Whether you call it land, property, or real estate, deeds are the documents that shows of ownership of land. In Pennsylvania, all deeds are found at the county Recorder of Deeds office. Here's the easy way to find deed records in PA counties.
How Deeds are Recorded
Pennsylvania tracks property ownership through deeds. These deeds are listed by buyer (grantor) and seller (grantee) at the county courthouse (in the county where the land is) in the Recorder of Deeds office. Each time a property changes ownership, a deed is recorded at the county courthouse.
Prior to about the 1950’s, deeds were recorded in Deed Books, first handwritten, then typed. As microfilm machines and then computers were integrated into courthouse workflows, deeds were recorded by making copies by microfilm or digital scans. The deed copies and images were then indexed into computer databases.
The deed recorded at a county courthouse is always a copy of the original deed. When recording was done by handwriting into a ledger book, it was possible that errors were made in names, dates, or property details. Now that deeds are images of the deed document itself, errors are less common. The only place to find the original deed documents is in family heirlooms, family papers in archives, and auction houses.
What Other Records are Available
The Recorder of Deeds office also tracks mortgages on real estate and if those mortgage payments were completed. Mortgages are indexed separately from deeds and should be searched if possible.
Beside land records, the Recorder of Deeds also holds copies of World War 2 or later military discharge papers if a veteran chose to have a copy recorded there. and miscellaneous historical items such as voluntary powers-of-attorney.
How to Find Deeds Online
Each county Recorder of Deeds office maintains an up-to-date list of deeds transferred between owners. The list of deeds transferred in each county courthouse goes back to the day the county was formed under state law. For example, in Philadelphia, deed records begin in 1683, in Berks County in 1752, and in Forest County in 1848.
In most counties deeds are searchable on the county government website for free. Copies of historical deeds cost a small fee and can be obtained in person or through request through the county website. All deeds are public record and there are no restrictions to view property ownership of any property for any time.
FamilySearch microfilmed deed books at county courthouses in every county in Pennsylvania. The years they microfilmed vary by county. The microfilms have been digitized into images on FamilySearch, but they are not all indexed and easily searchable yet. To search these records, use the Deed Index books in each listing to search by surname, then find the Deed Book letter or number, and page number.
Deeds don't only show landownership. Many deeds detail family relationships. Learn How a Deed Can Build a Family Tree
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