For quite some time, users of masslandrecords.com have had the option to use the "new" version of the system, but the "old" version remained the search screen. That will all change on October 1, 2011 when the two versions swap places and the "new" one becomes the default program. Users will be able to opt to use the old version, but only for 90 days beyond that since the old version will be fully retired on January 1, 2012. In preparation for these changes, I'm writing a series of posts about the new version.
The default search fields on the new version are a simple LastName - FirstName search. More search fields (date range, document type, etc) can be easily added by clicking the "Advanced" button to the right of the initial fields. However, "Name Search" is not the only way to query our records.
Within the "Recorded Land" category of the Search Criteria link (there are three other categories: Registered Land, Plans, and Registered Land Plans), there are nine separate searches. Here's an explanation of each.
Name Search - described above
Book Search - use this if you have the book and page number of a document, or if you want to see all the documents from a particular book
Document Search - use this if you have a "document number" (a/k/a "instrument number). When a document is recorded, it is assigned two identifying numbers: (1) a document number and (2) a book and page number. Today, our system assigns both simultaneously, but prior to 2002, the document number was assigned at the moment of recording and the book and page number was assigned some time later, when the actual book was being compiled. Sometimes you will just have the document number and not the book and page number. Please remember that document numbers are assigned sequentially throughout the year so a single document number might refer to multiple documents. To get the one you want, you will also need the year in which the document was recorded.
Property Search - This permits a search by street, street address, and town. It has only been since the mid 1990s that addresses were reliably placed in the registry index. (Title searches are based on owners' names, not property addresses) so searching by address may not be the most effective way to retrieve older documents. Also, current documents that have varying street numbers pose search problems. Many properties have addresses such as "12-14 Whipple St" for example. Yet if you search for "12 Whipple" you won't find documents indexed as "12-14" since that's not what you're asking the computer for.
Recorded Date Search - This allows you to retrieve all documents recorded during a set period of time and to limit those to a particular document type. For example, if you were interested in all foreclosure deeds recorded for Lowell during August, this is the search you would use.
Unindexed Property Search - Older documents that do not have a corresponding computerized index may be retrieved here by book and page number. At this registry, this means documents recorded before 1950 (and in books 1130 and below). These documents are not available on the "old" version of masslandrecords although they have been available on the lowelldeeds website using the "Books 1 - 2789" link. On the "new" version, just enter the book and page number of a pre-1950 document in this section to retrieve the image.
Unindexed Pre-1855 Books - This registry was created by the state legislature in 1855. The first document recorded that year was placed in Book 1. But documents for the towns in this district had already been recorded in Cambridge for the previous 200 years. In 1855, all previous documents for the towns in the Middlesex North District were recopied into a new set of books for each of the towns in the district. Therefore, to retrieve a document from before 1855, you need the book and page number but also the town in which the property was located.
Pre-1976 Grantor Index - The searchable Grantor Index at this Registry reaches back only to 1976 (we are currently re-indexing earlier years but they have not been fully verified) so to find documents recorded before 1976 it is necessary to use the old, paper-based Grantor and Grantee Indexes. Only the paper versions are no longer available. Instead, we have scanned those paper versions and make the scanned images of their pages available here. You can search these pre-1976 indexes just as you would the old grantor and grantee index books, only you do it on the computer.
Pre-1976 Grantee Index - Same as above for Grantor Index