Ever wonder who owned your property 100 years ago? Or even 200 years ago? Your house probably wasn’t there yet and there may have been different trees, but someone else likely called your land home, just like you do. We need only to look to history to reveal the roots of your home’s DNA.
About 500 years ago, Native Americans were the local inhabitants. However, the concept of property ownership as we now know it was not an aspect of their culture. In ownership terms, your Texas property was originally owned by either the government of Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, or the State of Texas.
Public Texas Land Grants
Spanish, and then Mexican, land grants to private individuals began around 300 years ago. About 200 years ago, the Republic of Texas began selling land grants at 50 cents an acre through the General Land Office (GLO). The U.S. annexed Texas and eventually ran out of public Texas land grants to sell by 1900.
Documentation for your property ownership may go back to the original land grant from the U.S. or Texas governments. The homesteader that held title to your property about 150 years ago likely used the land for farming or ranching. Eventually they may have subdivided it and sold it in pieces or as a large tract to a developer.
Your Dallas/Fort Worth-area property was likely part of a new development or subdivision sometime in the last 100 years. It was probably assigned a subdivision name, lot, and block number, which was filed with the county clerk’s office. Think of properties in the same subdivision as sharing family roots.
Any time your Texas property transferred ownership in the past 150 or so years, a deed was filed with the county clerk. The county clerk keeps an index of sellers and buyers for all property transactions. Every deed must have a legal description. This is more important than a street address. A street address provides identification, but a legal description defines exactly what property is being bought or sold, the boundaries of the property, etc.
Title companies perform a title search before closing a property and issuing title insurance. A title search involves checking the ownership history of the property. However, title agencies are not necessarily interested in the genealogy of your land. They are concerned with the legal ownership, liens and any encumbrances on a property.
It is possible to trace the chain of title and create a list of everyone who has ever owned your property back to the original land grant on file with the GLO. There are companies who can do it for you and the process can be expensive. If you want to do it yourself, it isn’t hard to create a chain of title, but it is a time-consuming pursuit.
Where to Look
Property records are located at the county clerk’s office. They are often listed as being recorded by volume number and page number in the county map records. The legal description could read something like: Lot 10A, Block 122, of XYZ Addition to the City of ABC, Dallas County, Texas, according to the plat thereof recorded in Volume 1967592, Page 1674, of the Map Records of Dallas, County Texas.
This identifying information is the backbone of a property’s DNA. A person may go to the clerk in person with the current owner’s name and trace the history of title transfers. Each deed record will show the previous owner. Then just search for that owner’s deed and then the next owner’s deed, and so on. With luck and persistence, you might explore your property’s ancestry back to its original owner.
Lydia Blair (formerly Lydia Player) was a successful Realtor for 10 years before jumping to the title side of the business in 2015. Prior to selling real estate, she bought, remodeled and sold homes (before house flipping was an expression). She’s been through the real estate closing process countless times as either a buyer, a seller, a Realtor, and an Escrow Officer. As an Escrow Officer for Allegiance Title at Preston Center, she likes solving problems and cutting through red tape. The most fun part of her job is handing people keys or a check.