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Real Estate Deeds History

Ownership of real property in the United States is transferred from one person to another using a legal instrument called a deed. Documenting ownership in this manner creates a chain of title that optimally traces all record owners back to the original transfer from the government. Because this is not always possible, most states include a statute regarding marketable record title, defining the number of years (usually 20-50) that a chain of title must go back in order to be declared "clear." A clear chain of title is important because it significantly reduces ownership disputes and turns an ownership interest into a securable asset.

The roots of US real property laws can be traced back to the Norman conquest of England in 1066. Before deeds were in common use, land owners would transfer land through feoffment with livery of seisin, which was basically an oral exchange between the grantor and grantee, and took place on the land being conveyed. The process included a physical component wherein the grantor, with witnesses present, gave the grantee a handful of dirt or a branch from trees on the land conveyed. By 1536, the Statute of Uses allowed for conveyance to take place with a written instrument, and in 1677, the Statute of Frauds mandated that all real property transfers must be in writing.

In the United States, land ownership began with land grants from England that formed the basis for the 13 original colonies. After the American Revolutionary War, new federal government owned the land in the 13 colonies. At this time, the first land patents were issued. From there, when patent holders sold their interest in a specific parcel of real estate, they issued a deed containing details about the land, the former owners, the new owners, and other information as required by local laws. The deeds were recorded and indexed, entering them into the public record.