An Introduction to the Durham County Register of Deeds Office

Who owns it? Who sold it? How much did it cost? 

These are just a few of the questions that someone with a little time on their hands can answer  as they wander through the records at the Durham County Register of Deeds Office.

History and mission

Since 1881 when William Lowe was installed as Durham’s first Register, Durham’s Deeds Office has been home to a significant portion of the County’s history in the form of land conveyance and land use documents. Durham County’s Deeds Office, being one of 100 in the state (each county has its own office with records specific to that municipality), has been given its authority by North Carolina’s General Assembly to serve as the legal custodian for land transaction and other miscellaneous documents. Succinctly stated, it is the mission of the Office to ensure the integrity of the public record according to statutory mandate.

Promoting confidence by providing access

In addition to its history and mission, the Register of Deeds Office provides both a process and the necessary access to documents that make it an ideal partner for a Hacking into History Project designed to better understand the nature of restrictive covenants in Durham. The way in which records are filed in the Deeds Office is simple however supremely important.  

Basically, once a document has been verified according to NC law, it is placed into the public record and can never be removed. The fact that it cannot be deleted is important because all of the documents, for example, that relate to a house help to tell the story of that house and the people who live there.  Just imagine what would happen if there was any doubt about how accurate the records in the Deeds Office were; no one would feel confident about buying or selling property and a large part of community life would not be able to function! 

So, to review, the Durham County Register of Deeds Office has been given the legal authority to store public records, developed a process for filing documents which ensures that nothing is ever erased or hidden and as a result allows the community to have a high degree of confidence that the information in the office can be trusted. While all those elements are very important, equally as necessary is the community’s ability to access those records.

Searching made simple

Here is what the Durham County Register of Deeds Office has done to help make searching its files as easy as possible. They have: 

  1. created a filing system and index so that any document can be found as long as the searcher has the name of one person on the document,
  2. digitized the entire range of documents that exist in the office so that they can be found by using a computer instead of having to physically search books (remember, that’s over 100 years’ worth of files that had to be put onto a computer!), and 
  3. allowed for all of the records on file to be viewed either in the office or from any location that has internet access.  

Following this brief introduction to the Durham County Register of Deeds Office, hopefully it is clear what the mission of the Office is, how it operates, as well as the important role it has in helping researchers access important documents, such as restrictive covenants, which help to paint a picture about land use and transfers in Durham County since the 1880’s.

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