential problem, tracing the paths of long-lost ancestors or determining ownership of mineral rights.

Determine the current address of the property if you do not know who currently owns it. A physical address is required in most communities for 911 emergency purposes, regardless of whether the property has a building or residence on it and even if the owner uses a post office box to receive mail.

Find the location of the tax assessor's office that covers the area where the land is located. It may be housed in the county courthouse, the town hall or a separate building. All property must be evaluated to determine property taxes, and this list, called either "assessment roll" or "assessor's roll," is housed in the assessor's office.

Check online to see if the applicable office has a website that might offer an online search of the land records that you may access from home. If it does, type in the address of the property and click the appropriate button. If none is available, go to the tax assessor's office and ask to see the records. Even though land records are available to the public, some offices require a signature of the person viewing the information, so do not try calling for the information on the telephone.

Ask an employee for the assessment roll. It may be available on a searchable database or in hard copy form. Look for the address of the property you are searching for. There is a lot of information to be found on land records such as the owner's name and contact information, what the land can be used for and sales information and history.

Ask where the deed to the land is also. Deeds are usually filed at county courthouses or other county buildings and may be in an office near the assessor's office. In a few states, they are recorded in towns instead of counties, so be sure to ask. Deeds are also public records and include the names of both sellers or grantors and the buyers or grantees.

Check online to see if the courthouse or another facility has an online database that is searchable from home or go to the registry of deeds, or registrar's office as it may also be known, and ask to see the information which may be presented in hard copy form or in a searchable database.

Read the body of the deed and take notes or make a photocopy if you can. Look for names of grantors, grantees, abutters and other applicable information to your search. You may need to keep working backwards from deed to deed if you are searching land records for genealogical purposes.

Tip

  • Digital cameras are a perfect way to copy sensitive documents and save on photocopy fees. Just be sure to ask permission first.