How We Researched the Chain of Title

Click here for brief directions on how to research a chain of title.

* Click on red words to access the glossary.

We be
gan our search at City Hall. We were fortunate enough to already know the name of the current owners of the properties, but if this information is not known, you can search the Board of Revision of Taxes' database by using the 'search property by address' function. Once at City Hall, we first went to the maps department to look at a plot map for our area. The plot map shows the plot numbers for all of the lots in the city, and you will need this plot number to begin your search. (Plot numbers for contiguous plots are not necessarily consecutive, so make sure you look up each individual property you wish to research.)

Once we had our plot numbers, we went down the hall to the Department of Records. There they have a number of computers available for public use on which you can search for a property by address and receive any documents on that property that have been created since 1976. For our three properties, this usually included the most recent one or two deeds. To go back farther than 1976, we gave our plot numbers to the staff and received a microfilm sleeve for each property containing all of the deeds and transfer sheets kept by the Department of Records. You can usually expect these sleeves to contain documents dating back to the middle of the nineteenth century, which are arranged chronologically.

Once the resources of the Department Records were exhausted, we went to the City Archives to continue our search back into the eighteenth century. The City Archives keeps microfilm copies of all deeds in the city of Philadelphia as well as the original deed books themselves.

Fortunately, there is an element already built into the structure of a deed that makes researching a chain of title much easier. Deeds almost always include a section describing how the grantor came to own the property in the first place. This usually takes the form of a line beginning "Being the same land previously owned by _______________ and granted to _______________ on ______" or something along those lines. (Click here for a transcription of a sample deed.) This is the easy way to find the next step in the chain of title, and often even includes a reference to the deed book containing that previous deed. If, however, it does not mention the specific deed book, you can use the grantor/grantee index to find that information. The grantor/grantee indices are also kept at the City Archives and by knowing the year of purchase and the name of either the grantor or the grantee, you can easily find the correct deed book and page number.

As you would probably expect, we ran into a number of obstacles and unexpected circumstances while researching our chains of title and we have discussed these more specifically on the pages devoted to each property. We do, however, have a few suggestions which apply to the process of researching a chain of title in general.

- It is important to be familiar not only with the property you are researching, but also the surrounding area. Make sure that you understand the street numbering system and know the names of the neighboring streets.

- The original deed books and grantor/grantee indices are available for your use at the City Archives. While it is easier initially to use the microfilm versions, these are often difficult, if not impossible, to read and you should feel free to request the originals.

However difficult the process may sometimes be, we were pleased to find that it was also a surprisingly exciting one.

Click here for brief directions on how to research a chain of title.

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