Monday, December 12, 2005

LowellDeeds Blog has moved

This should be the last post to the Blogger interface for the LowellDeeds Blog. We've completed our transition to a new blog interface that's an integral part of our website. All prior postings from here have been successfully imported into the new blog although we are still fine-tuning its appearance and functionality. If you have this blog bookmarked or stored in your "favorites," please change the link to which is our new home. Thanks to Blogger for the wonderful service it provides.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

New Blog Format

Thank you to our readers for your patience over the past few days. We've been transitioning to new software for our blog. The new format will provide many new features and will allow us to categorize our postings, so if you're interested in electronic recording, for example, you need only click on the "electronic recording" category and all postings pertinent to that topic will display regardless of when they were posted. There's still some fine tuning to be done, but it might be live as early as tomorrow. If not then, we'll unveil it early next week. If you'd like a peek at it, follow this link - - but remember, it's still under construction.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

1630-1855 Records

The Middlesex North Registry of Deeds opened its doors in July of 1855. Prior to that all records for our ten communities (Billerica, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Dracut, Dunstable, Lowell, Tewksbury, Tyngsborough, Westford, Wilmington) were held in the Middlesex Registry of Deeds in Cambridge (we now call this registry Middlesex South). When Middlesex North opened, these records were copied by hand and sent to the new registry here in Lowell. These old “Middlesex South” records contain documents from 1630 to 1855. Recently we began to explore possible ways of digitizing these records and making them available both on the Internet and CDs. Their value to genealogists and historians particularly can’t be overstated. They are organized in an unconventional manner for registry records. The records consist of thirty-eight index books (Grantor & Grantee) and 244 “record books". The record books are organized and labeled according to “town”. So if you were looking for a deed from John Trull to John Kittredge on a parcel of land in Tewksbury you look in the main index for the title reference but would find the deed in a “Tewksbury Record Book”. Each town’s books start with “one” and the series usually contains about twenty books. Lowell is the exception; it has eighty books. We estimate that these records consist of approximately 150,000 images. We will keep you informed on developments regarding scanning these historical records.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Lowell Sun Reports on Foreclosures

The Lowell Sun ran a front page above-the-fold story today on rising foreclosure rates in the greater Lowell area, a topic we have frequently visited on our blog (full disclosure: I was interviewed for the story and am quoted in it) . While showing that the numbers are up significantly as compared to last year (Lowell’s foreclosures are up by 18%, Tewksbury’s by 22%, Dracut’s by 25% and Westford’s by 69%), the story also explained the dilemma facing many homeowners. Taking advantage of historically low interest rates and greatly relaxed lending practices, many folks have acquired homes by financing almost the entire purchase price. Others, who bought homes when prices were lower, have exploited the increased value of their homes by repeatedly refinancing, each time drawing out more and more cash. The problem with both of these situations is that heavily-leveraged homeowners have no equity cushion – they owe an amount that is almost equal to the value of the home. If they get laid off or suffer a medical setback or some similar bad event, they might be able to sell the house and receive enough money in return to pay back the amount owed on the mortgage. But what happens when the value of the property goes down? Unfortunately, the amount owed is not reduced proportionately, so the homeowner finds himself owing more than the house is worth. If he’s forced to sell, he must come up with additional money to pay of the balance of the mortgage. Realistically, most people don’t have this kind of money in savings. If they did, they wouldn’t have borrowed so much in the first place. Anyway, congratulations to the Sun for writing about this important issue.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Perfect Gift

“It’s the most wonderful time of the Year” or at least it is when your holiday shopping is done….I really don’t mind the gift giving…it’s the gift “picking” that I find tough…deciding on the right gift for the right person is difficult…my wife is easy…”expennnnnsive Jewelry” but everyone else is another story… I am hoping this year will be a little easier…I purchased a subscription to the techie magazine “Wired” and happily found this month's edition loaded with gift ideas…So I have made some decisions with help from Wired

For Bill & Deb- a “Pocket Phone Excuser”…Just press the button and this device plays a doorbell ring, a baby crying, a police siren or a number of other sounds that make it easy to tell an annoying caller…“Gotta go”.

For Rich & Chris- These two love sitting by a camp fire toasting Marsh Mallows… guess what Wired has for them?…an electronic Marsh Mallow toaster…This three pronged toaster rotates Marsh Mallows rotisserie style …it’s faster than a twig(healthier too) and there is much less chance of Marsh Mallows being lost to the fire (according to the manufacturer).

For Warren & Linda- It's called “Water Talkies”… It allows you to speak clearly underwater. No more of those irritating gurgling sounds. Swimmers can hear you as clear as a bell from as far as fifteen feet away.

For Liz & Eric-a Darth Vader Voice Changer…It allows you to take command using your own words or... you can press a button and hear some of the bad guys most memorable lines...”Luke, I am you stop arguing with me”.

Lena & Frank- The “Drivers Anti-Doze Alert”… This device rests on your head and senses shifts in the angle of your head. Nod too much and the darn thing screeches at you…"wake-up!" Thank you Wired...this is perfect for these two.

Henry (the family dog)…It’s a ball… no it’s a Frisbee… wait its both. Just toss it into the air and it will randomly change from a Frisbee to a ball…poor Henry, he’ll never know what he is trying to catch…It doesn't matter... he thinks he's a cat anyway.

And what do I want?… A Bluetooth Snowboard Jacket… yes, “Bluetooth enabled” snow clothes (just what everyone needs)... This waterproof jacket toogles seamlessly between an MP3 player and a cellphone… the phone's speakers are mounted in the hood and the microphone is embedded in the collar. Mounted on the sleeve is a “control panel” that even has Caller ID. This same controller shuffles through songs on your iPod, also . Cleaning?…don’t worry…Just pull out the control panel and drop it in the washing machine...the remaining intregrated wiring is water proof...sure... after washing...I think I'll have Henry try it on first.

Hope this helps your quest for the perfect gift for the right person...

Friday, December 02, 2005

Population of the Northern District

Yesterday, someone asked how many people lived in the Northern District of Middlesex County. I didn’t know, but I promised to find out. First, the Northern District is made up of ten communities with the city of Lowell in the geographic center of the district and the towns of Dracut, Tewksbury, Wilmington, Billerica, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Westford, Dunstable and Tyngsborough (named clockwise, starting at twelve o’clock). According to the 2004 census estimates (which are almost identical to the actual 2000 census results, 296,947 people live in the Northern District. Here are the 2004 population figures for each town along with the percentage of the Northern District’s population represented by that town’s residents:

-Billerica – 39351 inhabitants (13% of the district’s population)
-Carlisle – 4830 inhabitants (2%)
-Chelmsford – 33769 (11%)
-Dracut – 28681 (10%)
-Dunstable – 3101 (1%)
-Lowell – 103655 (35%)
-Tewksbury – 29130 (10%)
-Tyngsborough – 11387 (4%)
-Westford – 21475 (7%)
-Wilmington – 21568 (7%)

Besides these most recent figures, I have also located US Census statistics for 1990, 1980, 1970 and 1960. Next week I’ll write some more about how the population of these communities has changed during the past 45 years.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Whole World's Watching

In case you have missed it…the Eyes of the World are on Massachusetts…Well, at least the Technology eyes. Massachusetts recently became the first state to adopt a plan for government agencies to begin storing documents in a non-proprietary format. Currently, most state computers run Microsoft software (proprietary) as does most of the world…Free "open-source" software is available online to anyone from Sun Microsystems…and it is compatible with all other office programs. This "open-source" software is called OpenDocument and offers applications such as text, spreadsheets, charts and graphical documents. Open-source is in direct competition with propriety software. If Massachusetts follows through on its plan to go open-source it means removing Microsoft Office software from tens of thousands of government computers. Governor Romney’s plan is to embrace an open-source format for state government computers in 2007. How big would this be?…well let me say this…Google News displays articles about this topic from news sources as far away as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Australia and …of course Redmond, Washington (home of Microsoft). To steal a phase from the 1960’s “the whole world’s watching”…but, it appears Microsoft is up for the battle…the computer giant has decided to seek approval for Office 12 software to be rated as an international standard. Office 12 is Microsoft’s next generation of office software due out next year. It will use a different format and be readable by other “outside” programs… in other words it will function like an open-source, non-proprietary software. Massachusetts’ decision will have a huge impact on the computer world…but for now “the whole world’s watching” …and waiting.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

New Direction for the Blog

We’re putting the final touches on the newest version of our Blog. The new version will have an entirely different appearance and will use software called WordPress. Best of all, the Blog will reside on our in-house registry server. Blogger has served us well, hosting the Blog for nearly two years at absolutely no charge to the Commonwealth, but it’s flexibility is somewhat limited. The new version of the Blog will have many additional features including a display of the titles of the most recent posts. There will also be posting categories, so if you want to read all of our comments about electronic recording, for example, you need only click on the “electronic recording” category and all the postings relevant to that topic will be displayed. This new version should appear sometime next week unless we run into some unforeseen difficulties. We are also working on a compilation of our past blog entries that will be divided by subject category. The first installment, “Electronic Recording”, will contain all the Blog postings we’ve made about electronic recording during the past two years plus an up-to-date commentary that provides background and context for the original entries. The collected Blog entries will be offered as installments in PDF format on our website.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

October Stats

October was not the best month for the Massachusetts Housing market. Our once red-hot real estate market is definitely showing signs of cooling. According to the Massachusetts Association of Realtors 3,863 houses were sold last month…that makes this October the slowest of the past four. Sales fell 9.1 from October 2004 and 14.5% when compared to September of this year. The median price of a home in Massachusetts is still very high …$349,000…but, this figure is 3% lower than September and 6.9% lower than August ($375,000). Of course, high interest rates and high prices are having a negative effect on sales...
The news is better in the condo market. Sales remain strong, although the market is beginning to show signs of change. The MAR reported that 1,777 condominiums sold in October 2005. That's 14.8 percent higher than October 2004… but (the bad news), 17% lower than September 2005. The median condo price in Massachusetts is $271,350…7.5% above last October. Some experts believe that the high demand for condominiums is having an impact on the sale of single-family homes in Massachusetts. Traditionally, not much happens in the real estate market during the holiday season...with this in mind we could see even higher inventory levels come January.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Open Meeting Law & the Internet

Yesterday’s Boston Globe NorthWest weekly section contained an interesting article about the use of the Internet by elected officials. A member of the Westford Board of Selectmen has apparently been posting comments on a private, politically-related bulletin board called Some of the other members of the board of selectmen are concerned about the practice, asserting that it may constitute a violation of the state’s Open Meeting Law. Representatives of the Middlesex County District Attorney (the office charged with enforcing the law) recently traveled to Westford to host a seminar on the implications of online communication and the Open Meeting Law. The folks from the DA’s office reminded everyone that any time that three or members of a board come together to discuss official business, it constitutes an official meeting that must be open to the public and notice of which must be posted in accordance with the law. Without addressing the specifics of this case, the DA representatives reminded everyone that if the three or more officials use technology (phones or computers) to communicate, it still constitutes a meeting notwithstanding the fact that the parties to the communication may all be at distant locations. While I can’t imagine a situation where the registry of deeds would be subject to the open meeting law, we do use the Internet extensively to communicate with our users. Ironically, I’ve found that communicating online opens up the process, giving everyone with a computer and an Internet connection and equal opportunity to track what is going on. Nevertheless, since the Open Meeting Law does have broad application and since it’s last amendment was done in 1974, long before the Internet as it now exists was envisioned, cases of this type are exploring new territory in government operations and deserve our close attention.

Friday, November 25, 2005

FBI Virus Emails

During this past week, some of us have been bombarded with emails purportedly from the FBI stating that the Bureau has tracked our IP addresses logging onto more than 30 illegal websites and instructing the recipient to answer the questions contained in the attached document. For a split second, I thought this might be some new wrinkle on the Patriot Act but then a half dozen more emails arrived in rapid succession along with a few from the CIA so it was pretty obviously phony emails. Shortly thereafter, a warning notice arrived by email from our computer security folks alerting us not to open the attachments. Doing so would unleash a computer virus known as the Sober X worm. I don’t know of anyone who did open the bogus messages, but this episode just reinforced the guideline that if you receive an unsolicited email from someone who you don’t know, it’s probably best to just delete it.

Hope all our readers had an enjoyable Thanksgiving. Only 211 documents were recorded today.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thanksgiving Quiz

Here’s your chance...


a. In what year did the Pilgrims have the first Thanksgiving Feast?
1619, 1620 or 1621

b. The Horn of Plenty, or Cornucopia, which symbolizes abundance, originated in what country?
Holland, Greece or Canada

c. Which President established that Thanksgiving would take place on the fourth Thursday in November?
Lincoln, Washington or FD Roosevelt?

d. In what month is Thanksgiving celebrated in Canada?
May, October or November?

e. What was the name of the Captain of the Mayflower?
Roger Smith, Miles Standish, Christopher Jones

f. Approximately how many Pilgrims were on the Mayflower?
100, 200 0r 300? Bonus…About how many survived the first winter?

g. Which Turkey is considered to be most tender?
Old Female, Old Male, or Young Male

h. What is the name of the Native American tribe that celebrated the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims?
Sagamore’s, Wamesit, Wampanoag

i. Approximately how many Turkeys are eaten in the US on Thanksgiving?
20 million, 45 million or 100 million


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Foreclosures on the Rise?

The legal notice section of last night’s Lowell Sun was larger than usual for it included ten notices of foreclosure sales (there was an eleventh one, but that was for Fitchburg, so we won’t count it). While there always seem to be two or three such notices in the paper, the sheer mass of space occupied by these ten caught my attention. Trying to spot trends or common circumstances, I briefly glanced at our records relating to the subject properties. Though not scientific, here’s what I found. Six of the properties being foreclosed were in Lowell, three were in Westford and one was in another town. Two of the ten properties were acquired in “related transactions” meaning that the purchase price was stated as $1; the others all appeared to be arms-length transactions. Of the eight that paid what appeared to be full price, none of the property owners put much of their own money into the deal. Here are the percentages of the purchase prices that were borrowed: 91%, 95%, 97%, 100%, 100%, 102%, 102%, 156%. Refinancing frequently was another common element. One had 8 mortgages in 9 years, another had 5 mortgages in 11 years, another had 4 mortgages in 4 years, another had 3 in 8 years, another had 2 in 1 year, another had 1 in 3 years and the final one had 2 in 7 years. Based on this small sample, the newer the mortgage, the more likely it will be foreclosed. Of the 10 in last night’s paper, 7 mortgages were recorded in 2004 with one each being recorded in 2002, 2001 and in 2000. We’ll continue watching for trends in foreclosures and will report anything of interest.

Quiz Answers

Thanksgiving Quiz Answers

a. The First Thanksgiving was in 1621, one year after the Pilgrims arrived.
b. Cornucopia originated in Greece
c. FDR established the fourth Thursday as Thanksgiving
d. Thanksgiving in Canada is on the second Monday in October
e. Christopher Jones Captained the Mayflower
f. 102 Pilgrims sailed across the Altantic in the Mayflower...Bonus: about half died the first winter.
g. An Old Tom
h. WamPanoags
i. Americans eat approximately 45 million turkeys on Thankgiving

Monday, November 21, 2005


The largest phase of the 1941-1950 “Grantor Index Imaging” project is done. Two tasks remain… quality checking the images and verifying for completeness. The free CD’s of this index should be available in the next few weeks…just in time to give away as a stocking stuffer.

Since the bulk of ‘41-50 is complete we have begun the 1926-1940 Index. This project is going well also…as of today we have finished about 40% of the images.

more on Grantor Index Imaging…while these two indexes are in process a registry employee has begun preparing the next index (1916-1925) for imaging… so, actually we are working on three indexes at the same time…each at a different stage.

The Probate Indexes from 1648 to 1939 have been taken off their shelves and brought to the Plan Department…also, our old Atlases are now off the shelves and in the Plan Department (these include various Atlases of Massachusetts, the City of Lowell, Middlesex County, Lock and Canals etc). The decision to move these rare, irreplaceable books is long overdue. To avoid any inconvenience to the public both the Probate Indexes and the Atlas are “immediately” available on request.

For the past two weeks we have had a “minor” problem with the new Probate computer connection…Simply put…after ten minutes of inactivity the computer went to “sleep” then required a password to logon. Of course, we don’t have the manpower to have someone running to the record hall every ten minutes to reboot it… We believe we have solved this problem…this morning we swapped our internal computer (which doesn’t require a logon) with the public one…this should work.

In a related topic…we are in the halls often… but please, if you see a logged off computer let us know.

We awarded a new public copier contract last week…the new copiers should be arriving in about a month. In the last ten years this area has seen major changes. Since over computer system now holds approximately 90% of our images (with more being added every day) the public copiers get less and less use.

Coming Wednesday…a Thanksgiving Quiz…There is still time to brush-up.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Mortage Company in the News

When you spent a lot of time working with Deed Indexing Standards, certain names become quite familiar to you. One is E*Trade which is noteworthy because of the presence of an asterisk in the middle of the name. The general rule of the indexing standards is no punctuation, so we’ll probably be jettisoning the * but that’s still a matter of debate. Another familiar name is 1-800-East-West-Mortgage, one of the most active lenders in this area. That name is indexing standards-worthy because of all the hyphens but the standards make an exception for that particular punctuation mark so they will probably stay. This all came to mind early this morning when I stumbled upon an article in the Boston Globe business section describing how “East-West settlement ends kickback investigation.” According to the Globe, East-West has agreed to pay $150,000 to settle an investigation by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the FDIC into the alleged practice of East-West of funneling mortgages to closing attorneys, home appraisers and title companies who provided East-West with Red Sox and Patriots tickets as well as other costly perks. East-West denies any wrongdoing and says it settled the claim just to avoid the costs of litigation. Government sources say that East-West is cooperating in the further investigation of those who provided the tickets and other gratuities.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Indexing Standards Update

There's still time to comment upon the proposed update to the Deed Indexing Standards. I plan to compile all of the comments I receive by next Wednesday (the day before Thanksgiving) and group them by the specific standard they refer to. Standards that have generated no comments will be implemented without any change. As for those standards that have received comments, I will create a referendum-like document that contains the specific standard, the content of the comments received, my response to the comments and two or more options formatted as a type of ballot. I will then mail each registry one of these documents and the registry will have a certain amount of time to "vote" and return the document to me. The majority will dictate any modifications to the standards. This will all take place in early December so the new version of the standards can be finalized prior to their effective date on January 1, 2006.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Joseph P Thompson

We assigned an employee to inventory all our of books, documents, records etc... a huge task, of course. Over the past two weeks this individual has come across some interesting finds (one of which was the 1910 Massachusetts Lawyer’s Diary which I blogged on last week). This week as he scoured through our “seldom used” storage areas there were even more finds. One of these was a box of records dating back to the late 1800’s. It contained original documents signed by past Register of Deeds Joseph Thompson. An example…one of these documents is an Assignment of Mortgage dated Feburary 16, 1883 notarized by Hiram Browne and attested by Register Joseph P Thompson in his own hand. An original Thompson signature is exciting. He certainly was an accomplished individual.
Thompson had a distinguished career as a military man. He was born in Broomfield, ME in 1830 and lived there until he was fourteen years old. He moved to Lowell in 1849 and went to work for Addison Putnam on Central Street. In 1862 after the break out of the Civil War Thompson enlisted in the US Army serving in Company G the 33rd Massachusetts. Lt Thompson severed as an aid on the staff of General Francis Barlow commanding the second brigade, Third Division of the 11th army. Later he was promoted to the staff of General A. Von Steinert. He fought in the Battle of Gettysburg and was promoted to Marshall for distinguished service during the battle. Thompson also served with General Sherman at the siege of Atlanta and took part in Sherman’s infamous “March to the Sea”. After the war President Abraham Lincoln promoted Thompson to Captain honoring his gallant and meritorious service. In 1874 he was elected Middlesex North Register of Deeds, a position he held until 1908. Unfortunately Thompson died “suddenly” in a Worcester Asylum.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

REBA Annual Meeting Seminar

The Real Estate Bar Association for Massachusetts (REBA), formerly known as the Massachusetts Conveyancers Association, held its annual meeting seminar at the Wyndham Hotel in Westborough. Thanks to REBA for inviting Registers of Deeds to attend. I squeezed into the standing room only crowd for the foreclosure program (Members of the bar must be noticing the rapid growth in the numbers of Notices of Sale appearing in the local newspapers). While the formal instructional portion of the day was very interesting, the most useful time I spent was in the hallway, chatting with dozens of attorneys who concentrate their practices in real estate. One message I received loud and clear is their strong support for Indexing Standards. While they may differ with some of the details, they long for predictability in registry databases. Two problem areas that were mentioned repeatedly have little to do with the actual Indexing Standards themselves. A lack of compliance with the standards seems to be a widespread phenomenon at registries. While the folks in the front office may have voted for the standards, the clerks at the counter may not be following them, especially where the standards dictate a method of indexing that differs from the long-standing practice at that particular registry. The other issue that arose was the need to convert existing registry databases to comply with the new standards. This will be a complex, labor and resource intensive operation, but it really must be done, otherwise title examiners will have to conduct multiple searches on the same name just to catch all the possible variants of that name created under the evolving methods of index creation through the years.

Monday, November 14, 2005


There is good news on the war against Spyware. Spyware tracks your Interent activity, and bombards your computer with unwanted Pop Up Ads. A US District court located in Los Angeles has ordered a Web business to halt down loads. The court froze the assets of Enternet and charged it with unfair and deceptive practices in violation of the FTC Act. The company offered Internet users free browser upgrades, phone ring tones and music files. Enternet, also operates under the names, and The FTC is alleging that Enternet was bundling Spyware with their download offers. According to the allegations…during downloads, the company caused “installation boxes” to pop up on users computer screens. In some cases the "installation boxes" offered freeware, such as music, mobile phone ring tones and song lyrics…in others the pop up boxes offered security patches and upgrades… however, when a user clicked on the box, his PC became infected with Spyware. In May the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would stiffen sentences and establish multi-million dollar fines for Spyware purveyors... still the US Senate has yet to take up the matter. Google, Microsoft and Webroot helped the FTC with the investigation.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Changes Coming to the Blog

Sorry if you had trouble finding the link from the registry’s home page to the blog, but we had to make some changes. Back in December 2003 when no one other than the Howard Dean for President campaign had ever heard of the term blog, much less read or used one, we launched this site, a blog devoted to the latest news in registry operations, real estate and technology. Rather than engage a high priced consultant before we knew what we were getting into and thereby waste a lot of the taxpayers’ money, we discovered Blogger, a site that gave us an efficient and free means of communicating with the rest of the world. Of course, nothing in life is free, so Blogger does come with a price: advertisements for Blogger and a lack of complete control over the site by the user (after all, it is operating on Blogger’s computers). Yesterday, it seems, someone discovered (after two years) that we were operating our blog on an unofficial site and became concerned about that. I won’t get into the details other to say the concerns were legitimate. Consequently, we will be moving the blog onto our own website and will use new software that will give us complete control over its content. This will take a couple of weeks, so in the meantime, you might see some disclaimers en route to this site. The good news is that the new software will give us all types of new and useful features that will really enhance the site. As always, we will keep you posted.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Winter Schedule

Mark your calendar...

It might be a little early… but here's the Registry's winter schedule…

November 11, 2005 (Friday)- Veteran's Day- Closed
November 24, 2005 (Thursday)- Thanksgiving- Closed
November 23 & 25, 2005- Days before and after Thanksgiving- Open for normal business 8:30am-4:30pm.
December 23, 2005- Friday before Christmas- Open for normal business 8:30am-4:30pm
December 26, 2005-(Monday) - Closed for Christmas holiday
January 2, 2006- (Monday)- Closed for New Year's holiday
January 16, 2006- (Monday)- Closed for Martin Luther King Day

Please note... the Registry will be closed the Monday after Christmas and the Monday after New Year's!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

More on Swipe-Card Security

There’s an article in today’s New York Times on “swipe-card” hotel keys. In a posting on this blog some months ago, we reported many hotels imbed an immense amount of personal information (name, home address, credit card number and expiration date) on the magnetic swipe-card hotel key you get each time you stay away from home. That article recommended carrying away the card-key and destroying it at home. Today’s article quotes a number of folks in the card key industry as saying this is just an “urban myth” and that no such information is ever placed on these cards. Who knows? The author of today’s article suggests you either turn your key in at the front desk at check out or take it home with you and cut it into little pieces before throwing the fragments away.

Monday, November 07, 2005


The Middlesex North Registry of Deed's blog is now available as an Atom feed. Atom is an information feeder that regularly sends updated summaries of web and blog content to subscribers. With Atom you will automatically receive registry blog entries as soon as they are posted. These immediate updates are available only if you have a “FeedReader”. It sounds a little complicated, but it's really not. All you need to do is download a FeedReader, we (well, actually Blogger) does the rest. Atom is widely used by the blogging community to share the latest entries’ headlines or full text. When Atom syndication is activated an XML version of the updated blog can be picked up and displayed in a variety of ways, such as newsreaders, web sites and handheld devices. As mentioned earlier to receive Atom updates of the registry’s blog you must first download a feeder. Bloglines and GoogleReader are two very popular readers that are available free.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Probate Court Computer Link

Good news. We now have two computers that are connected to the Middlesex Probate Court's docket database. One of these computers is in the upper record hall where the public has access; the other is in our customer service office. These computers permit you to search the probate court docket by name to determine whether an estate exists. It will be of great help to those doing titles here. We're not yet sure how far back the data goes (our initial experiments suggest it might only be a few years ago) but this will become increasingly useful as time goes by. Not only are you able to find the docket number of the estate, but you are also able to look at all docket entries to ascertain what's been filed and when (although you can't see the documents themselves). The system also has access to the divorce and other probate court databases (in Middlesex) in a similar manner.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


One of the many things I love about working at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds is its rich history. So often we come across items or books that remind me of this fact. You may remember that last summer we found newspapers printed in the 1930’s attached to old Registered Land documents. Yesterday was one of those lucky days here at the registry. We found eight old and rare copies of the Massachusetts Lawyers Diary in the basement of the registry: 1910, 1913, 1914, 1918, 1919, 1922, 1932 & 1939. This morning I glanced through the oldest of these, the 1910 edition. It gives one a rare glimpse of Massachusetts 95 years ago. The structure of the book is very much like the one published today. Listings of judges, sheriffs, courthouses, clerks, District Attorneys etc can be found in the book. And of course there is a listing of the lawyers that were members of the Mass Bar Association in 191o. Interestingly enough, this group is divided into "Boston Attorneys" and "Attorneys from outside of Boston". We are presently working on uploading the complete list of Lowell members to our webpage For now... I thought it might be interesting to mention some of the information listed in the old diary.

On the inside cover of this 1910 edition is an advertisement for the book...the Mass Lawyer's Diary was available in three different styles 95 years ago…Full Russia for $2.50Leather Back with Cloth Sides for $2.00 and the “New” low priced edition Full Cloth for only $1.50.

The Governor of Massachussetts was Eben Draper of Hopedale, Lt Governor Louis Frothingham of Boston, Secretary of State was William Olins also of Boston, and the Attorney General Dana Malone of Greenfield.

Listed on page two is the official postage rate: in 1910 you could mail a first class letter for $.02.

The two US Senators from Massachusetts were Henry Cabot Lodge and W. Murray Crane. Lodge served for a total of 37 years as both a Congressman and Senator before leaving in 1924. You may remember that his son Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr also served as a US Senator for 15 years before being beaten by none other than John F Kennedy.

Massachusetts’ official holidays in 1910 as listed on page 5: Feb 22 (Washington’s Birthday); April 19(Patriot's Day); May 30(Memorial Day); July 4;
September 5(Labor Day), Thanksgiving, & Dec 25.

The Congressman from the fifth Congressional district was Bulter Ames of Lowell. Butler Ames was the son Tewksbsury’s Civil War General Adelbert Ames and the grandson of Lowell’s famous Benjamin Butler. Butler Ames served in Congress from 1903-1913.

The Middlsex North Register of Deeds was William Purcell. Purcell was elected in 1909 and served for 25 years until 1934 when he died in office. In one of his re-election ads (not in the diary) he boasts that he "Complied a consolidated classified index of attachments" (computers do that now).

It's not the "On The Road" scroll, but the 1910 edition of the Massachusetts Lawyer's Diary is very interesting ...especially... if you are a local history junky. If you get a chance drop by Customer Service and we will be happy to let you take a look at it.

E-Recording Glitch

The wisdom of our long test period with electronic recording was made evident yesterday when a significant problem arose for the first time. We had agreed to increase the volume of submissions to evaluate how the system (and we) handled it. With the system already busier than usual with the predictable last day of the month up tick in recording volume, we received 82 separate electronic recordings all at once. Fortunately they were all mortgage discharges so the indexing data we had to verify was not particularly complex, and each document consisted of only a single image. The problem occurred with the 21st document. Each document was a separate “payload” so they were being recorded individually (remember, a “payload” is a group of related documents, much like a “set” is with walk-in recordings). This 21st document was all in order, but when we clicked to put it on record, the computer generated an error message that indicated that the work station we were using had lost contact with the database on the main server in mid-recording. The transaction was issued an instrument number, all indexing info was present in our database, and the correct fee was charged, but there was no image – it had evaporated. Of course, the obvious risk with electronic recording is that there’s no paper document to fall back on; all you have is that electronic image and now we didn’t even have that. Unfortunately, none of us had contemplated this exact problem. We had experienced computer problems previously, but they would simply bounce the recording back to the customer. This was different – the document was recorded but suddenly there was no document. So we’ve put a halt to electronic recording for now until we develop a standard procedure to follow in the case of a damaged or missing electronic document. We’ll share this procedure with you and make an announcement here once we have resumed electronic recording.

Monday, October 31, 2005


"Look up in the sky... it's a bird, no it's a plane, no... it's Supercomputer. Stronger than a popup blocker...faster than a WiFi to compute large figures with a single click...It's Supercomputer... Yes, IBM’s Blue Grene/L supercomputer can do 280.6 trillion calculations a second (I wouldn’t want to play Trivial pursuit against this thing). Last June Blue Gene/L was ranked the fastest computer on earth. Every six months super computers are ranked by experts ( I can hear it now…“on your mark… get set… BOOT?) Just how fast is 280.6 trillion calculations a second? Well, think of it this way… if you gave every person in the world a handheld calculator it would take them more that a decade to do 280.6 trillion calculations…now that’s wicked fast. Of course, you don’t use this thing to play Sims or other computer games. No... the National Nuclear Security Administration is using this powerhouse to help ensure that the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile remains safe and reliable…And…Blue Gene/L doesn’t work alone. It has a partner called “Purple”. Together they can compute half of a quadrillion operations per second…a quadrillion? yes…want to see a quadrillion?1,000,000,000,000,000. When Blue Gene/L is not working on the U.S. nuclear arsenal it’s doing work on modeling the human brain. Technology has come so far …I wonder what’s next…maybe a can opener that doesn’t slip off the lid?… Nah.

Friday, October 28, 2005

An Electronic Recording First

The Electronic Recording Pilot Program reached a milestone today when we recorded our first electronically submitted deed. This was a “no consideration” transaction, so we (and the computer system) didn’t have to worry about calculating and collecting the excise tax although in testing, that feature has worked just fine. As we finish our fourth month of “testing” we are about to begin adding more customers and continue to work on state-wide regulations that will, once they are enacted, permit additional customers to submit and registries to record documents electronically. Here are some statistics: Since we started recording electronically on June 29, we have recorded 513 documents, 413 of them were discharges, 81 were mortgages, 16 were assignments and 3 were “other.” This leaves us with an average of 8 documents per day. On average, Mondays are busiest with 12 documents, Thursdays and Fridays have seen an average of 9 each, and Tuesdays and Wednesdays are slowest with an average of 6. Things are changing, however. On Monday, October 3 we recorded 28 documents electronically and on Friday, October 21, we recorded 26 electronically submitted documents.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Mail Procedure Update

Our new mail processing procedures have been in place for about a week now. Formerly, all incoming mail and delivered pieces were opened and checked by our Customer Service Office. The accumulated waiting-to-be-recorded documents were then moved along to the recording counter where they would be recorded in between customers and as time permitted. These days, with our paucity of customers, there was usually plenty of time to record mailed-in documents so there really wasn’t much of a lag between receiving the documents in the mail and getting them recorded. That usually happened within 48 hours, more likely the very next day. Even at our busiest back in 2003 we never fell more than seven or eight days behind in recording mail. But even with a system that we believed was reasonable and efficient given our size and volume, we felt compelled to scrutinize our mail processing procedures after the National Lumber decision which we’ve written about extensively. While our new procedures do not comply absolutely with the dictates of National Lumber – that mailed in documents be recorded immediately upon receipt and before any additional walk-in customers are waited on – we will now have mail recorded much more promptly, usually the same day it is received. Another improvement is that we will now track mailed-in documents that must be returned to sender due to errors or problems with the recording. We will do this by using a database that will allow us to track not only the individual document that is returned, but all documents that are returned. With this information, we will be able to provide more detailed and targeted assistance to customers who choose to send documents by mail. Using this database and the merge-print function of MS Word, we will create an individualized letter to the submitter of a problem document that will explain what was wrong with it and how the problem can be corrected. This tracking system, created in-house, is in the final stages of testing and will be put into use next week.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Zoom Zoom Zoom

Zoom in
let’s take a microscopic view of a registry project…here goes…

Image Indexing
(this is the project used to create images of the old Grantor books from microfilm)

This project is currently very high on our priority list…here’s a close-up of how we do it...
Step 1: Flipping through the entire index, an alphabetical listing of the names contained within each page is created.
Step 2: The images are stored on our computer server in folders…by letter. Once the “name listing” is complete, an employee is assigned a letter to work on.
Step 3: These images were taken from 35mm film and contain two pages per frame. They must be split and saved as individual electronic images. This is done by “cropping” the image in Paint Shop Pro.
Step 4: Once the image has been divided it usually has to be “cleaned up”. Meaningless stray dots are removed using a feature called “despeckling”.
Step 5: When a letter is completed it must be verified. This is done by comparing the number of “names listed” with the number of “images”…if all are present there will be twice as many images as names (since the images were split).
Step 6 (maybe): If there is a inaccurate number of names to images, the MIS director checks each entry until the problem is discovered and corrected… Zoom out.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Digital Archiving

This past Saturday I attended a class at the Lowell Telecommunications Studio on digital archiving of analog moving images. Analog moving images are things such as video tape and and home movies. Digital moving images are moving images stored in a computer format. The method of transferring home movies was pretty simple: You point the 8 mm projector show the movie on a screen in a darkened room. At the same time, you set up a digital movie camera on a tripod, point it at the screen and record the image from the screen. You can plug the camera directly into a computer and completely bypass any film in the digital camera. The moving digital images take up an enormous amount of space on your computer and while that space is becoming cheaper every day, it is still expensive. There is an inexpensive, imaginative alternative, however, and that's a website called which you should check out very soon. It costs nothing to store your stuff there so long as it's freely available to anyone else. As someone who bought a Sony Betamax back in 1980 and who is in possession of a box of Beta tapes that will soon slide beyond my ability to view them, I'm a big believer in transferring this stuff into a contemporary format and storing it in a way that its accessibility will be guaranteed.

Monday, October 24, 2005

OpenOffice 2.0

A new version of OpenOffice has officially been released. OpenOffice is a free online office application available to anyone with Internet access. Its chief sponsor and contributor is Sun Microsystems. The program offers a full range of office applications including text, spreadsheets, charts and graphical documents. You can find this free software at “Open source” software such as this is beginning to threaten to Microsoft’s popular “Office” software. Many technical experts believe that OpenOffice version 2.0 is a credible competitor to Microsoft’s Office 2003. As expected Microsoft is not taking this lying down. Next year Microsoft Corp will release a new version of Office. Bill Gates and Company promises this will be the most dramatic upgrade since Office 95. Code named Office 12 the update is a radical change in the users interface and in the look Microsoft has offered for years. Microsoft believes Office 12 will set it apart from the open source competitors like OpenOffice 2.0. A couple of weeks ago, Google increased the intrigue by announcing a partnership with Sun Microsystems. These two mega-companies believe the Internet is all about sharing and OpenOffice is a perfect example of this. Stay turned for this battle between giants.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Electronic Recording Instructions

It looks like we will be expanding our electronic recording pilot program to add a few more submitters. Thus far, we’ve averaged about 8 documents a day submitted electronically. The system works just fine although the “look back gap” is still a problem. When a customer walks into the registry to record a document he will typically do a quick name search on one of our public access computers to determine if any new documents that would effect his property have been recorded recently. Finding none, the customer comes to the recording counter. But there’s always a slight chance that in that gap of time between performing that search and getting the document on record (usually no more than five minutes) another document will be recorded that does effect that property. To protect our customers, the registry recording system has a “look back” feature that compares a newly entered name with all the names entered within the preceding hour. So, if the sheriff had just recorded an attachment against your seller right before you reach the recording counter, when your document is entered (but before it’s officially on record) a warning will appear about the other filing. When you’re standing there across the recording counter, we can alert you to this match. But if you’re back at your office having submitted your documents electronically, we can’t duplicate this in-person ability to communicate. For now, customers who chose to submit documents electronically must bear this risk. We have prepared a downloadable set of instructions for customers who are set to begin filing electronically.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Mapping Software and the Registry of Deeds

Back in 1999 we sketched out a plan that would link registry of deeds records, other land related data, and digital maps to create “one stop shopping for land related information.” Well back then, the mapping technology really wasn’t ready for widespread use, so we continued to plod along, adding more of our own records to our website. Since then, mapping technology has made great strides. For example, we’ve previously written about the wonders of the Google Earth program. Today’s New York Times has a great story (“A Journey to a Thousand Maps Begins With an Open Code”) that describes how Google has made its map creation code freely available to anyone that wants to use it. People all over the world are creating customized maps that show everything from ethnic restaurants to USO sightings. As this article says, this is another step in Google’s quest to become the “ubiquitous organizer of the world’s information.” Tomorrow morning we’re going to start experimenting with this functionality. Already we’ve conceived of several ways of utilizing it that will be of great service to a wide variety of registry users.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Here are a few short, interesting, technology developments from recent weeks:

Sales of Personal Computers rose more than 17 percent for the third quarter of 2005. Many people are changing to laptops and low priced models. Sounds like the latest trend in the automotive industry…"small and cheap".

This week Nintendo will unveil its plan for free Wireless Internet (WiFi) access at McDonalds for its handheld games…I wonder if Nintendo can do something about McDonald's Apple Pies? They’re much too hot.

And speaking of Apple…

Apple Computer has released a Video iPod… Wait a minute…What's Steve Jobs up to?...I don’t even have the audio one yet.

Did you know that the small Audio iPod is called a "Shuffle"? Well...actually it's small in memory, but not the smallest...the smallest...I mean thinner audio iPod is called the"Nano" has more memory than the "Shuffle", but less that the bigger "original"...but... physically it's smaller...boy technology can be complicated.

Splog is the new word that is being used to describle spamming a blog…”Can you use Splog in a sentence please?”... Yes…”By the way... the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds now has a security process that will prevent our blog from receiving Splog”... How’s that?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

More on National Lumber

The Registers of Deeds Association is working with the Secretary of State’s office on an appropriate response to the National Lumber v Lombardi case that we’ve written about previously. To review, National Lumber sought to establish a mechanics lien against the Lombardi family back in 2002 when registry recording volumes were at their all time peak. Instead of bringing the necessary and time sensitive document to the registry to be recorded, National Lumber sent it to the registry (not this one) by Fedex. The document joined the flood of other mail that was waiting to be recorded. While the registry received the document within the time limits for establishing the lien, it was not recorded for several weeks which put the time of recording outside the time for establishing the lien. The homeowner argued that the lien was ineffective since it was not recorded on time. The appeals court ruled disagreed, saying that MGL c 36, s 14 established the time of recording as the time the document was “received” by the registry. In this case, the registry employee’s signature on the Fedex receipt set the time of receipt by the registry. According to the Appeals Court, in other words, a document’s priority within the recording system is set by the time the registry receives the document, not be the time the document is actually recorded in the registry’s recording system. While this is probably a correct interpretation of chapter 36 as it now exists, it really throws our entire recording system into chaos. Here’s a hypothetical to illustrate this statement. Let’s say you’re representing the buyer of a house. You do a title exam and find no mortgages or encumbrances. You do the closing at the registry the next morning, do a rundown on the registry’s computer system – still nothing to effect your locus – and go directly to a recording terminal where your deed is indexed and issued an instrument number and a time of recording which, for our example, let’s say is 9:05 A.M. But at 9:03 A.M., a registry employee in our Customer Service office signed for a Fedex package that contained a mortgage on that very premises. We record that mortgage at 9:15 P.M. The way everyone but the Appeals Court views our system, your deed would prevail over that new mortgage, because the deed went on record first. But under the National Lumber case, the mortgage has priority over your deed because it was “received” by the registry prior to your deed being recorded. It seems that the proper way to remedy this situation is to amend chapter 36 to make the “receipt” by the registry synonymous with the act of recording with the essential step being the issuance of an instrument number and official time of recording.

Monday, October 17, 2005


Today we put in place a new mail processing procedure. The goal is to increase efficiency and accuracy and record mail faster. Presently, the mail is opened by our Cusomter Service Department. This is a very busy area. Employees are often distracted by customer calls and walk-ins. Since the primary function of this department is servicing customer needs, it really doesn't mail sense to locate mail duties there. The new plan is to designate two or three employees solely responsible for checking, sorting and recording mail. Now that the Registered Land scanning project is done we have re-designed one of these scanning rooms to accommodate mail processing. I am sure there will be need for tweaking as the system develops…for this reason I will save further details for a later post.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Lock Monster Hockey

The 2004-05 professional hockey season begins in Lowell tonight when the Lock Monsters take on the Manchester Monarchs at the Tsongas Arena at 7:30 P.M. The Lowell team has twin NHL affiliations: it receives players from the Colorado Avalanche and from the Carolina Hurricanes. The quality of hockey is terrific and the price is quite affordable. A family of four can see a great game complete with full concessions for less than a single Red Sox reserved grandstand ticket. So if you’re interested, check out for more information. If you’re disappointed to be reading about hockey and not deed indexing on this rainy Friday afternoon, jump on over to to read the latest commentary on the new deed indexing standards.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Return of the Image Indexers

Next week we will begin our “image indexing” project again. “What’s that?”… you ask.
As you probably are aware our computer holds a searchable name index back to January 1976. If you need to search before that you are stuck using the old grantor/grantee index books. “Image Indexing” solves this problem. First a little history…"fast re-wind 12 years"...registry employees manually entered into the Wang Computer System the entries for the 1976-85 index …one by one by one by one…this was an incredibly time consuming project...We asked do we make the earlier indexes electronicly available to the public without getting into a manmoth project?...We investigated out-sourcing the work, but it was far too expensive. Last September we began a very successful “indexing imaging” project. This project allowed us to provide pages of the old indexes to the public on CD. The project lasted for several months during which we created CD’s for the 1960-1965 and 1966-1975 indexes. The process is simple and far less time consuming than entering individual entries as was done in the days of yore. All of our old index books have been microfilmed for disaster recovery purposes. About four years ago employees scanned this microfilm. We used these scanned images of the existing paper index books to create the CD’s. Usually these images are quite clear and readable, but they contain a lot of extraneous marks (wide margins, portions of facing pages etc). To improve the quality we had people cropping and cleaning the edges of the images. Employees were assigned an individual letter from the index. As it was finished an Adobe PDF file was created. This file contained all of the pages with entries that start with that letter plus a table of contents used to locate the needed page..."fast-wind to today"... The second phase of “image indexing” will begin on Monday starting with the 1941-1950 Grantor index..."fast forward six months"... The long-range plan is to make all indexes back to 1855 available on CD…And of course, these indexes will be made available to the public free.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

New Blog for Indexing

The latest version of the Massachusetts Deed Indexing Standards (its 3rd but probably not final draft, at least) is now ready for review and comment. You can download a copy in PDF format from or by CLICKING HERE. We'd like to receive as many comments as possible regarding these new standards as well as suggestions for other things that should be added to them. To allow a virtual debate on this topic, I've created a new blog that's called Massachusetts Deed Indexing which you should check out as soon as you've finished reading this. Thus far, I'm the only one who can make actual posts to that blog, but I'm trying to recruit a small team of editors to assist, but that blog, like this one, includes a very useful "comment" feature that can become the foundation for our electronic dialog. The comment feature may be used anonymously (although comments carry more weight when the author is identified). You do have to type in a silly-looking code word before you can comment, but this is just a way to protect against machine generated comments that have nothing to do with this - aka spam. So please check out the new blog and don't be shy about letting us know how you feel.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Our final 1138 record books have been converted to digital images and are nearly ready to load onto the computer system. The source of these images is old 35 mm microfilm and as expected some are missing or inferior in quality. Before uploading these images the problems must be fixed. We have already corrected missing books and most instances of missing pages… In the interest of time our scanning company listed some problems simply as “many bad images”. Obviously, this general statement doesn’t help much…We need to ID which pages are the “bad images” so they can be corrected. This morning we began compiling a list of these bad images. This task is laborious and tedious. Each book that has been identified as containing "many bad images" must be reviewed "page by page". When this project is completed all images from
Book 1 (1855) to present will be available on the Internet and the in-house computer system. In addition all 213,000 Registered Land documents have been scanned. Yes… we are working on a way to make our indices available…but that’s another blog.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Helping Massachusetts Military Families

More on the new indexing standards next week, but for now, here's some information on a program that Secretary of State William Galvin and the Salvation Army have developed to provide heating assistance to the families of Massachusetts residents in the military who are stationed overseas. The following is from the Secretary of State's website:
Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin and Lt. Colonel Fred Van Brunt, State Commander of the Massachusetts Salvation Army, today announced an appeal to assist the families of Massachusetts military personnel on active duty to help them pay for winter heating costs. Citing the old adage that “charity begins at home”, Secretary Galvin said many Massachusetts military families who have been left at home when their family members have been called up to active duty are suffering the income loss because of the call-up to service. The upcoming winter heating costs, while they will be difficult for all, will be a particular hardship for these military families on reduced household income. This drive for funds, which will headquartered at the Registry of Deeds offices throughout the state, will be coordinated by the Salvation Army which has already been providing assistance to needy military families."The Salvation Army has been helping our military families since the First World War and continues to provide aid to families of those who have been deployed both here and overseas,” said Colonel Van Brunt. “This is particularly important for those in the National Guard who often have reduced income as a result of their call-up.”Secretary Galvin said, “Whether these military personnel are serving overseas or in relief operations here in the United States, or whether we agree with the policies that caused these extended services, we need to help these families now.”Tax-deductible contributions may be made to the “Military Family Fund," Salvation Army, PO Box 5197, 147 Berkeley Street, Boston, MA 02116-5197, or dropped off at any Registry of Deeds office.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Indexing Standards Update

The Massachusetts Registers of Deeds Association has just adopted a draft of new Deed Indexing Standards. This new version greatly expands the standards that were adopted in 2000, adding a variety of sections on plans, excise tax calculation, document formatting and a variety of other things. Our objective was to make this a one-stop recording handbook for Massachusetts. The Association made some final changes which have to be incorporated into the draft. This should be done by early next week. Then, we will distribute copies of the new proposed standards to the various bar associations for comment and suggestions. A copy of the draft will be posted on for anyone else who is interested in seeing it. In tomorrow’s blog posting, we will try to discuss some of the most significant items contained in the new versions of the standards.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Rock

If you’re over fifty years old you’ll remember when the newest thing in technology was HiFi…today the newest thing is WiFi.
WiFi is wireless Internet access. It’s been around for a little while…some people even have it in their home. About a year ago this blog discussed a unique proposal by officials of Philadelphia that would make the entire city a wireless Internet hotspot. After many months of legal and political wrangling it appears this will finally become a reality. Internet service provider, Earthlink will build and maintain this municipal wireless system. “Wireless Philadelphia” is the name of the nonprofit organization established to oversee the project. City officials expect that construction of the network will begin within six months. The total price tag is between $10-$15 million. Earthlink will fund the entire cost and expects to generate funds through a small subscription fee. “Wireless Philadelphia” will receive a portion of the profits to be used to help fund economic development. Not to be out done San Francisco wants the same…and Internet giant Google is stepping up to the plate. Although not a player in Philly, Google, is offering to provide San Francisco blanket wireless Internet coverage… for Free….Free?yes, FREE to users and taxpayers as well. Many industry observers believe that Google has plans to provide a network of wireless coverage throughout major cities in the US. The long-term effects of wireless are just beginning to be seen. The next generation of wireless Internet called WiMAX will be launched in a few years. WiMAX is much faster than WiFi. WiMax will allow wireless video downloads and mobile phone calls over the Internet…for free. How can Google do it for free? Google intents to use the WiFi connection to target advertising…Example: you’re sitting on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco…looking out at Alcatraz…you decide to use Google’s free wireless connection to search the history of the prison…all of a sudden you get a pop-up Ad from your provider which has ID your computer’s network address…(“For a mere $25.00 see the Rock on Big Al’s Alcatraz Tours”). Now that’s what I call effectively targeting your audience…I suspect that "Big Al" would pay Google a fortune for that Ad. Well, I guess my father was right “nothing is free in this world”.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Google Earth

The indicators were wrong this month – the last day of September turned out to be very busy here at the registry. We recorded 712 documents, a significant increase from the 601 that were recorded on the last day of August. This afternoon, it was difficult to move around the record hall since so many of the tables were being used for closings. So it was a long day, but before the weekend starts, I want to put in a plug for Google Earth, a free GIS program from, you guessed it, Google. Here’s the link that you have to follow to download the program - - unlike most other Google features, Google Earth requires you to download and install software on your computer. But it’s easy and unobtrusive and, for the standard version, free. Once you’ve installed the program, you are confronted with a picture of the earth on one side of the screen and some data windows on the other. All you do is enter the address you’re interested in – say “360 Gorham Street, Lowell, Massachusetts” for the registry of deeds – and then click the appropriate button and, like some high tech ride at Disney World, you zoom into that particular spot on the earth, viewing the roof of the building from above courtesy of an overhead photograph. It’s a terrific way to do a computerized “route reconnaissance” when you’re about to drive somewhere new, but it’s also a glimpse into the future of registries of deeds. We have been exploring ways of linking our records with the overhead imagery of Mass GIS (which is the provider of overhead pictures to Google for this part of the globe). In the not too distant future, you’ll be able to click on one of our records and have the overhead photo display in a new window. The process will also work the other way. While you’re waiting, try out Google Earth.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Scan & Return

How would you like to walk away from the recording counter with your recorded original document stuffed snuggly in your briefcase? A new program at the registry of deeds in Worcester is allowing that to happen with selected documents. Here’s how it works: the document is recorded in the usual manner with the registry clerk entering all applicable indexing data and then collecting the appropriate fee. Once the financial part of the transaction is entered into the cashiering terminal, the computer system assigns that document a book and page number and notes the time of recording. A receipt and a bar code label which is affixed to the document are also produced. At this registry, we then hand the customer the receipt and we keep the original document, scanning it within a few hours. Once the document is scanned, we shoot microfilm from a paper print of the scanned document image, but we hold onto the original document until the microfilm is developed and we view it frame by frame to confirm that good images have been obtained for all documents. Then, we either return documents to those who have pickup boxes or who have provided us with self-addressed, stamped envelopes or we place the document in our unclaimed “no postage” storage area. Either way, it’s a laborious and time consuming process. Worcester’s experimental program has eliminated much of this work. There, immediately after the document is recorded and while the customer is still standing there at the counter, the registry clerk scans the document at a scanner that’s immediately adjacent to the cashiering terminal. The clerk then opens the newly scanned image in the Search program to ensure it was captured adequately, and prints it for backup purposes. If all is in order, the clerk hands the original document back to the customer. There registry doesn’t have to worry about storing or handling that document ever again. Right now, Worcester is experimenting with this process for documents of only a few pages. Handling a multi document, multi mortgage transaction in this way wouldn’t work very well – there’s be too many pages to scan while the customer stood there. But it’s certainly a start and an idea we are looking into.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Red Sox Effect

Many of you may have seen the recent medical study reported in the national press that emergency room visits to Boston hospitals dropped during important Red Sox games. I’m starting to think that the same phenomena holds true for registry of deeds activity. My theory is that when the Red Sox reach a critical point in the season, everyone in the real estate business becomes so focused on baseball, that all conveyancing activity ceases. The next couple of days will allow us to test this hypothesis. When the end of the month falls on a Friday like it does this month, we have historically seen the highest level of recording activity of the year. This time, however, the Red Sox are in a tight pennant race and moving into a three game series with the New York Yankees beginning Friday night. If the registry of deeds is empty this Friday, September 30, the only explanation can be that the Red Sox are to blame.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Document Formatting Standards

As we’ve mentioned here before, a new version of the Massachusetts Deed Indexing Standards is in the works. Next week, the Registers of Deeds Association will meet to refine the most recent draft. We expect the new version will go into effect on January 1, 2006, however, the “Document Formatting Standards” section, because it has such far reaching consequences for document preparations, should have a one year grace period. For the first year, therefore, the Document Formatting Standards should be advisory only but will become mandatory on January 1, 2007. Of course, this is just my expectation of what will happen – nothing is definite yet. Here is a preview of the formatting standards that are being proposed – all subject to revision, of course. Documents shall be on white 20-pound paper without watermarks. All document pages and attachments must be on paper that is a minimum size of 8.5 inches by 12 inches or a maximum paper size of 8.5 inches by 14 inches. Printing shall be on one side of page only; no double-sided pages will be accepted. On the first page of a document, the top margin shall be 3 inches; the side and bottom margins shall be 1 inch. On second and subsequent pages of the same document, all margins shall be 1 inch. All documents must be printed or typed in a font size no smaller than 10 point Times New Roman or equivalent. Blanks in an instrument and corrections to an instrument may be made in pen. Signatures shall be in either black or dark blue ink. Names shall be typed, stamped or printed beneath all written signatures.
All documents must display on the first line of print on the first page a single title identifying the recordable event that the instrument represents. Do not use colored markers to highlight text. That’s it. Please send me any comments you may have.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Scanning Update

Detail Courthouse Foyer

Update on the "missing image scanning project". In a week we checked approximately one thousand books. That's about two hundred a day. This is an excellent pace in my opinion. Up to this point the results are a little surprising. Of the one thousand books that have been checked, only three are missing in their entirety. Mostly we are finding small two and three page gaps. Some books have as many as seven or eight of these. The plan is to make copies of the missing images from the books themselves…then scan them. You may recall from an earlier post that our electronic images were taken from microfilm…This has made us a little concerned that the missing “electronic images” may also be missing on the microfilm. Since the possibility does exist (although small) that the film is incomplete we intent to microfilm the paper copies after scanning…we’ll sleep better.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Visitors from Tomsk

Today we had the pleasure of having some judges and law professors from Tomsk, Russia visit the registry of deeds. They’ve spent the week in Massachusetts, visiting various courts and government offices. Since hearing about the registry of deeds can get a bit tedious even for listeners who are fluent in English and have some background in American property law, we highlighted some of the unique features of this place, especially our electronic recording system and our website. While they seemed suitably impressed when we recorded a discharge electronically (the image and data was submitted by a remote user), they seemed astounded at the amount we charge to record documents (a justifiable and boundary-less response to our high recording fees). There were also several questions about the risk of fraudulent documents being recorded and what we can (and can’t) do to prevent it. Everyone also crowded around one of our oldest record books to see a 1640 deed from several Indian tribes. The locus was a 50 mile wide swath of what is now northern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, extending from the eastward bend in the Merrimack River in Lowell all the way to the Atlantic Coast at what is now Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Oh, and the purchase price for this sale was “a wagon load of winter coats and the love and affection we have for our English king.” A buyer’s market, I suppose. What made this document particularly interesting was the manner in which the tribal chiefs signed it, not with signatures, but with uniquely individual pictographs – small stick figures, each slightly different in appearance, each representing a different chief. Finally, we used the Google Earth program to demonstrate how we plan to link overhead photographs and maps of the property in our district to the documents recorded here at the registry.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

More on National Lumber

Yesterday the Legislative Subcommittee of the Massachusetts Registers of Deeds Association held a meeting in Worcester. We discussed the implications of the National Lumber case at length. While we all disagreed with the decision in the case – it interprets archaic statutes in a way divorced from the reality of the recording business – we are compelled to follow its dictates until the relevant laws can be changed. The Appeals Court, in interpreting sections 14 and 26 of chapter 36 of the Massachusetts General Laws essentially decreed that a document is deemed to be “recorded” when it physically comes into the custody of the registry of deeds. After that, the registry has 24 hours to fully index the document. Until this case, every registry (and every attorney, for that matter) has considered a document to be recorded when the registry enters the document in the index and affixes some recording information (usually date/time of recording and instrument number) to the document. An unwritten rule has evolved that says, if you are concerned about when your document is to be recorded, have a human being bring it to the registry and stand there while it is recorded. Not unreasonably, registries have treated mail as “time non-sensitive” meaning that anyone who mails something to the registry can’t be all that concerned with how quickly the document is recorded. Obviously, the registry has a duty to record documents received by mail within a reasonable amount of time. But what is “reasonable” is a variable concept: mail received on a Wednesday in the middle of the month is recorded much quicker than a document received on the last day of the month when our walk-in business usually doubles. Tony Vigliotti, the Register of Deeds in Worcester, gave some historical context to this situation when he recalled that when he started as register (at a very young age) back in 1978, the registry would record all mail before taking a single customer. That changed because the public wouldn’t stand for it, but if one was to follow the letter of the law and of this decision, that’s exactly how recording should be done. Here in Lowell, our mail arrives at approximately 11:00 a.m. each day. If we were to follow the prescribed steps (without modification) we would have to immediately stop all walk-in customer recording, concentrate all of our efforts on recording that day’s mail, and only begin to record walk-in customers again when the mail was all recorded. Now that would be a big change.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

mea culpa

This morning will began a “long, long” overdue project… First some background…Way Back When…we had approximately 2 million document images captured from archived microfilm and placed on CD’s. Later, when money became available these images were loaded from the CD’s onto our computer server…of course, this made the images available for viewing both internally and on the Internet. The images were captured using an “automated” scanning system…fast yes, but…no “human eye” was checking to see if an image was missing. Up until this morning we relied upon our computer users (you) to let us know if an image was missing. When someone mentioned a problem …we fixed it (not very scientific or efficient I must admit). Finally, we took the bull by the horns…This morning we assigned an employee to search from book 2705 forward looking for missing images. The process is not as time consuming as you might think…When we bring up a document entry (the indexing information) a flag appears beside the information if an image is connected to it. Fittingly, we call this an “image flag”…Simply put, the missing images are identified by finding the entries without “image flags”…and what makes this even easier is that a complete book can be brought up in one search. The checker simply scans the entire book’s entries looking for missing “image flags”. A book can be checked in about five minutes. A second employee has been assigned the task of "scanning in" the missing documents. We are starting with book 2705 because these later books are bound in plastic covers and can easily be disassembled, scanned then reassembled. A second phase of this project will be to attack the earlier books. As I began... this is a long overdue project…mea culpa, mea culpa, and mea culpa.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

National Lumber v Lombardi

A disturbing and far-reaching decision by the Massachusetts Appeals Court is the lead story in this week’s Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. “Registry’s late recording won’t bar lien enforcement” reports on National Lumber v Lombardi, a case about the enforceability of a mechanic’s lien. After filing the applicable notice requirements at the registry, the plaintiff filed suit and then sent an attested copy of the complaint to the registry of deeds with the correct filing fee by Federal Express. The document was received by the registry well within the 30 days required by statute to perfect the lien, but the registry did not actually record the document for nearly five weeks, a delay that put the time of recording outside of the statutory period. (This happened in 2002 when historically high recording volumes caused most registries to fall far behind in the recording of mail). The defendants moved to dismiss the mechanic’s lien on the grounds that the required complaint was not timely filed. The Appeals Court disagreed, stating that the registry of deeds had a duty to record documents received by mail correctly and within 24 hours of receipt. The court further stated that the registry’s failure to do this could not be used to harm the party that had mailed the documents. The court’s remedy seemed to be to deem a document to be “recorded” at the moment it is received by the registry of deeds and not the time it is actually entered into the registry’s computer system and assigned an instrument number and an official time of recording. The implications of this decision for registries and title examiners are enormous. As long as the customer gets the document to the registry, it places the duty of recording it in the right place (registered or recorded) within an impossibly short (given our present staffing levels) period of time. The implications for title examiners are even worse: now you have to be concerned not with the time the registry recorded the document but with the time the registry received the document. Good luck figuring that out. This certainly won’t be the end of our discussion of this case, so check back in the future for more analysis.

Monday, September 19, 2005

E Ink?

According to an article in this morning’s Boston Globe a Cambridge based company has invented electronic paper. E Ink Corp calls its invention “RadioPaper”. It is a flexible display that looks and feels like regular paper, but it has the capability of changing its print. The technology behind “RadioPaper” is far above my understanding, but deals with microcapsules that are white when positively charged and black when negatively charged…letters are formed by sending various charges to the microcapsules. E Ink Corp believes that black print on a white background will always be more comfortable to a reader than a computer screen. The developers also believe that a newspaper “printed” using “E Ink” could be updated many times each day. Imagine this…finish reading “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”…electronically change the RadioPaper into Patricia Grasso’s “To Charm A Prince”. The possibilities for this changeable paper are endless…train schedules, restaurant menus, supermarket displays etc…and there certainly is no shortage of investors that see the potential. Since its establishment in 1997 E Ink Corp has raised more than $100 million in venture financing. These investors even include several prominent newspapers. It may be time to rephrase Mark Twain’s famous quote… “Don’t pick a fight with a man that buys E Ink buy the gigabyte.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Who Wants To Record Electronically?

In yesterday’s posting, I indicated that there were two big issues that must be resolved in order to proceed with full-scale electronic recording. The first, discussed at length yesterday, was the apparent inability to bridge the “run down gap” that exists between the time a document is sent and the moment it is recorded. The second issue that must be resolved is who exactly will be allowed to submit electronic documents. Thus far, we’ve worked with ACS, the company that provides us with our computer system. Another arm of ACS (called eRX) is in the electronic recording business, so when we began experimenting with electronic recording, it seemed simple and logical to work with ACS. No one intends for ACS to have a monopoly on electronic recording, so our goal is to open up the process to others to become document submitters. Before doing so, however, we must establish minimum criteria for such entities. Before being permitted to submit documents, a company would have to be licensed by the Commonwealth. Things like bonding, criminal record checks for employees, minimum technical standards for encryption and authentication are just a few. As I said yesterday, the system has worked quite well so far, but to expand beyond our pilot program, so large policy questions must first be resolved.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Electronic Recording Update I

We recorded our 300th electronically submitted document earlier this week. Electronic recording is still being done on a test basis, but the system seems to work quite well. There are two big issues that must be addressed before this goes into full-scale use in this registry, at least. The first issue is the process of doing an up to the minute run down electronically from a remote location. With the registry website being continuously updated with new recordings, that addresses a big part of that problem. Unfortunately, being able to do “a big part” of your pre-recording rundown really is inadequate for the ordinary, prudent conveyancer. Our recording system has a “look-back” feature that bridges the gap between when you do your final run down and when the document is actually on record. Anytime that a name we enter in the computer has been entered within the preceding hour, a popup box alerts us that the name was recently entered, giving the book and page number of the document where it was located. When the customer is standing across the recording counter, it is easy for the registry clerk to ask “Do you know about this other document? Do you want me to proceed?” The customer can respond immediately. With electronic recording, however, the customer is at some remote location with no effective means of instantaneous communications. We’re not in a position to decide when to proceed or to reject the transaction, so we’re left with an all or nothing approach. Because the popup box appears most often because of bank or mortgage company names, it’s usually innocuous and we’re instructed to proceed. But every so often, it might be an attachment or a mechanic’s lien and the new documents are pulled back. My conclusion is that until we get some kind of gap insurance here in Massachusetts, electronic recording will serve primarily as a substitute for recording documents by mail. This posting has gotten long enough, so tomorrow we’ll continue with more on electronic recording.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Do you like Blogs? Well then there’s good news if you are a Blog-aholic like me…The Internet’s “mega-giant”, GOOOGGGLE is launching a new search site to help users find their favorite Blogs. Blogging has achieved incredible popularity in a very short time. If you can believe it, there are more than 17 million in existence today. They cover subjects from “sports to registry of deeds” …and most anything else between. Yet, not all Blogs will be found by Google’s new search engine. Google intents to index only those Blogs that send automatic updates to readers…in other words, Blogs that use an RSS feed or Really Simple Syndication. This makes Google the only search engine offering complete Blog search and feed capability. According to Jason Goldman, Google’s Product Manager, “we look for sites that update pinging services (that’s, that RSS thing) and then crawl in real time so that we can serve up search results that are as fresh as we can”. Google’s Blog search works essentially like it’s regular search. The results are sorted by date with recent posts appearing at the top of the list. The results appear with a title and small summary. There is also an “advanced search” available allowing users to look for specific titles, authors, languages and more. In some cases links to related Blogs are also presented at the top of the search results. Google’s new service can be found at

Monday, September 12, 2005

They're Baaack

Statistics…boring, dry…please don’t! Not for me…I find them interesting (so call me strange). Statistics can be very revealing…as an example…I’ll bet if you tell me how many mortgages we recorded in a given year I can tell you how much toner we bought…Back in the old days when we recorded 60/70,000 documents a year I was very good at keeping the Middlesex North statistics…but in 2003 we recorded 148,000 documents…keeping statistics became secondary to doing the work (recording documents) that created the statistics… Of course, I did keep the basics (mortgages, deeds and total documents in a year). Still, these aren't enough to give you a complete picture of the registry… but as everyone knows, the real estate world is ever changing and business has leveled off. This "slight" slow down has created an opportunity for us to return to gathering important statistics. A few years back we displayed charts and graphs on Poster Boards in the courthouse hallways…now (as you would expect) the registry's statistics will be posted on the Internet. We'll collect…number of documents recorded on a quarterly and yearly basis…number of mortgages, homesteads, assignments, discharges and deeds recorded in particular period…and their percentage of the total number of documents recorded... if you think of any statistical information you think might be interesting let us know.