|Guide to Researching a Chain of Title in Northern Virginia|
by Debbie Robison |
July 19, 2007
Once you have the address of the property you are interested in researching, access the appropriate County’s real estate website to obtain the last recorded deed book number and page number.
Loudoun County Real Estate Assessment Site
Prince William County Land Rover
Physically go to the County’s Circuit Court for access to their database of land records; unless you have an online account. See the following links for information about the land record offices.
Loudoun County Land Records
Prince William County Deed and Land Records FAQ
Enter the deed book number and page number into the program located on many of the computers in the land records office. This will give you access to an image of the first deed in the chain of title. The deed image will likely include the deed book number and page number of the previous deed. Enter these new book and page numbers into the database to find an even earlier deed, and so on, and so on. If a deed number and page number are not provided in the deed, search by name.
|UNDERSTANDING THE DEED|
|DEED BOOK REFERENCES|
Make note of the deed book and page number. Historians often abbreviate the deed reference. For example, Loudoun County Deed Book 1120 page 359 may be abbreviated LNDB 1120:359.
Before there were deed book numbers, there were deed book letters. The first deed recorded in a county is located in deed book A on page 1. Once this first ledger was filled, a new book was started named B. Once the alphabet was used up, the clerk named the books AA, BB, and so on. Once the clerk filled all the double letter books, he started naming the books A3, B3, and so on. Eventually, the clerk started to use numbers for the deed books, abandoning the alphabet.
In the earlier deeds, attorneys sometimes used Latin terms in the deeds. Liber means book, and Folio means page.
|LOCATION OF OLD DEED BOOK PAPER INDICES|
Once you get back in time far enough with your deed research, you will no longer have a database on a computer to search, and will need to use the paper indices. To research in an old deed book index, visit the circuit court.
The old deed books and indices are also available on microfilm at the following libraries:
Fairfax County Public Library Fairfax Regional, Virginia Room
Thomas Balch Library (
Prince William County Public Library, Bull Run Regional, Relic Room
|HOW THE INDEX WORKS|
From the mid-nineteenth century onward, each deed was (supposed to be) recorded in two places: the grantor index and the grantee index. An index to the index assists you in determining which page contains the last name of the grantee or grantor you are searching. The first two or three letters of the last name were used to divide up the index. Common last names were grouped together on separate pages. If the name you are searching for is not listed as a frequently occurring name, search for the last name based on the key for mixed names. Corporations were listed either before or after the people.
As an example, if you were searching for a grantee named George Gandy, you would turn to page 45 in the grantee index book for a listing of all the people with the last name beginning with Ga who did not have a common name, such as Garrett.
Within the index, the first (given) names are divided into three columns by a group of alphabet letters. This makes it quicker to locate a name. To continue the example of George Gandy, look down the first column of given names beginning with A-H and you’ll see George S Gandy was a grantee on November 7, 1896.
Note: Early on, the indices did not segregate grantors and grantees.
|ABBREVIATIONS IN THE DEED BOOK INDEX|
Et. al. refers to "and others"
Lis Pend abbreviates Lis Pendens, Latin for lawsuit pending
P of A refers to a Power of Attorney
Tee abbreviates trustee
Tr abbreviates trustee
|WHAT TO DO IF (WHEN) YOU GET STUCK|
Chances are that, at some point, land will transfer through
inheritance, and therefore shall not be recorded in a deed book. You’ll need to
research the will books to find out who bequeathed the land. Often this shall
be stated in the subsequent deed. The will books are housed with the deed
Once you know who bequeathed the land, search the grantee deed books to find out who sold them the property.
|WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU ARE STILL STUCK|
Land tax records list property owners alphabetically. This resource can be used to figure out who sold the land, and when. Land tax books begin in 1782.
Each year may have more than one land tax book, since the county was divided into regions for tax collection purposes. Each land tax entry includes, among other things, the owners name, land acreage, description (often includes a road or stream), distance and direction from the courthouse, assessed value of land, and (1820 and later) assessed value of buildings.
The last column provides space for notes. When there was a change in ownership, amount of land, or value of buildings, a comment was provided that year giving the reason. In cases of change in ownership, the previous owners name is given. Thus, you can search the deed indices for that person’s name.
|STILL GOING STRONG|
You may be successful in taking your chain of title back to
the original land grant. Publications of grant maps are available for
The grants and patents are available online in a searchable
database provided by the Library of Virginia.