Friday, August 18, 2017

“I need a copy of my deed”

One of the most frequent requests received at the registry of deeds is from homeowners seeking a copy of the deed for their house. Depending on how the request is made, we have several ways to fulfill it.

If the customer has come to the registry in person, we simply print the deed from our computer system and give it to him at no charge. (That only applies to deeds given to homeowners; all other prints come with a statutory fee of $1 per page).

If the customer calls us (our number is 978/322-9000), we explain that the deed can be printed from our website ( but also offer to send a copy by email or by US Mail (again, at no charge). 

If the customer emails, we just attach a copy of the deed to a reply email. 

If the customer sends a written request by US Mail, we just print the deed and send it out in that day's return US Mail.

Since all recorded documents are freely available on our website, many individuals are able to find, view and print their deeds from there without any assistance from the registry. But we are always happy to help anyone who can’t find their deed or online or who would prefer dealing with a human being rather than a computer.

So if you live in Billerica, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Dracut, Dunstable, Lowell, Tewksbury, Tyngsborough, Westford or Wilmington and you need a copy of your deed, just give us a call at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds, 978/322-9000.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Usiing Real Estate for Bail

Going through some old papers, I came upon a copy of a mortgage recorded in 2002 between the property owner and the Clerk of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts as bail for the son of the homeowners who had been charged with a crime. Here is the relevant language from the mortgage:

The purpose of the mortgage was to secure a personal bond for [defendant] in criminal case number ####, before the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts in the amount of $100,000 executed by the defendant and the mortgagors in favor of the United States of America, and to secure due observance and performance of the obligation, terms and conditions set forth in an Order Setting Conditions of Release. And pursuant to an escrow agreement made this day between the Mortgagors, the United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, and the Mortgagee, the Mortgagors hereby mortgage, with power of sale, the following parcel lying in the County of Middlesex, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and more particularly described in the following deed:

[deed parties, date and book and page].
I don't recall seeing another mortgage like this one. It is a reminder that a mortgage can be used to secure the performance of some act as well as the repayment of a debt, which is the purpose of most mortgages we encounter these days.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Book and Page Numbers & Their Evolution

From the beginning, registries of deeds in Massachusetts have not retained custody of original documents but have copied those documents in their entirety into bound record books and returned the original documents to their owners. At first, those documents copies were hand-written, then they were typed, then they were printed from microfilmed copies of the documents. Beginning in 1994, the Middlesex North Registry began scanning documents into a computer system. Shortly after that, record books were printed from those scanned images and, beginning in 2001, the registry ceased printing paper record books, replacing paper with electronic images of the documents.

Throughout this evolution of document reproduction, documents recorded at the registry of deeds have always been assigned a "book and page number." That is because the documents are copied into sequentially numbered books with the pages within each book being sequentially numbers. To look at a deed with "book 500, page 20" as its identifier, you would go to book number 500 and open it to page 20. There would be your document.

Historically, ever page within a record book was numbered. In the example above, if the document in book 500, page 20 was five pages long, it would have been assigned pages 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24. The next document to be recorded would begin on page 25.

Because record books held a finite number of pages - usually 300, but also 600 or even 800 in older times - it was necessary to "roll over" the book and page numbers to the next book with some frequency. Rather than doing this immediately as documents were being recorded, the registry deferred assigning book and page numbers until days after the documents were recorded. But customers needed some immediate indicator that a document was in fact recorded, so registries began assigning an "instrument number" to each document. These instrument numbers were sequential through the year and rolled over to instrument number 1 at the start of each new year. This duel process of instrument numbers assigned immediately upon recording and book and page numbers assigned later in the process gave registry personnel plenty of time to carefully compile new record books with the proper number of pages.

The arrival of computers changed all that. Programming allowed the recording counter computer system to assign both the instrument number and the book and page number right at the point of recording. All that was needed was to count the number of pages in a document and enter that number in the computer.

Counting the number of pages in a document is trickier than it may sound, especially with some documents like mortgage growing to 25 pages or more. If you only entered 24 pages, the next document would start on page 25 and you would not have space for you extra page. Similarly, if you entered 26 pages for the document, your next document would start with page 27 and you would have a blank page in your record book. We employed a number of tricks or techniques to address those discrepencies, but none of them worked very well.

Soon after we ceased printing paper record books in November 2001, it occurred to me that without a tangible book to thumb through, the only meaningful page number on a document was the first one. Starting in January 2002, we stopped assigning individual page numbers to the subsequent pages of a recorded document. At that point, the book and page number had morphed into a document ID number. While we still count the number of pages in a document, enter that in the computer, and expect that the page number of the next document fits the logical sequence, if we do make an error counting the pages, we simply correct the "number of pages in the document" field in our computerized index and don't worry about the page number of the next document.

The reason I am writing about this now is that a lawyer who was doing a title exam recently encountered a series of related documents that were relevant to his investigation. The first document in the sequence was two pages long and was assigned page number 1 of that "book", but the second document was assigned page number 5. If that was in fact the next document in the sequence, it should have been assigned page 3. The lawyer was concerned that there was another document in between these two that had somehow disappeared from our index that might affect his title.

As soon as I looked at the first document, I saw the cause of the number gap. We had initially written "4" at the top corner of the first document for the number of pages. Perhaps those first two documents were initially packaged as one and only after the first document was recorded as a four page document did we realize it was two separate two-page documents. Whatever the cause, we were left with a two-page gap in our numbering sequence. The explanation for that was easy to find, and if it was not a sequence of related documents, the lawyer looking at them never would have noticed the gap. So there was nothing missing, just a lawyer being prudent.

That's the story of how registry book and page numbers have evolved through the years. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Lowell Atlases

One of the most useful tools I've found to research older land records are the city of Lowell insurance atlases that were created between 1879 and 1936. Published in color in large-format books, each atlas consists of a base map that shows the entire city divided up into "plates", and then the various plates, which are blow-ups of slices of the city.

These plates contain an incredible amount of detail, showing the outlines of each lot, the footprint of any building on the lot, color coding for the building type (yellow for wood, pink for brick, gray for stone), the last name of the owner of the lot, the square footage of the lot, and the street number.

Atlases exist for the following years: 1879, 1896, 1906, 1924, and 1936.

These atlases are all available online courtesy of UMass Lowell's library system. I prefer the online version to the original paper maps because with the superb clarity of the online images, users can zoom in to 300 percent magnification and read numbers and annotations that otherwise would require a magnifying glass to discern.

Monday, August 14, 2017

July 2017 Recording Statistics

Here are the number of deeds, mortgages and foreclosure deeds recorded in the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds during July 2017, compared to the same month in 2016:

Deeds: July 2017 - 654 deeds; July 2016 - 722 deeds; decrease of 9%

Mortgages: July 2017 - 852 deeds; July 2016 - 1028 mortgages; decrease of 17%

Foreclosure Deeds: July 2017 - 14; July 2016 - 30; decrease of 53%

Total documents: July 2017 - 5199; July 2016 - 5580; decrease of 7%

Monday, March 27, 2017

Middlesex North 2017 Holiday Schedule

The holiday schedule for the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds through the summer of 2017 is as follows:

The registry will be closed on the following days:

Monday, April 17, 2017 - Patriot's Day

Monday, May 29, 2017 - Memorial Day

Tuesday, July 4, 2017 - Independence Day

Monday, Sept 4, 2017 - Labor Day

The registry will be open on all other weekdays, including on Friday, April 14, 2017 (Good Friday).

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Registry of Deeds: 10 am opening on March 15, 2017

Due to the lingering effects of today's storm, the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds and all state courthouses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will open at 10 am on Wednesday, March 15, 2017.