Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Xerox acquires ACS

On Monday, national business pages were alive with the news that Xerox had acquired Affiliated Computer Systems of Dallas, Texas for $6.4 billion dollars. This news is significant for users of registries of deeds in Massachusetts because ACS provides the land records management software for this and many of the other registries in the Commonwealth.

Back in 2002, ACS was selected after a lengthy competition to be the primary computer system provided for registries of deeds in Massachusetts. Middlesex North was the first registry to install the system (activated on July 1, 2002). The ACS system is now used in twelve Massachusetts registries: Berkshire North, Berkshire Middle, Berkshire South, Franklin, Hampshire, Worcester, Middlesex North, Middlesex South and Suffolk (all state registries) plus Bristol Fall River, Nantucket and Dukes (county registries). I understand the Plymouth is also in the process of installing ACS. (For those wondering, the registries in Worcester North, Hampden, Essex North, Norfolk and Barnstable all use the Browntech system while Bristol New Bedford, Bristol Taunton and Essex South all use home-grown systems).

ACS is a huge company with 74,000 employees so registries of deeds are only a very small part of their business. Still, it will be interesting to see what impact the Xerox takeover will have on our relationship with ACS.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Kansas Court invalidates mortgages held by MERS

A story on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times business section, “The Mortgage Machine Backfires,” caught my attention. It chronicled a decision of the Kansas Supreme Court that called into question the validity of mortgages held by Mortgage Electronic Registration System, better known as MERS. MERS was established at least a decade ago to serve as the record holder of mortgages that were filed with the registry of deeds. The intent was to allow the promissory note to be freely transferred among different financial institutions without the need to record assignments of that mortgage at the registry of deeds. MERS would serve as a perpetual point of contact for anyone interested in the mortgage. If you did a search of our database for grantees of mortgages (i.e., the name of the lender), MERS would be the name that appears most often, by far.

In the Kansas case the homeowner already had a first mortgage that was held by Landmark National Bank. He then obtained a second mortgage from Millennia Mortgage Corp. The mortgage that was recorded identified MERS as the mortgagee. At some point, Millennia assigned its interest in the loan to Sovereign Bank but did not record an assignment of the mortgage at the applicable registry of deeds. When Landmark foreclosed the mortgage, it served notice on the homeowner and on Millennia. Because Millennia had no interest in the mortgage, it ignored the notice. The foreclosing lender did not serve notice on either MERS or Sovereign. The money obtained at the foreclosure auction exceeded the amount owed to Millennia, so the court paid the surplus to the homeowner. At some point well after the auction, Sovereign and MERS filed pleadings in the case to assert their rights. The trial court found that MERS had not standing since it was only an agent for Millennia and since Sovereign had failed to record an assignment at the registry of deeds, Sovereign was precluded from asserting any rights in the mortgage after the foreclosure had occurred. The court upheld the foreclosure and the distribution of the surplus.

The Kansas Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s decision, holding that when ownership of the mortgage and the note were separated, the mortgage became unenforceable. The court seemed to reason that while MERS may have legitimately served as the agent of the initial lender, once the note was assigned by that lender to another financial institution (Sovereign), any connection between the mortgage, held by MERS on behalf of the initial lender, was severed and the MERS/Millennia/Sovereign mortgage was rendered inoperable without an assignment having been recorded.

I have no idea whether this defense has been asserted in Massachusetts yet. If not, it undoubtedly will. If a court here was ever to follow the Kansas ruling, the validity of tens of thousands of mortgages would be suddenly thrown into question.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Baseball Swing Trick

Here is a little fun to start the week...This is AAA outfielder Josh Womack. Womack has the unique ability to spin the bat around 360 degrees and catch it again. It almost looks fake it is so amazing.

Friday, September 25, 2009

$100 mil, not a cent more

Hey you…I’ve got this real nice bridge I want to sell. Are you interested?…I’ll give you a great deal.

Twitter executives must be using the same line on industry investors…Here is a company that makes no money, I’m serious no money at all and it just raised another $100 million in capital (yes, I said "another").

This new infusion of money sets the value of Twitter at, are you ready, $1 billion. Can you believe it…the company doesn't make a dime, I mean not a nickel, I mean not a penny and its worth $1 billion.

How many people do you think work for this $1 billion company…1,000 people?. 5,000 people? 10,000 people? Wrong, how about 60! 60 employees running a $1 bllion company. Its incredible…

Twitter is in what experts call the “pre-revenue stage”…in order words, its broke.
Who would lend $100 million to a broke company? Insight Venture Partners, T.Rowe Price, Sparks Capital and Institutional Venture Partners that’s who.
Sure, everyone is talking about Twitter (I love it too), but isn’t it time for the digital superstar to “put up or shut up”. If it doesn't make money, isn’t Twitter just a big hobby for its owners and investors?

And, get ready, check out these quotes from the New York Times regarding the new $100million investment, “the company does not appear to need the capital (NYT)”. And this, “but close followers of Twitter do not sense that the company is in any great rush to prove itself as a profitable venture (NYT)”.

What the heck...first, Twitter raises money it doesn’t need, then is not in a rush to use it to create revenue…I've got to get in on this game.

Hey, anyone interested in buying these pictures of Bigfoot I took in my backyard?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

City of Lowell Foreclosure Ordinance

It seems like everyday at least one person comes to our Customer Service counter expressing interest in some foreclosed (and vacant) property here in Lowell. The buyer on the foreclosure deed is almost always a big national lender with a mailing address in New York City or Orlando or Houston, nothing that would provide a practical contact for a potential purchaser. I assume these properties are assigned to a (relatively) local real estate agent who will handle the sales to third parties, but there doesn't seem to be an effective means of identifying and contacting that broker. Perhaps the city of Lowell's "Vacant and Foreclosed Building" ordinance, which requires the owner of a foreclosed or vacant building, to register it with the city's Inspectional Services Department, would make that department a logical point of contact for a potential buyer. Of course, that assumes that the buyers at foreclosure are complying with the ordinance and registering with the city - which is a big assumption. Still, it would be the best place to begin.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

August Foreclosure Stats

An article in today’s Globe gives good news and bad news about foreclosure activity in Massachusetts during August. The good news is that statewide, the number of foreclosure deeds filed in August 2009 was 35% less than the number filed in August 2008. The bad news was that the number of Orders of Notice filed (that is, the document that signals the start of the foreclosure process) had risen 150% over the same period.

Our statistics here in the Middlesex North District tell a different – and more positive - story. The number of foreclosure deeds recorded in Middlesex North in August 2009 was 56% less than the number filed in August 2008. That percentage decrease is relatively constant whether you are looking just at Lowell or at the other towns in the district. For example, the number of foreclosure deeds recorded for Lowell in August 2009 was 53% less than filed in August 2008. The drop for the non-Lowell towns for the same period was 61%.

Unlike the state, which has seen a dramatic rise in the number of new foreclosures (i.e., Orders of Notice) the Middlesex North District saw a decline in the number of those documents filed. District-wide, August 2009 saw a 13% decline from August 2008, with a 16% decline in Lowell and a 9% decline for the towns.

I’m not sure why this region seems to have less foreclosure activity than in other parts of the state, but the numbers definitely show a unique trend here in Greater Lowell.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Encouraging Innovation in the Internet Age

Three years ago, the movie rental company Netflix announced a contest. Develop an improved version of the movie recommendation software on its website and win a prize of $1 million. Thousands of teams from more than 100 nations competed. The winning team submitted its entry just twenty minutes before another team submitted a proposal that received an identical score. The contest rules anticipated such an outcome and provided that the first to submit would prevail.

An article in today’s New York Times describes the contest and puts it in the broader context of the “prize model” of modern innovation. More and more often, companies are offering substantial prizes to volunteers who propose solutions to problems that are posted online. The companies that put up the money get hundreds of very smart people working on their issues and, even though the prize is substantial, the companies end up paying about $1 hour for all the research that is conducted on their behalf. The participants in the contest get more than the chance to win the prize. This type of collaborative problem-solving effort has numerous collateral benefits that often lead to new business opportunities.

This is just another example of how the world and the world of business is changing. The closely-held, proprietary information models that dominated the early age of the Internet (think Wang) are today’s ancient artifacts. Today, everything is about openness and collaboration.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mass DPH Flu Pamphlet

There’s a marked increase in the amount of sniffling and coughing around the courthouse this morning. What would otherwise be quietly categorized as a few late summer colds or allergies now gains much greater attention because of the heightened concern about the possibility of a flu pandemic this year. While there’s certainly no need to panic, prudence suggests that everyone take some simple steps to prepare for the possibility of a serious flu season.

With that in mind, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has published a pamphlet called “Flu: Caring for People at Home” which is available online in PDF format here. This pamphlet contains a list of the basic steps you can take to (1) prevent catching the flu in the first place and (2) treat yourself or others after being infected by the flu. (I won’t list all the items here but you should check out the full publication).

One thing that does deserve mention, however, is a breakdown of the type of illnesses that most commonly effect people:

Seasonal flu - is caused by influenza viruses that infect people every year. In New England, flu season usually begins in December and lasts until April. The most common flue symptoms are (1) sudden onset of fever; (2) tiredness or weakness; (3) body aches; and (4) dry cough.

Pandemic flu - can occur when a new influenza virus develops. Most people will not have any immunity, which means they will not be able to fight off this new virus. This may allow the virus to spread easily from person to person, and cause many people around the world to get the flu. There have been 3 pandemics in the last hundred years.

“Stomach bug” - is different from the flu. Its symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting. A “stomach bug” is caused by other germs, not influenza viruses.

Common Cold - is also different from the flu. The most common symptoms of a cold are a stuffy nose, sneezing, cough, and sore throat. Colds are usually milder than the flu and do not come on as suddenly.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Homestead Seminar Next Week

Next Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 10:15 a.m., we will conduct a Homestead Seminar at the Billerica Senior Center, 25 Concord Road in Billerica. The event is free and open to the public. I begin with a brief explanation of the Declaration of Homestead, its history and what it does and does not protect. Following the presentation is a quick question and answer session. Assistant Register Tony Accardi and I then provide a blank Homestead form to anyone who is interested in filing one. To do that, all you need is a driver’s license or other government issued ID (so we can notarize your signature) or $35 for the filing fee (in cash or check). We will bring the completed Homesteads back to the registry where they will be recorded and mailed back to you.

The Declaration of Homestead is an inexpensive but very effective way to protect your home from creditors. Many people have already filed them but far more have not. Outside of the office, when people learn what position I hold, more often than not they will mention something about Homesteads. Most often, it’s to say “I always intended to record one but never got around to it.” Of course, the problem with a Homestead is that, because it only protects against debts that come into existence after the Homestead has been recorded, when you do need it, it’s too late to get it.

Blank homestead forms with instructions for filing by mail are available on our website and we always have the forms (and free Notary Service) here at the Registry. But if you belong to an organization or group that includes homeowners and you’d like to hold a Homestead Seminar, just give me a call (Dick Howe at 978/322-9000) or send me an email and we can arrange something. The Seminar is always free to the organizers and the attendees, and you’d be providing your membership with a valuable service.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Saving the American Financial System

This time last year we were in the midst of the apparent meltdown of the global financial system. A lengthy article by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist James B. Stewart in this week’s “New Yorker” (abstract only online here), deconstructs the eight day period from September 12, 2008 to September 19, 2008 during which Treasury Secretary Paulson, Fed Chair Bernanke, and New York Fed President Geithner struggled to prevent the complete collapse of the American economy.

Stewart, who interviewed most of the principals for this article, give an almost hour-by-hour account of the decision to allow Lehman Brothers to fail, to use federal funds to rescue A.I.G., and the many other steps that were (or were not taken) during that historic week. In the article’s epilogue, Stewart suggests that last year’s crisis will “redefine the nature of capitalism.”

Understanding how a plague of imprudent subprime mortgages triggered a chain of events that brought the world economy to the brink of collapse is critical to ensuring that it does not happen again. Stewart’s article makes an important contribution to the body of work that seeks to explain what happened.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Google's Fast Flip

Its called Fast Flip and once again Google is the creator. Fast Flip is,well, a newsreader.
Why does Google think the world needs another newsreader you ask?…because the others are flawed.
Google believes most newsreaders today are difficult to use...and I agree.
Enter Google with its new Super-reader...
Fast Flip presents news headlines in a more comprehensive easier to use format.
Google's new reader displays front pages of major newspapers, seven across in three horizontal rows.
Hyperlinks allow the user to pick from several topics…Politics, Business, US, World, Sports, Sci/Tech, Entertainment/Health, Opinion and Travel just to name a few. Click one of the topics and bam (as Emerald would say) the headlines of the displayed newspapers change to the selected topic…pretty cool, huh?
I like Fast Flip and I don’t…
What I like is the easy way your eyes move across the page scanning various headlines.
What I don’t like is the size of the print. It is way too small for my old eyes…Try it out yourself

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Open Indicators" software

Yesterday I travelled to nearby University of Massachusetts at Lowell for a presentation on a new software tool that will become available to the public in the coming months. The software is called WEAVE, which stands for Web-based Analytic Visualization Environment. It’s a new tool for data visualization and analysis, sort of a Swiss Army knife for data. Development of WEAVE has been funded by a consortium of institutions, mostly governmental and educational, that wanted a single package for doing statistical analysis, data graphing, and GIS plotting. The Umass Lowell group, let by Professors William Mass of the UML Center for Industrial Competitiveness and Georges Grinstein of the UML Institute for Visualization and Perception Research, has developed this amazing piece of software. Best of all, WEAVE will be available as open source software to non-profits and public entities. As the professors said, this tool can utilize any data from any source.

Members of the consortium that has paid for the development of this package will get to try it out starting next month. The available-to-the-public version should come soon after. I couldn’t find a demo version on the web that I could link to, so you’ll have to trust my assessment for now. I’ll stay on top of the roll-out of this product and will continue to write about its progress. So if a free tool that allows you to crunch data and to plot it on maps and charts all on the same screen at the same time sounds like it might be of use to you, please look for more news about WEAVE in the coming weeks and months.

Monday, September 14, 2009

TV Legends Come to YouTube

If you love Television you are going to love the Academy of Television Arts & Science Foundation's new website. As stated in a New York Times article the television foundation launched a website contianing numerous interviews with legends of TV. Classic TV stars such as Bob Hope, Walter Cronkite and Milton Berle, Michael J Fox and Alan Alda speak in depth about their careers and influences. The project actually started over a decade ago. The TV Academy began interviewing “stars, producers, writers and executives to create a digital encyclopedia of TV history” (NYT). As of today the Archive of American Television has posted only half of the recorded interviews on YouTube. The website is very simple to use and the quality and content of the interviews are excellent.
There are four main categories you can search: Topics, Shows, Professions and People.
And these main categories are broken into searchable subcategories. As an example the Topic category is broken down to Bloopers, Creative Influences, Emmy Awards, Historic Events, Memorable Moments, Pop Culture, Technological Innovation, Television and the Presidency, Television Industry and TV’s Golden Age.
You'll find the site at
Here is a sample of an interview with comedian Sid Caesar star of Your Show of Shows.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Electronic Recording Glitch

Electronic recording customers who submit documents through eRX (the electronic recording division of ACS) have recently experienced problems submitting deeds and mortgages through the electronic recording system. ACS has informed us that they have identified a problem with the way that the system calculates the recording fees and excise tax for deeds. (ACS claims that this bug has existed all along, but we never saw it in the five years that we’ve used the system and have only experienced it since the Middlesex South registry began electronic recording two months ago). While trying to correct the problem, ACS eliminated deeds and mortgages as possible document types that could be selected by their customers (without informing us or the customers apparently), meaning that no eRX customers could submit either of those document types. Now that they’ve focused on deeds as the problem, eRX has supposedly reactivated mortgages for Middlesex North although they still have “deeds” blacked out until they fix the problem.

Throughout the time of the eRX problem, we have received a steady stream of deeds through the electronic recording system without any problems. Presumably these are coming from Simplifile customers. ERX continues to work on this problem, but there is no estimate of when it might be fixed.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Updating the Deed Indexing Standards

This fall is the 10th anniversary of the Massachusetts Deed Indexing Standards. There rules were intended to standardize the way that every registry of deeds enters names and addresses into its index. The first version of the standards (version 2.1) was effective on Janaury 1, 2000. Subsequent versions were issued on January 1, 2006 (version 3.0) and on Janaury 1, 2008 (version 4.0). Currently, there are no plans for a version 5.0 although I suspect that as electronic recording becomes more widely accepted around the state, the Indexig Standards will expand to include rules related to that method of recording. In the meantime, we'll use this site to keep you up to date on new issues that arise and to tell you how we've resolved them.

For those interested in the various editions of the Deed Indexing Standards, you may obtain copies of:

Version 2.1 (2000) here

Version 3.0 (2006) here

Version 4.0 (2008) here

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Beatles punk Apple

Did you ever hear the word punk’d?
No, what does it mean?
The word punk’d actually comes from the name of a TV show of the same name hosted by Ashton Kutcher. During the show Kutcher played practical jokes on other celebrities deceiving them into thinking a crazy scenario or situation is real.
When Kutcher fooled the celeb, the celeb was said to be "punk'd".
I’ve been punk’d before, and I am sure you have been to?
Well, yes, I have been punk'd, but what's punk'd got to do with anything?
I think the Beatles are “punk’ing” Apple CEO Steve Jobs and his fabulously successful music site, iTunes.
How are they "Punk'ing" Jobs?
Here is the situation...
Today Apple is holding it annual “invitation only” special music event and they are promising a major announcement, trying to keep the consumer world on edge and capture its attention.
Help me, give me some history to put this in perspective…
OK, here you go...The Beatles and Apple have been involved in a long standing, rocky relationship for years. It started when the Beatles sued Apple Computer for copyright infringement for using the name “Apple”, which is also the name of the Beatles music company.
Then... the rocky relationship got even rockier when Apple(the computer company that is) established iTunes and started selling music.
Oh yeah (or should I say yeah, yeah, yeah), iTunes sells music, but not Beatles music.
The negotiation between iTunes and the Beatles for the right to sell their music has been going on for years…without success.
OK, but what does all this have to do with “punk’d”?
First...the big announcement at Apple’s music event today is NOT going to be an agreement between the band and iTunes to sell Beatles music..rather my sources (also known as my gut) say it is going to have something to do with the iPod.
Now comes "the Punk"…
Today, while Apple makes its “big” music announcement hoping to engage the world,the long awaited video game Beatles Rock Band is being released. This event will undoubtedly steal the stage from Steve Jobs and "the announcement".
And it gets worse for Steve Jobs...
Trust me 9/9/09 is going to be an all Beatles day.
Today the Beatles are also releasing their entire portfolio of music in a new, remastered format, promising to be the best sounding Beatles music yet. Initial estimates predict this new release of Beatles music will make them the best selling album artists of this decade...40 years after they broke up.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Update on the new

Today I travelled to Worcester for a meeting of a registers of deeds subcommittee that's providing guidance on the new site. There were many issues discussed, but they can be grouped into just a few major categories.

First is the speed of the site which currently is just too slow. Until that's improved, the old site will remain active. The second area addressed dealt with the layout of each registry's home page and the location of the various search options on those home pages. Here, it seems that "good web design practices" have come into conflict with our own observations of how our customers use the site. Good design practice treats the entire front page as "valuable real estate" that is not to go unused. Our experience, however, is that customers have a better experience when using a simple design that has visual clues to direct the attention to the most commonly utilized features. The third major area is how document images get printed or downloaded. The existing mechanism, we believe, requires too many clicks on too many screens and could be made simpler.

The recommendations from today's meeting will be forwarded to the web designer (ACS) and the group will meet again next month. In the meantime, the "old" masslandrecords site will remain the default search program while the "new" version will stay alongside as an option. If you haven't already given us your feedback on the new site, it's not too late to do so. After trying out the site, just send me an email with your observations and recommendations.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Books: an "obsolete technology"

The Globe today reports that Cushing Academy, an exclusive prep school in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, is completely remaking its library by removing all 20,000 books from the stacks. In their place, students will find Kindle electronic book readers and computers that will give students access to millions of books online. (There will also be spaced carved out for a new coffee shop within the library building). The chief architect of this radical transformation is the school’s headmaster, James Tracy, who said “When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books.” Needless to say, the move is controversial.

I’ve long been an enthusiastic advocate of the electronic delivery of information. Here at the registry, we have converted all of our land records – nearly 10 million pages – to electronic form, making them freely available to anyone with an internet connection. Still, there’s something about a library that cries out for a few books, at least. But I suppose we should get used to this concept. Electronic delivery is really the most efficient means of sharing information.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Preparing for a Pandemic

As the days grow shorter and the temperatures grow colder, stories about a possible flu pandemic this winter have started to appear in the press with greater frequency. While I am not overly concerned about the risk of a devastating epidemic, I do think it’s advisable to make some preparations. Back in 1999 we prepared extensively for possible disruptions from Y2K. When the year 2000 finally did arrive, we had no date-related problems which was due in large part to the extent of our preparations. Additionally, our Y2K-inspired efforts at safeguarding our operations had the collateral benefit of improving the overall technological health of this office. Similarly, I don’t think any effort expended on preparing for the possibility of a severe flu outbreak will be wasted.

I’ve spent some time researching ways to reduce the risk of exposure to flu in the workplace. The recommendations are simple and based on common sense. Here are some of them:

*Stay home if you are sick
*Wash your hands frequently with soap and water
*If you can’t wash your hands, use hand sanitizer
*Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or cough into your upper sleeve
*Avoid shaking hands
*Keep frequently touched common surfaces such as telephones and computer equipment clean

Those are just a few of the recommendations. We’ll soon be ordering tissues, hand sanitizer and sanitizing clothes for office equipment.

In 1918, the influenza pandemic came in two waves. The first struck in March and was relatively mild, no different than other seasonal flu outbreaks. But by August, the virus soon mutated into something deadly. By the time it was over between 50 million and 100 million people around the world had died from it. While medical science of today is light years ahead of that which existed in 1918, the flu is still a virus that is capable of rapidly mutating into something unknown and untreatable. It’s important to be ready, just in case.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Westford Kudos

I found this story in The Beacon, a publication of the Massachusetts Municipal Association…well, actually I didn’t find it, my wife (who works for the town of Westford) did and stuck it under my nose. "Here" she said "read this"..."yeah yeah yeah" I responded, "I'll do it later". Well, I did read it later and I was fascinated.

Westford Technology Director Chris McClure along with the town’s database administrator Tom Laflamme developed a software system that may revolutionize the way town/city records are accessed in Massachusetts and maybe even New England. And these two town employees developed the program in-house.

Here is how the McClure/Laflamme system works: Simply enter a street address or parcel ID and all the information on that property available at the Westford Assessor's Office, Board of Health, and Building Department are linked and can be displayed by the user. The Assessor's database lists the value of the property, the square footage of the structure and land, number of baths, bedrooms and even provides a picture. The system links this information with the town's Building Department information including building permits, electrical permits etc related to the same property. The public can even fill out an application for a building permit using the new software.

In McClure’s own words “In a traditional model, if I wanted to find out about an address on Main Street, I’d have to go into the Assessors Website, and I’d have to know about all those things, Here we have the ability to do virtual binding of all these tools so it’s a single point of search. I can go in and search and the system is going to find everything it knows about that property” (The Beacon).

“A single point of search”…I love it, that’s the future! That's how searching public records should be done.

The Westford system is available for use by both town employees and the public. I took a test spin myself before writing this blog entry and was very impressed.

This is great for Westford, but what does it have to do with the rest of Massachusetts or New England? Last month Westford contracted with Hawkeye Government Solutions “to sell and license” the new software to other communities. And since July Hawkeye already has a community in Rhode Island nearly on board.

Whether McClure and Laflamme’s system takes off state-wide remains to be seem, but regardless they certainly deserve kudos for their forward and creative thinking.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Tracing the Family Tree

We’ve recently had an upsurge in customer requests for assistance in conducting genealogical research. While we’re happy to help, our resources in that area are somewhat limited. The critical issue is whether the researchers ancestors owned real estate. Many Lowell residents through the years lived their lives not as property owners but as tenants and would not have left any imprint in our records. If an ancient relative was a property owner, however, we can certainly be of assistance.

Just this morning I assisted a researcher who knew that her great grandfather lived at a particular address in the 1880s but knew nothing of her great grandmother. After a few minutes of digging, we not only discovered the great grandmother’s name, we also learned that she was the sole owner of the property. As we traced the ownership history of the property through the years, it passed from generation to generation of the same family with enough sales to allow us to keep sight of the parcel. Inferences drawn from the simple language of these deeds painted a family portrait of marriages, deaths and relationships.

For those interested in genealogy or in any historical property research, obtaining an electronic copy of our pre-1976 indexes is essential. The entire index from 1976 to the present is already available in searchable form on our website and all document images and plans beginning with the very first one from 1629 are also on the website, but only by book and page number. The index for documents recorded between 1629 and 1976 is available in electronic form at the registry, but not on the internet. To remedy this virtual gap in our holdings, we provide customers with a free electronic copy of these older indexes. All you need is a 16GB flash drive (aka “thumb drive”) which can be purchased for about $30 from Walmart, Staples or a host of other stores. Bring that drive to the registry and 15 minutes later you have a complete copy of our index.

Another thing that would be helpful (but does not yet exist) would be something like a “lay person’s guide to current and past Massachusetts property law.” Those of us who deal with property law ever day know that it defies logic and easy explanation, so a booklet explaining the basic principles would be most helpful.