Lowell Deeds

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

February 5, 2009

More on Register vs Registrar

by @ 1:30 pm. Filed under History

Last Friday’s post discussed the confusion that arises from the name of the office I hold – Register of Deeds. Many people, including one who sent me the email that prompted that post, insist it should be Registrar of Deeds. Although I cited the statutes that establish the position and their specific use of “Register” I also promised to delve deeper into this question.

A reader with an interest in legal history was motivated to explore the question and was kind enough to share his findings. Here is what my correspondent had to say:

I never gave any thought to the origin of the term register over regsitrar until I saw your blog the other day. I spent about 15 minutes in the law library this afternoon, and this is what I found:

It would appear that the term “register” originated in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In Plymouth Colony, prior to 1685, it was the Governor who recorded deeds. (In fact, we have deeds recorded by Gov. Bradford himself!) When Plymouth Colony was divided into Barnstable, Bristol, and Plymouth Counties, the responsibilty was given to a “County Recorder.” By law the “County Recorder” was the same person as the “Clerk of the County Court.” (Sounds almost Midwestern, doesn’t it?) This arrangement stayed in place until Plymouth Colony was subsumed into Mass. Bay Colony in 1691.

The earliest reference that I found to the recording of deeds for Mass. Bay was a 1697 law which established a “Register” who was the same person as the “Clerk of Inferior Courts”- same as Plymouth, just different names. (Obviously there was land recordation going on prior to 1697; I didn’t have a chance to look at the pre-1640 records.) In 1715, the positions were separated, creating an elected Register of Deeds. A post-Revolution law in 1783/4 reaffirmed the concept of an elected Register of Deeds.

Next time I’m at the law library, I’ll track down Vol. I of the Mass. Bay Records, and see if I can find the earliest reference to Register.

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