If you are a property owner, or considering a property purchase, it may be important to know that property's history of ownership. Here is how to perform a rudimentary title search to make sure that all previously recorded buyers and sellers coincide as they should. This reduces the likelihood of problems with the title, which can prevent you from re-selling the property or create the possibility of another person claiming legal ownership of a property you've paid for.
Finding the Grantee Index
Go to the county recorder's office, the register of deeds, or its equivalent in your county. Ask to see the grantee index (not the grantor index). This is a record of buyers, or heirs of all real estate within county boundaries for several decades. You can also search property records on some counties' websites, which provides access to the same information.
Locating the Property
Search the grantee index for the name of the current property owner. When you find the deed of transfer, note the date of the transfer and the name of the grantor (the person who sold it to the current owner). The deed should also identify the property both by street address and by lot number. Record this information and use it to confirm that the deeds you find refer to the property in question.
Working the Index
Work backward in the chain of title from grantee to grantor until you are satisfied that you have a list of all the previous property owners that you need. Note the name of the earliest grantor on your list and then ask to see the grantor index (the record of sellers).
Search for the grantor's name in the grantor index and find the deed of transfer representing the earliest transfer of the property in your search. Find the grantee's name on the deed and look up that name in the grantor index.
Back To the Present Day
Continue moving forward in the chain of title until you reach the most recent transfer of property. You want to make sure a grantor did not transfer the property to two different grantees. If this were the case, the latter grantee would not have a good title to the property; a potential problem if that grantee were listed in your chain of property owners.
If the two lists of grantee-grantor and grantor-grantee are consistent with each other, then you most likely have a list of all previous property owners. If there are any inconsistencies, then it is likely that a serious problem with the title exists.
A rudimentary title search will not uncover "wild deeds." Wild deeds are improperly recorded deeds that are not indexed. You will need to consult a title insurance company to perform a more thorough search.