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Source of Title Blog

A Real Abstract of Title
by Robert Franco | 2010/04/30 |

In an earlier blog, Abstracting and the Unauthorized Practice of Law, I wrote about the differences between true abstracts and the title searches we do today.  I'm sure that many abstractors today have never even seen a real title abstract, as they were done before title insurance became prevalent in our real estate transactions.  Admittedly, until very recently, I had never seen one.  Finally, thank to friend and fellow Source of Title member, Doug Gallant, I have one to share with you.

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Although I had never seen a true abstract, they have been explained to me and I have done extensive research on abstracting laws in several states.  A part of the problem with the laws I have read is that they don't account for changes in the industry and many do not relate very well to title searching.

The reason I had never seen one of these before is that it was common for lenders to hold the copies of the abstracts while the loans were outstanding.  By the mid-1970's the lenders around here had started requiring title insurance policies and they decided the abstracts were no longer needed.  They sent letters to their borrowers offering to return their abstracts, but the ones that were not picked up were destroyed.  There are few still in existence today.

Real estate sales contracts used to require either a title insurance policy or a continued abstract.  By the early-1980's title insurance was so prevalent that they dropped the option for a continued abstract.  At least around here, abstracting was completely replaced by title searching.

The abstract Doug provided is for his property (click here to view a PDF copy)It is only through July 14, 1953, 7:00am, but it is a whopping 103 pages!  One of the first things I noticed is that only 6 of those pages are copies - the rest are typed abstracts of the various documents affecting title.

The detail and completeness of the abstract is amazing.  It starts with Section 1, describing the property.  Section 2 contains the starting point of the search - Federal Acts dating back to June 1st 1796 creating the United States Military Lands, filed in Vol. 1, page 490.

Section 4 is the Patent Deed from President John Adams to John Dunlap, signed and sealed May 14, 1800, for 4,000 acres.

In pursuance of the Act of Congress passed on the first day of June 1796, entitled "An Act regulating the grants of land appropriated for Military Service and for the society of the United Brethren for propagating Gospel among the Heathen"... there is granted unto the Reverend John Dunlap a certain tract of land estimated to contain 4000 acres being the third quarter of the second township in the eighteenth range of the tract appropriated...

I'm no history major, but I'm assuming that these lands might have been given to the reverend to help him in his mission to convert the native Americans to Christianity.  You wouldn't see this in a title search today!

Sections 5 and 6 are deeds.  Notice that they both indicate that the deeds contain "two witnesses."  Ohio required both two witnesses and an acknowledgment before a notary public until February 2002 when the legislature eliminated the witness requirement to better protect lenders and title companies.  This is something we do not note on our title searches today (others might, however); instead, we only note a defect if witnesses (on pre-2002 documents) or the acknowledgment is deficient.

The abstract also indicates the consideration; $4,000 in 1802 and $5,000 in 1803 for 4,000 acres.  Remember the days when real estate used to appreciate... hopefully we will see that again soon.

The deeds also mention the wives - "Wife separately examined and still satisfied," presumably in recognition of dower.  Ohio is currently one of only a handful of states that still has dower rights for spouses.

These, and the various deeds that follow, also make specific mention of the grant language to indicate the warranties, if any, that are conveyed.  Today, we only identify the type of deed that was used, e.g. Warranty Deed, Quit Claim Deed, etc.  Of course, we do point out defects... such as when a Warranty Deed form is used but the warranty clause is marked out (yes... it does happen and it is important to note).

Section 16 references the first mortgage on the property in 1803 for $150.  It also notes that the record was burned and one of the subsequent sections also mentions "and never re-recorded." 

Another mortgage at Section 27 indicates that it was "not satisfied of record."  Today, these are the only mortgages we would show on a title search.  And this one would have been omitted because it would be considered "out by time."  In Ohio, mortgages are only good for 21 years plus the life of the loan.  If no due date is indicated, it is only good for 21 years from its filing.  At the time this abstract was prepared this mortgage was 147 years old and it was still shown!

Sections 28 through 37 reference probate records.  The various orders of the probate court are set out in great detail.  This case was more than 140 back in the chain of title when the abstract was prepared!  How far back do you pull probate cases today? 

Sections 36 and 37 mention that no probate records were found for Eliza Wiley, deceased.  But, "to aid the examiner," the abstractor lists the heirs of Jedediah Lewis "as they appear from recitals in the various deeds from said heirs."

In section 47, the abstractor pointed out a discrepancy between the signature and the typed names in the document.  The deed was signed by William B. Bickett, but "appears as 'William W. Bickett' throughout deed and acknowledgment.  This is the kind of thing that we would note today, but probably not when it appears 82 years back in the chain of title.

An affidavit from 1924 was abstracted to explain that Mr. Bickett was unmarried on October 23, 1871 when he quit-claimed the property.  I like to see that people actually used to fix title problems, even when they were 53 years old.  Today, I'm sure this would have been ignored - even much more recent problems are simply insured over and uncorrected.  That is a shame.

Sections 58 through 64 are for mortgages and the abstractor noted in detail how and when they were released; "the conditions of the within mortgage have been complied with, we hereby cancel and release the same..."  As I mentioned, released mortgages, generally, are not included in a modern title search.

To see how foreclosure cases used to be abstracted, take a look at sections 66 through 72.  These sections set out in great detail the claims and cross-claims, service, and judgment entries of the court.

The property was eventually sold to a corporation, as evidenced by section 74.  Sections 76 through 78 set forth the articles of incorporation, certificate of subscription and certificate of payment of common capital stock of High-Gay Realty Company

Sections 84 and 85 are for a partial release of mortgage.  The majority of the language from the document has been painstakingly abstracted so that the examiner can make a determination as to its legal effect. 

Sections 90 through 92 abstract recorded restrictions.  Again, it isn't just a copy and note to "see attached."  The abstractor abstracted the pertinent parts of the document for the examiner.

Section 93, is an easement for electric lines.  Again, all pertinent parts have been abstracted.

In section 94 the abstractor included a deed for 0.682 acres deeded to the Village of Worthington, "for reference only."

Section 96 is an ordinance dedicating land "to the public use as a street."  This is the land mentioned "for reference only" in a deed to the village.

A divorce action was abstracted in sections 104 through 110.  The abstractor included sections for the petition, service, a military affidavit stating that the "defendant is not in the military service," the decree and the separation agreement. 

Sections 124 through 133 contain what appear to be standard disclaimers or exceptions.  For example, there are "no unsatisfied mechanic's liens, unexpired leases, uncancelled notices of federal, state or personal tax liens of record," "no unsatisfied foreign executions," "no examination made in any U.S. court, nor U.S. marshal's office," etc.  Also included is the tax information with the amount due ($1.81 per half) and the payments made.

At the very end of the abstract is the certification:

I hereby certify that the forgoing Abstract of Title, consisting of 133 sections was collated by me from the records of Franklin County, Ohio, and I believe the same contains every instrument of record in said County, in any way affecting said premises, as shown by the respective indexes of said records.

Respectfully submitted,

/s/ Bruce A. Lowman, Attorney at Law

Dated July 14, 1953: 7:00AM

No. L-642

I find the certification particularly interesting.  In some of the states that still have abstracting laws on the books, they require some form of certification by the abstractor.  A "certified abstract" is admissible in a court of law as evidence of title.  Title searches, today, do not generally contain a certification like this.  It seems more common to include a disclaimer of liability, rather than an affirmative statement like this one. 

I find this abstract very impressive.  It is incredibly detailed, and remember that it only includes 6 copies out of 103 pages!  The remainder was abstracted from the documents by the abstractor.

I can only imagine how many pages this abstract would be if had been continued to present day.  How many times might the property have sold and been refinanced since 1953?  How many judgments, divorces, foreclosures, estates, leases, and easements might have been included?  With the refinance boom of the 1990's it would take an incredible amount of time to produce something of this character and it would go back 214 years!

I hope this gives everyone a greater appreciation for abstracting.  It has certainly been enlightening for me to read through.  This example, although only complete through 1953, contains a good sample of many title issues.  There are deeds, mortgages, easements, corporate documents, foreclosures, estates, restrictions, corrective affidavits, etc.  It contains a little bit of everything to see how abstracting was done in "the old days."

Robert A. Franco


Categories: Abstractors

2570 words | 38839 views | 9 comments | log in or register to post a comment


I also have a copy of my Abstract from when I purchased my property back in 1990. It's been a long time since I've looked at it, but I do remember it being quite detailed and many pages long. During the past couple years while doing Post-Foreclosure Root of Title Searches, I have run into some copies of Abstracts that had been filed in the Recorder's Offices when a Plat was done and the Abstract was referenced with the platting. With the Root Searches, I also had to try to obtain copies of the Land Patents when available. I found all this to be very intriguing and a great learning experience about the history of our lands.



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by Ron McPherson | 2010/04/30 | log in or register to post a reply


I started doing title work in the early 70's & all abstracts were handwritten & incredibly detailed (although not as detailed as this).  We used tracing paper for plans & always included a sketch plan of locus at the front of the abstract.  A 50 year title might take 2 or 3 days, a subdivision a week or so.  There weren't any copiers in the Registry so everything had to be done by hand.  Closings were only scheduled after the abstract had been submitted to the closing attorney, he had reviewed it, & had started to clear any title issues.  As an aside I can remember that the firm I worked for was the first in the city to hire a woman attorney - you could have heard a pin drop the day she walked through the door. 

by Leigh Attridge | 2010/05/01 | log in or register to post a reply

Only seen one once

One of my college instructors brought one in to show the class. It was an older one, a HUGE book  beautifully bound in leather. 

It must of been nice to once be able to do searches, without the '24 hour turn around' request most folks have now days. 

Other benefit of those extended search.... It couldnt be outsourced to data farms or overseas searchers.

Like everything its quality vs quantity.  And banks learned they could make more money by ignoring quality.. and focusing only on the quantity. 

Everyone claims to be focused on quality... but any abstractor who pumps out 5+ searches a day, covering multiple counties, or charges 40 bucks a search, one may have to question how much quality are you really giving?

As OCD as I am, I think I would of preferred working 3 days on a 50 year search... given enough time to look at everything multiple times and to cover everything from every angle.

by Kacy Howland | 2010/05/03 | log in or register to post a reply


As title companies in California have slowly consolidated operations from 58 counties into a single facility, or two at  most, they have each taken stacks and boxes of old abstracts and shredded them.  A few of the firms warehoused some in the Los Angeles area, but more often than not, giant trash bins were backed up to their old title plant's back doors and the old abstracts became rubbish.  They had long discontinued providing abstracts, so most were used solely for reference purposes, and even then, rarely at that, as the old ARB books teneded to provide the historical chain of title matters necessary to provide insurable title.

A few First American abstracts were rescued by us and by a few other researchers in San Mateo County.  They are beautifully bound, wonderfully written and clearly grand pieces of history.

I've long advocated that we ditch our laser printers and go back to using calligraphy on parchment rolls to do abstracts, but my business partners are not Keebler gnomes and have threatened to unionize the other slave laborers, so I always back off.  ;)


by William Pattison | 2010/05/03 | log in or register to post a reply

Abstract Nostalgia

As a former abstractor (meaning one who prepared and certified abstracts of title) I enjoyed reading this article. During the 1980's discounts were given on title insurance orders known as an abstract surrender credit.  The exchange created a giant storage problem since the abstract had to be maintained in the title folder.  Some of the abstracts had over 1000 pages.  The abstract went back to the original government entry followed by the land patent. Each time the property was sold or mortgaged the abstract was extended and recertified.  The abstract was the property of the owner, but the bank would hold the abstract and attorney opinion of title in its file until the mortgage was satisfied.  It was very labor intensive and everyone involved in the process was highly skilled. (searcher, typist and abstractor).  Our title agency always gave top hiring priority to anyone who had abstract experience.  This was before computers and the typists would have to type out the legal description at least once every time the abstract was posted and had at least one carbon copy.  So any mistakes had to be corrected on all copies.  Any matter that affected the real estate which appeared of record had to be abstracted.  If an owner conveyed interests affecting properties he owned on adjoining land, those conveyances were shown for reference.  The State Bar set the minimum standards for abstracts of title. Any attorney who representated a bank had a good income stream from the abstract opinions of title.  I have a hand written abstract which I saved. It has a certificaton dated 1856.  

by James Newberry | 2010/05/07 | log in or register to post a reply

Thank you, James.

Thank you, James.  I am glad you enjoyed my blog.  I appreciate you sharing your experiences with abstracts.  If you don't mind, please tell us what state you are in.

by Robert Franco | 2010/05/08 | log in or register to post a reply


I am in Wisconsin.

by James Newberry | 2010/05/14 | log in or register to post a reply

In regards to your paragraph about San Mateo County


I used to do title searches in San Mateo County, and I remember quite vividly how hard those chain of title books used to be to read.  But what really kept me interested, was the fact that I could go way back into the 1800's.  One of the reasons I used to just love doing title, was the research and the chain of events that would lead to the now, or I should say the "then". I started in the title business in 1983 and just couldn't yank myself away.  It's really sad to see the majority of the people I used to work with and the ones I knew at other title companies just by phone, that the majority of our work nowoutsourced to India.  There's less than a handfull of people that I know that are actually still employed with Title Companies.  Sad, huh?


by Jeanne Mendes | 2010/05/18 | log in or register to post a reply

Are you still doing abstracts?
I am looking for someone in CA to help 
by Kathy Stewart | 2020/02/27 | log in or register to post a reply
Source of Title Blog

Robert A. FrancoThe focus of this blog will be on sharing my thoughts and concerns related to the small title agents and abstractors. The industry has changed dramatically over the past ten years and I believe that we are just seeing the beginning. As the evolution continues, what will become of the many small independent title professionals who have long been the cornerstone of the industry?

Robert A. Franco



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