The latest on real estate recordings and new technology from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell
Homeowners often contact us asking us how they might determine the year in which their homes were constructed. Here’s an inquiry I received yesterday by email:
Hi. A fellow old-home owner in Lowell referred me to your website as a good source of historical info about our house. When I do a search on the address, I only see info going back to 1990. I’m looking for info back to 1890! Does the system contain old info? I’m trying to determine the actual year the house was built. I’ve seen conflicting dates on various documents, from 1860, to 1880, to 1905, to even 1917!
Here’s my reply:
All of the land ownership documents (deeds, mortgages, etc) going back to 1629 are available on our website (www.lowelldeeds.com) although they are in several places, depending on their age. The more recent ones are on masslandrecords.com while the older ones - before 1950 - are on www.lowelldeeds.com. Unfortunately, the name index used to find these documents only goes back to 1976 online. We have it all the way back to 1629 but that’s only available here at the registry. It is in electronic form, however, and if you bring in a 16 gigabyte flash drive (also known as a “thumb drive”) we will give you a copy at no charge. The files for the index are so large that we have not yet been able to get them on the internet.
More to your inquiry, records here at the registry of deeds are primarily concerned with who owns the land and not what is built upon the land, so nothing we have would tell you precisely when your home was built. The best you can do with our records is draw inferences from the various deeds and other documents. For instance, if someone bought the property for $1000 and a year later sold it for $5000, you could infer that something had been built upon it in the interim.
If you decide to come to the registry to conduct your research, we’re open from 8:30 am to 4:15 pm Monday thru Friday. On whatever day you do make it to the registry, please stop by our Customer Service desk and ask for me. If I’m available, I’ll show you how to use the computers; if I’m not, just ask anyone at the Customer Service desk to help you.
Sorry I can’t be more helpful than that, but if you have any more questions, please let me know.
Happy Anniversary to Hawaii. Our fiftieth state joined the union fifty years ago today on August 21, 1959.
President John Quincy Adams has joined the ranks of Ashton Kutcher, Shaquille O’Neal and John Mc Cain. He was/is a Twitterer…or something close to one. No, unlike the modern day communcators the sixth President of the United States did not have a Blackberry or iPhone, but he did write short daily summaries of “happenings” in his diary. Adams wrote these one line diary entries for over thirty years giving accounts of trips, visits and routine occurrences. And they are so short they fit within the 140 character restriction of Twitter. The Massachusetts Historical Society has come up with great idea that will bring these summaries/tweets to the public. The society created a JQAdams_MHS Twitter account and each day beginning August 5 they will publish one of these short diary entries as a tweet. This morning I signed up to follow the president. You can do the same here.
Tomorrow is Bunker Hill Day. This registry will be open during our normal hours. Despite all of the negative publicity that now surrounds this particular “holiday”, the Battle of Bunker Hill is worth remembering. To place it in context, the fight at Lexington and Concord occurred on April 19, 1775. In the aftermath of that British raid, thousands of colonial militia gathered outside of Boston and laid siege to the city. During the overnight hours of June 13, 1775, American forces occupied Breed’s Hill which was to the northwest of Boston and separated from the city by water. When the British discovered the colonial forces present and entrenched on the hill, they set out to attack. Although some British leaders recommended landing a force to the rear of the American positions and thereby cutting off any chance of retreat, the British commander, General William Howe, decided that a frontal attack was more appropriate under the circumstances. This they did on June 17, 1775. The first two British assaults were beaten back with heavy casualties and it was only after the Americans began to run out of ammunition did the British capture the position. The British suffered more than 1000 casualties, more than in any other battle during the entire Revolution, while the American casualties were 450.
Attorneys with offices in the northwestern corner of Middlesex County have been vocal in stating their displeasure with the imminent closure of the Middlesex South Satellite Office here in Lowell. Certainly the added travel time from communities such as Townsend, Pepperell and Ayer to Cambridge (as opposed to Lowell) makes their reaction understandable. Yesterday I received a very thoughtful and respectful letter from one such attorney who not only made the case for keeping the Satellite Office in operation, but also answered a longstanding question I’ve had about why communities that are in the northern-most part of the county remained in the Southern District. It turns out that when the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds was created by the state legislature back in 1855, the journey from Ayer to Lowell would have been made on horseback over dirt roads while the trip from Ayer to Cambridge would have been made in the relative comfort of a train. In the days before autos and interstate highways, the best available technology for getting documents recorded was the train to Boston. Ironically, the newest technology available today – electronic recording – makes the physical location of the recording office irrelevant since attorneys can record without ever leaving the office. And it’s not like electronic recording is some futuristic fantasy that lays far in the future. Here in Lowell it’s been a reality for the past four years and has accounted for the recording of 13,000 documents. There’s no reason why the same service shouldn’t be available to all. Given the availability of a superior technological alternative and considering the budget and staff reductions caused by the current fiscal crisis, closing the satellite office at this time remains unavoidable.
Tomorrow (Saturday, May 9) at 10 am, Catherine Goodwin, the author of Mourning Glory: The Story of the Lowell Cemetery will give a free guided tour of one of the Lowell Cemetery, one of the city’s most picturesque places. The tour will begin at the cemeteries Lawrence Street gate. The Lowell Cemetery was incorporated in 1841 and was inspired by Cambridge’s Mt Auburn Cemetery, the first garden-style cemetery in the United States. Overlooking the Concord River, the Lowell Cemetery features many acres of rolling hills and tree lined avenues and an amazing collection of Victorian-era grave markers, more commonly called “cemetery art.”
Like the land records we maintain here at the registry of deeds, our local cemeteries allow people of today to connect with those who have come before us. Given the number of people who contact me about obtaining copies of deeds to homes owned by long-deceased ancestors, the desire to learn more about the family’s past is as strong as ever.
Last Friday May 1 was Law Day. At the Lowell Superior Courthouse there were various happenings including speeches, an essay contest and tours of the historic building.
T0morrow is Law Day which was established by President Eisenhower in 1958 in contrast to the Soviet Union’s “May Day” which was a demonstration of that country’s military might. Law Day was intended to publicize this country’s respect for the rule of law. Tomorrow at noon here at the Middlesex Superior Court, there will be a ceremony sponsored by the Greater Lowell Bar Association that will feature speeches by public and judicial officials, a student essay contest and entertainment by the Lowell High School choir. Also, the colors will be presented by the Lowell High School Air Force Junior ROTC color guard which regularly performs that task at important Red Sox games such as opening day and the World Series. Earlier in the day, beginning at 10 a.m., there will be guided tours of the Superior Courthouse that will focus on the building’s architecture and history. All are welcome to attend.
The cover story in the latest Time Magazine examines the ongoing transformation of America from a “consumer culture” to a “culture of thrift” and suggests that this society-wide adjustment in attitudes about spending and consuming will rival the one that took place during the Great Depression. This has some relevance to the Registry of Deeds and those in the real estate industry. When the current recession began back in December 2007, home equity loans accounted for 10% of all consumer spending in the country. In other words, people were spending considerably more than they were earning on new cars, college tuition, vacations and other consumer items. The Time article says that such behavior has totally ceased and that the rapid decrease in the amount being spent by Americans has contributed to the severity and depth of the current economic crisis. But the article also suggests that most Americans are approaching this with resolve rather than regret, so in the longterm, at least, there’s some cause for optimism.
Here is a list of Opening Day pitchers for the Red Sox on six of the most significant years in the team’s history…
1967: Red Sox win the Pennant then lose the World Series to the St Louis Cardinals
Opening Day pitcher: Jim Lonberg, Sox beat Chicago White Sox (5-4)
1975: Red Sox win the Penant then lose the Worlds Series to the Cincinnati Reds
Opening Day Pitcher: Luis Tiant, Sox beat the Milwaukee Brewers (5-2)
1978: Red Sox lose a play off game to the Yankees losing the Pennant
Opening Day Pitcher: Mike Torrez, Sox lose to the Chicago White Sox (5-4)
1986: Red Sox win the Pennant then lose the World Series to the New York Mets
Opening Day Pitcher: Bruce Hurst, Sox lose to Detroit Tigers (8-2)
2004: Red Sox win the World Championship
Opening Day Pitcher: Pedro Martinez, Sox lose to the Baltimore Orioles (10-5)
2007: Red Sox win the World Championship
Opening Day Pitcher: Curt Schilling Sox lose to the Kansas City Royals (14-3)
2009: Red Sox ?????
Opening Day Pitcher: Josh Beckett
From the archives of museumhoaxes.com here is a list of my favorite five April Fools Pranks…
I’ve got to put big quotes mark around these, I took them directly from the Museum of Hoaxes:
And I Quote!
2008: The BBC announced that camera crews filming near the Antarctic for its natural history series Miracles of Evolution had captured footage of Adélie penguins taking to the air. It even offered a video clip of these flying penguins, which became one of the most viewed videos on the internet. Presenter Terry Jones explained that, instead of huddling together to endure the Antarctic winter, these penguins took to the air and flew thousands of miles to the rainforests of South America where they “spend the winter basking in the tropical sun.” A follow-up video explained how the BBC created the special effects of the flying penguins.
1998: Burger King published a full page advertisement in USA Today announcing the introduction of a new item to their menu: a “Left-Handed Whopper” specially designed for the 32 million left-handed Americans. According to the advertisement, the new whopper included the same ingredients as the original Whopper (lettuce, tomato, hamburger patty, etc.), but all the condiments were rotated 180 degrees for the benefit of their left-handed customers. The following day Burger King issued a follow-up release revealing that although the Left-Handed Whopper was a hoax, thousands of customers had gone into restaurants to request the new sandwich. Simultaneously, according to the press release, “many others requested their own ‘right handed’ version.”
1996: The Taco Bell Corporation announced it had bought the Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. Hundreds of outraged citizens called the National Historic Park in Philadelphia where the bell was housed to express their anger. Their nerves were only calmed when Taco Bell revealed, a few hours later, that it was all a practical joke. The best line of the day came when White House press secretary Mike McCurry was asked about the sale. Thinking on his feet, he responded that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold. It would now be known, he said, as the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.
1992: National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation program announced that Richard Nixon, in a surprise move, was running for President again. His new campaign slogan was, “I didn’t do anything wrong, and I won’t do it again.” Accompanying this announcement were audio clips of Nixon delivering his candidacy speech. Listeners responded viscerally to the announcement, flooding the show with calls expressing shock and outrage. Only during the second half of the show did the host John Hockenberry reveal that the announcement was a practical joke. Nixon’s voice was impersonated by comedian Rich Little
1985: Sports Illustrated published a story about a new rookie pitcher who planned to play for the Mets. His name was Sidd Finch, and he could reportedly throw a baseball at 168 mph with pinpoint accuracy. This was 65 mph faster than the previous record. Surprisingly, Sidd Finch had never even played the game before. Instead, he had mastered the “art of the pitch” in a Tibetan monastery under the guidance of the “great poet-saint Lama Milaraspa.” Mets fans celebrated their teams’ amazing luck at having found such a gifted player, and Sports Illustrated was flooded with requests for more information. In reality this legendary player only existed in the imagination of the author of the article, George Plimpton.
Do you subscribe to Mass Moments? Its a very interesting website. Every day Mass Moments sends an email detailing a historical event that took place in Massachusetts on that day in history. I love it.
I found today’s Mass Moment especially interesting…“March 23, 1948: Kerouac Writes First Novel”.
This Mass Moment brought an old memory back to me.
In college I earned my Master Degree in American Literature. Strangely, I actually read the other Beat Generation Poets (Ginsburg, Corso, Ferlinghetti) more than Kerouac. But there is no question amongst this group “Jack” was the man. In the early 1970’s while in college I saw Allen Ginsburg and Gregory Corso on stage with several other poets…I can’t remember their names but one might have been Ferlinghetti. Ginsburg, who had recently broken his leg, sat with his casted leg stretched out playing an accordion and monotonously chanting Buddhist hymns . Corso sat beside Ginsburg taking large, frequent swigs from a bottle of bourbon. He was plastered by the end of the night. The “colorful” language they used on stage amazed me. I wasn’t offended, but I had never heard “celebrities” talk like that before. And talk they did…they talked about poetry and they talked about life. At the time I was twenty years old and this group was the wildest thing I had seen. Kerouac was dead at the time, (he died in 1969) but he was the center of a great deal of the conversation. At one time Corso looked at Ginsburg and said “You know Allan, Jack killed himself”, a reference to Kerouac’s drinking. This certainly was an ironic statement coming from a man guzzling bourbon straight from a bottle.
By the way the Kerouac novel Mass Moments is referring to is The Town and the City…You can sign up for Mass Moments here…
Happy Birthday to Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. Amazingly, these two giants in history not only share the same birthday, they were born on the exact same day - February 12, 1809 - making today the 200th anniversary of their births.
On a related note, remember that the registry of deeds will be closed this coming Monday, February 16, 2009, in recognition of President’s Day.
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.
Every so often someone informs me that I should properly be called “registrar of deeds” and not “register of deeds.” An email of this type arrived overnight. Here’s a redacted version of it along with my reply:
Dear Mr. Howe,
I’m somewhat of a word buff (I know it’s nerdy but I can’t help it). Anyway, I have noticed that most ROD sites, including yours, note that the Registrar of Deeds is a Register of Deeds. You, sir, are a Registrar, not a Register. Might want to fix that on your web site!
a book in which records of acts, events, names, etc., are kept.
a list or record of such acts, events, etc.
a person who keeps a record; an official recorder.
Here’s my reply:
Thank you for your email and your interest in the registry of deeds. Your concern about our use of the term “register of deeds” would be better addressed to the state legislature. If you consult Massachusetts General Laws chapter 36, titled “Registers of Deeds” you will see that none of that chapter’s forty sections contain the term “registrar of deeds” but uniformly refer to the office as “register of deeds.”
You are not the first person to bring this apparent error to my attention. I have intended to research the origin of the usage of “register” with relation to the office I hold; perhaps your email will provide the needed motivation.
In the meantime, I can only fall back on a quote from US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who, in disagreeing with a litigant who used the standard meaning of a word to promote his argument, said the decision of the court rested “on an interpretation of language by its traditional use . . . Upon this point a page of history is worth a volume of logic.” In other words, we’ve always done it this way and will continue to do so, even if it makes no sense.
Robert Frost, New England’s famed poet died 45 years ago today. Frost was born in California but spent the majority of his life in New England. He graduated from Lawrence High School and taught there for a time. Frost won four Pulitzer Prizes during his career. In 1960 Frost wrote a poem for the inauguration of the newly elected president, John Kennedy. The glare of the sun prevented Frost from seeing the words on his paper that day. The poetic icon scrapped the commemorative poem and recited another from memory (The Gift Outright). Below is the poem Frost intended to read on that cold January day that began the “Camelot” years. The poem is called Dedication
Summoning artists to participate
In the August occasions of the state
Seems something artists ought to celebrate.
Today is for my cause a day of days.
And his be poetry’s old fashion praise
Who was the first to think of such a thing.
This verse that in acknowledgement I bring
Goes back to the beginning of the end
Of What had been for centuries the trend;
A turning point in modern History.
Colonial had been the thing to be
As long as the great issue was to see
What country’d be the one to dominate
By character, by tongue, by native trait,
The new world Christopher Columbus found.
The French, the Spanish, and the Dutch were downed
And counted out. Hero’s deeds were done.
Elizabeth the First and England won.
Now came on a new order of ages
That in Latin of our founding sages
(Is it not written on the dollar bill
We carry in our purse and pocket still?)
God nodded his approval of as good.
So much those heroes knew and understood,
I mean the great four, Washington,
John Adams, Jefferson and Madison
So much they saw as consecrated seers
They must have seen ahead what not appears,
They would bring empires down about our ears
And by example of our Declaration
Make everybody want to be a nation.
And this is no aristocratic joke
At the expense of negligible folk.
We see how seriously the races swarm
In their attempts at sovereignty and form.
They are for our wards we think to some extent
For the time being with their consent,
To teach them how Democracy is meant.
“New order of the ages” did they say?
If it looks none too orderly today,
“Tis a confusion it was ours to start
So in it have to take courageous part.
No one of honest feeling would approve
A ruler who pretended not to love
A turbulence he had better of.
Everyone knows the glory of the twin
Who gave America the aeroplane
To ride the whirlwind and the hurricane.
Some poor fool has been saying in his heart
Glory is out of date in life and art.
Our venture in revolution and outlawry
Has justified itself in freedom’s story
Right down to now in glory upon glory.
Come fresh from an election like the last,
The greatest vote a people ever cast,
So close yet sure to be abided by,
It is no miracle our mood is high.
Courage is in the air in bracing whiffs
Better than all the stalemate an’s and if’s.
There was the book of profile tales declaring
For the emboldened politicians daring
To break with followers when in the wrong,
A healthy independence of the throng,
A democratic form of right devine
To rule first answerable to high design.
There is a call to life a little sterner,
And braver for the earner, learner, yearner.
Less criticism of the field and court
And more preoccupation with the sport.
It makes the prophet in us all presage
The glory of a next Augustan age
Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
Of young ambition eager to be tried,
Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,
In any game the nations want to play.
A golden age of poetry and power
Of which this noonday’s the beginning hour.
By Robert Frost
I just watched Governor Patrick’s “State of the Commonwealth” speech, looking for hints of what’s in store for us in the coming months. While it was a good speech, it just presented very broad policy proposals and no real specifics. He did say that by the end of the month he will submit to the legislature his plan to close the current years’ $1.1 billion deficit AND his proposed FY2010 budget. Those are two documents we should all be anxious to see.
One of the many disputes now playing out in the search for an effective means of stimulating the economy out of its current black hole is whether to devote more money to easing the freeze in the credit markets by giving it directly to major financial institutions (as the first $350 billion allocated by Congress was employed) or to do more to assist homeowners who are either facing imminent foreclosure or who are one missed paycheck away from foreclosure because the balance of their existing mortgages exceed the current value of their homes. On the “George Stephanopoulos” show this past Sunday, President-elect Obama seemed to prefer an approach that aided homeowners. He talked about the need to use federal funds to get people into more affordable, more sustainable mortgages. In a speech today, however, chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke said that while such short term measures would be politically popular, they would not address the fundamental problems that are holding our economy back. Only by freeing up the credit markets can we hope to have a real recovery. He suggested that much more than the $700 billion already appropriated will be needed to accomplish that.
Willam Zantzinger is dead…
Bob Dylan & William Zantzinger
William Zantzinger found infamy as the subject of a Bob Dylan song written in 1963. The song chronicles the murder of a barmaid named Hattie Carroll by Zantzinger and the racial bias of the lenient sentence. It is titled “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”. In 1963 the year of the murder Zantzinger was a rich, 24 year old tobacco farmer. On the night of Feb 8 he wore a top hat and carried a cane as he attended a ball at the Emerson Hotel in Baltimore.
William Zantzinger, who at twenty four years
Owns a tobacco farm of six hundred acres
As the party progressed Zantzinger became drunker and drunker. He approached the bar and ordered a drink from Hattie Carroll who was working that night. In the eyes of Zantzinger Carroll took much to long to serve him. The impatient drunk repeatedly hit her with his cane until she ran into the kitchen.
William Zantzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger
At a Baltimore hotel society gath’rin’.
Immeditely after the beating Hattie Carroll told co-workers that she felt very sick. She was taken to the hospital by ambulance. Zantzinger was arrested for the beating but let out on $600 bail.
With rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him
And high office relations in the politics of Maryland,
Reacted to his deed with a shrug of his shoulders
And swear words and sneering, and his tongue it was snarling
In a matter of minutes on bail was out walking.
The next morning, Feb 9, 1963 the 51 year old Hattie Carroll died of stroke. And authorities changed the charge against Zantzinger to murder.
Hattie Carroll was a maid in the kitchen.
She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children
Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane
That sailed through the air and came down through the room,
Doomed and determined to destroy all the gentle.
And she never done nothing to William Zantzinger.
Zantzinger’s defense was simple…the stroke that killed Hattie could not have been caused by the blow of a cane alone. There must have been some other underlining medical condition that contributed to her death. This argument resonated with the judge and the charges against Zanzinger were reduced to manslaughter. Within a few months Zantzinger was convicted and sentenced to six months in jail.
In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show all’s equal and the courts are on the level
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished,
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance,
William Zantzinger with a six month sentence.
I wonder how Bob Dylan reacted when he saw Willam Zantzingers obituary?
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