Friday, May 20, 2011

"Search Criteria" and the New Masslandrecords

Perhaps the most important geography on the new Masslandrecords site is at the very top, the "Search Criteria" link. There, users will find access to every conceivable method of searching the registry's records. The following is a brief overview of the various search options with some helpful hints where necessary.

In all cases, users are first presented with a very basic search option with only a few fields available to enter variables. This is purposeful since we have found that many new users tend to overpopulate fields - if there's a field, they see it as mandatory not optional - and this overpopulation tends to exclude from the search relevant entries. To avoid this, the new design initially offers only the minimum fields necessary. Regular users, however, may expand the number of fields available for refining their searches by clicking the "advanced search" link.

Name Search provides three fields: last name, first name and party type which is a drop down menu with the options being grantor and grantee. HINT: "Party Type" used to have much more relevance when the indexes were divided between two separate sets of books. With everything now in the same computer database, the importance of the grantor-grantee distinction is greatly diminished.

Book Search provides two possible fields: book and page. HINT: to view multiple documents from the same book, just enter the book number and leave the page number blank.

Document Search gives you two fields: the start document and end document. HINT: if you are only interested in a single document, put that number alone in the start document field. BUT, remember that document numbers are reused from year to year so the results for document 2500, for example, will include many documents bearing that number, each from a different year.

Property Search allows you to enter street number, street name and choose town name from a drop-down menu. HINT: Don't add the street suffix (i.e., "STREET, ST, AVENUE, AVE, etc) since the way that word is entered in the database may vary. HINT 2: If you can't find what you're looking for, try doing the search by leaving "street #" blank. Properties often have variable numbers such as 15 or 15-17 or 15D. If you search only for "15" none of the other variants will show up.

Recorded Date gives you a start and end date of the search plus a drop down menu of document types to use if you're just looking for a particular type of document. For example, if you want to see all deeds recorded for April 2011, enter 04/01/2011 in the start window and 04/30/2011 in the end window and select DEED from the drop down menu. If you're looking for all documents recorded for a particular date range, remember that during 2004 we were routinely handling 700-800 documents per day so if your range is too broad, you'll be left with thousands of documents returned.

Unindexed Property Search is to retrieve documents that were recorded prior to 1976. These are not covered by the computerized index and are available only as single page TIFF images. If you have a multi-page document from Book 800, you would come here and pull up each of the pages individually from this section. HINT: We've been doing "back indexing" on an on-going basis and are back to the late 1960s. As documents are indexed, they are switched over to the regular portion of our computerized index described above.

Unindexed Pre-1855 Books. This registry was created in 1855. The first book for the new registry was Book 1 but documents for the land in the Middlesex North District had already been recorded for hundreds of years previously. These previously recorded documents were extracted from the older Middlesex South books by hand copying them into a new, separate set of books here at Middlesex North. To retrieve these documents, you need the book and page number and the town in which the land was located in 1855.

Pre-1976 Grantor (and Grantee) Index. Our computerized index begins in 1976 (although that now stretches back into the late 1960s as described above). Older indexes have been scanned and are available here at the registry as a type of electronic book that allows users to scroll through the images of the index just as they'd scroll through the original index book. We have now added these images of the older indexes to the new masslandecrecords website. These old paper-based indexes were consolidated by date range (for example 1856-1880, 1881-1900, and so on). This new feature gives users three variables: the date range, the "book" which is simply the letter of the alphabet the name you're searching falls within and the "page". This page feature is not of practical use right now because it's literally a single number among up to a thousand pages within that set. To find the page of interest to you on the system as it now exists, you have to guess at what page it might be on. We do have a modification in the works that will substitute these individual page numbers with the first name that appears on that page of the index (which is how the in-registry system operates). We expect this modification to be deployed in about six weeks. Once that happens, you'll be able to look for the name closest to the one of interest to you and be more precise about locating that page.

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