Lowell Deeds

The latest on real estate recordings and new technology from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell

February 23, 2007

Troubling Discovery

by @ 12:49 pm. Filed under Registry Ops

Having backups of registry records is one of our most important responsibilities. Disaster can strike at any time, and the ability to reconstitute the records of who owns what land in our district is a critical function. These days, for example, we have microfilm images of all of our documents stored at a secure facility at a distant location. With everything scanned, we also have multiple copies of the digital images of all documents stored in various places. Or so we thought. Yesterday I started work on a paper that traces the history of this registry’s record keeping practices. Knowing that this office opened in the summer of 1855, I tried to add some life to my opening paragraph by describing the first document ever recorded at this registry. Looking at our digital image of Book 1, Page 1, I first noticed that the document was dated in 1888 - thirty-three years after this registry opened. But that 1888 document was clearly placed at page 1 of book 1. The digital image was of poor quality and was difficult to read. Still, I was able discern other mentions of 1888 as well as references to Worcester, Fitchburg and other towns far from Lowell. Soon I discovered a line that said “Received and recorded in the Worcester North Registry of Deeds.” I immediately checked the digital images of several of our oldest books and found that they, too, showed documents from another registry. Rushing downstairs to our basement annex, I retrieved the actual record books and found to my relief that they hold the true Middlesex North documents. Here’s what I think happened: These digital images were created from our archival microfilm so we’re assuming that also contains the wrong images. Sometime many decades ago, this registry probably shot microfilm of its earliest books and sent it out to be developed. The Worcester North Registry was probably doing the same thing at the same time. The company - and I don’t yet know its name - may have mixed up a roll of film (each roll holds several books worth of images) and sent us Fitchburg’s film labeled as Lowell’s. Now that we’ve discovered the problem, we’ve already started to scan these books so we have a backup copy, but that will take us a few days. In the meantime, we’ve secured these un-backed-up books in a safe place. We will conduct a full investigation and present our conclusions here at a later time.

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