The latest on real estate recordings and new technology from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell
Three Lowell High School Interns paid by the Lowell Career Center finished their employment at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds last Wednesday. The assignment I gave them was straightforward and clear…”actuately scan as many of our old records books as possible”.
Here is a little context…Before July we had one volunteer employee scanning these books and one full time employee preparing them to be scanned. During a normal week these two working (without interruption) would scan 20-25 books.
Truthfully, the prep work for these old books is far worse than the scanning.
When the interns arrived our permanent employees we working on record book number 500, moving backwards. Scanning 20 books a week meant the project still had rough another six months before completion.
Today there are 250 books left to scan. In a short five weeks these student workers finished 50% of the project (250 books)…we couldn’t be happier.
It is difficult in the summer to make significant progress in long-term projects. This is mainly due to employee vacation schedules, so the accomplishment by these interns was a welcome development for us.
Thanks for a great job.
This short video gives you an inside view of our Book Scanning room, some employees and the organization of the project…
Preparing the older record books for scanning is a difficult, labor intensive process. It takes as long to disassemble these books as it does to scan them. Below is a video we put together showing how we do it.
This is the first chance I’ve had to write about the new version of masslandrecords.com which was made available to the public alongside the “classic” (or existing) version of MLR. Please take some time to test drive the new MLR and suppress your natural urge to dislike it because it is unfamiliar and new. If you do give it a fair, unbiased evaluation I am confident that you will quickly discern the major improvements in the new as compared to the old.
Back in the summer of 2002, this registry was the first in the Commonwealth to convert to the ACS computer system. By Labor Day of that year, our entire electronic holdings were available online on an ACS-hosted site. After additional registries’ switched to the ACS system, masslandrecords was born and was physically moved to the Secretary of State’s Office in Boston where it has resided ever since.
From the very beginning, website users have expressed an unreserved preference for the in-registry public search terminals over the web-based search function on masslandrecords. I and my colleagues from other ACS registries have always agreed with this assessment and have been diligently working to make the website function more like the in-registry public access terminals. The new masslandrecords is the result.
Here are some of the items requested by the registers of deeds that have been included in the new masslandrecords: (1) the ability to see all names returned pursuant to a query on the screen at the same time and not just groupings of like names with the number of documents in each group as is the case on the current MLR; (2) the ability to review the data about the document and the document image on the screen at the same time; (3) the ability to easily print the search results, not just the document images; (4) the division of the search functionality into separate pages for “basic” and “advanced.” Frequent users of the registry might not see the value of this last item, but those of us who routinely answer telephone calls from members of the public who are stuck on our website know that the single biggest obstacle to the layman’s use of our website is his propensity to over-populate the search screen and thereby prevent the retrieval of the very document he’s looking for. By initially presenting only a simple name search box, we hope to avoid this kind of consumer obstacle. Full search functionality (fuller than currently exists on MLR) is available on the “search criteria” link on the upper menu bar (in other words, “search criteria” is the “advanced search” we had requested). Finally, despite the presence of links to a “basket” and a “shopping cart”, all data and images on masslandrecords will remain available at no charge. The shopping cart function is built into the system so that registries that already charge for images may continue to do so and still use the same system as everyone else.
So that’s my initial take on the masslandrecords. I think it’s a huge improvement over what we’ve had thus far.
Customers may continue to record documents here in Lowell for the Middlesex South Registry up through Friday, July 24. The Secretary of State’s office will continue to staff a modified version of the satellite office until then (it’s located in what has most recently been the Middlesex North closing room but was formerly the home of Registered Land). After July 24, all walk-in recordings for Middlesex South must be done in Cambridge.
The final closure of the satellite office is scheduled to coincide with the activation of electronic recording in Cambridge. The addition of that service will allow registry-users who are concerned about travel time to and parking expenses in Cambridge to bypass those concerns by shifting their recording methodology to electronic recording. This page of the Middlesex North website contains a summary of the e-recording process as well as points of contact for the four companies that are currently providing e-recording service in Massachusetts (contact info is duplicated below). Anyone interested in learning more about this technology should contact these companies and inquire further.
ERX – Bryan Young – (214) 887-7461 – Bryan.Young@acs-inc.com
Simplifile - Erik Blomquist - (800) 460-5657 - Erik@simplifile.com
Ingeo – Greg Brown – (770) 643-9920 – email@example.com
Stewart Title – Mike Agen – (800) 732-5113 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Although a Middlesex South Satellite Recording Office still exists in Lowell, it is under the management of the Secretary of State’s Office and is currently only scheduled to stay open until Middlesex South activates its electronic recording system (which is expected to occur on or about July 24, 2009). The version of the Satellite Office that was operated by the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds since July 1, 2003 is now closed, having recorded its last document this past Tuesday, June 30, 2009. While a more detailed account of that office’s history will be forthcoming, here are some interesting statistics:
During its six years of existence, the Satellite Office recorded 237,781 documents, an average of 39,630 per year which was 14% of the Cambridge registry’s annual recordings.
The Satellite Office collected $62,455,051 in revenue
The busiest single day was the last day of August of 2003 when 902 documents were recorded.
This past Tuesday, June 30, 2009 (the last day of the Satellite Office’s operation) saw the recording of 440 documents, the highest single day recordings since the last day April of 2004.
While the Satellite Office has on average, handled 12% of all Middlesex South recordings, on the last day of the month, the Satellite Office accounted for 17% of all Middlesex South recordings.
I said I would report back on the last day of the fiscal year totals (June 30) and there is not time better than the present as Ben Franklin said, (or was it Wyclef Jean?) June 30, 2009 was a booming day for document recordings in both Middlesex North and the South Satellite Office. North recorded 484 documents and South recorded close to 450. These totals represent the highest number for both these departments since the beginning of the year. As far as North goes it was our first real test of the scan and return method of operation and, it went well. No one waited more than five minutes for a North document. Traditionally, July is the slowest month of the year…
I’ll report back again on the monthly total on the last day of July, 31 days from now.
The Secretary of State’s office has this notice on its website:
Secretary Galvin’s Office will temporarily bridge the satellite office services at the Northern Middlesex District Registry of Deeds in Lowell past July 1, 2009. Additionally, the Southern Middlesex District Registry of Deeds in Cambridge will continue its services temporarily as well. More information shall follow.
The changeover will occur tomorrow, July 1, 2009 at 8:30 a.m. Further, the Middlesex South Satellite office in Lowell will physically move to another location within the courthouse, the space currently known as the “Closing Room.”
Additional information will be posted here as it becomes available.
It is the last Friday of June and there are only two business days left until the end of the fiscal year. This has traditionally been a very busy day at the registry of deeds. So far this morning, the end of the fiscal year is living up to its reputation. It has been busy. But will it last all day? That’s the question. And we expect with the closing of the Middlesex South Satellite Office only a few days off that department will also be busy. In the past South usually gets busier in the afternoon than the morning. Lets see what happens…we’re prepared. I’ll report back on Monday.
I am a complete Twittermanic. If the originators of Twitter shaved their heads, I would too (if my wife let me). I love Twitter and think it is a communication revolution, just look at Iran. Yes, I have written about it many times on the lowelldeeds blog…to some, too many times. In my travels (this includes the three miles I live from work) I have discovered that many people are interested in using Twitter but haven’t quite figured it out yet…I found this great Twitter Tutorial on YouTube and thought it would be very helpful for newbees. It was originally posted by alienfromneptune (I know, try and ignore the name. It is a good video)…so enjoy and don’t forget, you can follow the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds on Twitter. Our user name is lowelldeeds (what esle).
Last evening, the joint conference committee of the legislature issued its report resolving differences between the House and Senate budgets. Both houses of the legislature are scheduled to vote on the conference committee report (available online here) today, so presumably we will have a state budget ready for the Governor’s signature by the end of the day. As expected, the budget contains substantial cuts across the board including a 15% reduction in this registry’s funding. While it is understandable in light of the scale of the current worldwide economic crisis, such deep cuts will have adverse consequences on our operations (such as the elimination of our Middlesex South Satellite Recording Office). Fortunately, the cuts will leave us sufficiently staffed to perform our core statutory mission which is to operate the Middlesex North District Registry of Deeds.
Besides each registry’s individual line item in the budget, the line item in the report that provides the funding for the operation of the Secretary of State’s office includes several directives by the legislature to the Secretary that directly effect the operations of the state’s registry’s of deeds. The specific items I noticed were:
2. Giving the Secretary of State the authority to transfer money appropriated for the operation of one registry to the budget of another registry; and
3. Requiring the Secretary of State no later than June 30, 2010 to issue regulations governing electronic recording of documents and requiring each registry performing electronic recording to comply with such regulations.
Several years ago we scanned all of our Registered Land documents and made them available over the Internet. The project took a lot of registry manpower and resources…but it was well worth it. In total employees scanned about 160,000 documents…pretty good, especially when you consider that each document was approximately 5 pages long…that’s around 800,000 scanned pages in total. During the project I intentionally skipped what are called Registered Land Book Form Documents…why? My philosophy concerning large projects has always been that more registry users benefit when we scan in bulk. Here is what I mean…We can scan 100 documents, each consisting of one page, in the same amount of time it takes to scan one, “one hundred” page document. I believe the probability is high that more people will use one or more of those 100 “one page” documents than will use the “100 page” document…so we held the Book Form Documents for later. These unusual documents are bound and very large. Fortunately, there are only about 90 of them, each about 150 pages long. Well, we decided that its now its time to scan these…so yesterday we scanned our first Registered Land Book Form Document. And hope to finish the rest in a month.
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.
For several years the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds has been a passport acceptance agent which means you can submit your application for a passport along with all required documentation and fees at the Registry. Today I attended a training session at the Regional Passport Office at the O’Neill Federal Building in Boston. Much of the training fell into the “unclassified but sensitive” so I won’t go into much detail. The primary duties of the acceptance agent are to gather proof of citizenship of the applicant and to positively identify the person submitting the application. The training, conducted by agency employees who brought a real world, practical approach to the lessons, was excellent. The quality of instruction plus observations made during a tour of the facility showed an efficient, well-run operation staffed with dedicated, conscientious employees performing an essential government service.
I’ve received some more information about the elevator that’s coming to the Superior Courthouse. Construction is to begin in November and should last about a year. A brick tower/enclosure for the elevator will be constructed at the site of the present side door that opens to the employee parking lot. The elevator will open on ground level and then have stops at the first floor and the second floor. Because there is no ramp between the two levels of the first floor, an elevation difference of 2.5 feet, a ramp will be constructed through several existing registry offices. The ramp will terminate in the vicinity of the current customer service counter. The elevator will not be open to the general public; just to individuals with mobility issues. The construction of this device is long overdue, nevertheless its construction will cause significant disruptions to our operations during its year long contsruction period. Consequently, spaces now used by the public might have to shrink considerably to make space for more important functions that are displaced by the construction.
While flipping through the print edition of today’s Boston Globe, the name “Mac-Gray Corporation” jumped out at me from a column in the Business section. Mac-Gray, a company primarily in the business of providing coin operated washers and driers to apartment buildings and college dorms, has also been the provider of our coin operated and administrative copiers for a number of years. More accurately, Mac-Gray purchased Copico, the company with which we initially entered into our copier contract back in 2001.
About a year ago, Mac-Gray informed us that they were getting out of the copier business entirely and that they would be in on June 30, 2009 to pick up their machines. Right now, we only have four of their copiers in operation: a coin operated machine outside the “closing room” in the rear of the building; a publicly accessible machine in with our Registered Land Certificate Books; another in the Middlesex South Satellite Office; and a fourth in our mail room which is adjacent to Customer Service. We used to have four or five others but once we took all of our record books out of public circulation, the already depressed need for coin operated copiers dropped to almost nothing.
We’ve now finalized our plans to replace these machines. We will be leasing two new copiers which should be delivered in the coming weeks. One of these copiers will be with the Registered Land Certificates – the public will have the opportunity to use this machine although the $1 per copy charge will be paid either at the Registered Land Counter or at Customer Service. The second copier will go in the mailroom. It will handle the majority of all admin copying needs. As soon as the new machines arrive, the old ones will be taken out of service and eventually be retrieved by Mac-Gray.
As for the business column about Mac-Gray; it described a fight over control of the board of directors of this surprisingly large company.
The Middlesex South Satellite Office in Lowell will close permanently on June 30, 2009. Beginning July 1, 2009, all Middlesex South documents must be recorded in Cambridge.
In light of the state’s fiscal crisis, it is clear that the FY2010 budget will substantially cut the funding for this registry. But financial concerns are not the only reason for closing the Satellite Office. The recent retirement of three of our employees has shrunken our workforce to its lowest level in history. Because of changes in the way we operate (immediately scanning and returning original documents, for instance), the recording process today is much more labor intensive at the point of contact with the customer than ever before. Consequently, continuing to operate the Satellite Office with such reduced staffing levels will degrade the quality of service provided by the Middlesex North Registry, a situation that would be completely unacceptable.
Our Back Scanning Project is going well, but slowly… We’ve run into a huge problem/issue. It relates to the disassembly of the books mainly in the 600 series. When these books were created registry employees often wrote close to the edge of the page. Now remember, we need to “chop” the binding off these books and then “cut” off the remaining glue and thread. The problem is removing the binding and glue without removing any characters along the tight edge. This is no easy task…in fact, we’ve had to stop using our heavy duty “book cutter”. Instead we have switched to a large “paper cutter” whose blade we can pinpoint for precise and accuracy. Trust me it takes a great deal of patients and a surgical eye. I’ve done it…of course, we’ve had the unfortunate experience of cutting a little too close and removing some of the letters. What do we do then? We painstakingly tape the cut strips containing the letters back on to the pages. Even with this obstacle we are still re-scanning 100 books a week. And I’m happy with that.
At the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds, the Grantor and Grantee Indexes from 1976 to the present are available in a single, searchable computer database that is fully available on the registry’s website (www.lowelldeeds.com). Although Indexes from 1629 to 1975 are not yet on the internet, they are available as “electronic index books” at the registry.
These “electronic index books” were created by scanning the original paper index books and saving the resulting images in the PDF format. We have retained the original date ranges of the indexes (for example, 1916-1925; 1926-1940) but within each date range, we have separated the pages of the index into separate files based on the first letter of the last name.
Because some of the letter files are more than 1000 pages long, we have created a sub-index at the beginning of each file. This sub-index is a spreadsheet that contains the first name on each page of that letter file along with the corresponding page number. By finding the name closest to the one of interest to you and using the “go to” function in the PDF program, you can jump to the area where your name is located. Once there, you can use the forward and back arrow buttons to flip through pages just as you would with the printed/bound index book.
We have now established a pilot program to test the market for selling these indexes to our customers. We have purchased a number of 16 gigabyte flash drives and have copied the entire 1629-1975 Grantor and Grantee Indexes onto each. Customers may purchase one of these flash drives by coming to the registry in person and paying $50 (we can only take checks payable to “Commonwealth of Massachusetts” as payment). Once you have purchased one of our flash drives, you may copy the data to one or more computers and use it however you wish. It is not our intent to make a profit on these transactions: the $50 just covers the cost of purchasing the blank flash drives. We haven’t given up on getting all this data onto our website; it’s just taking much longer than we had hoped. These individualized copies of the index should serve as a useful bridge to the time when a web-based solution is available.
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