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Inherited from colonial England, the recording of deeds originated during Henry VIII's reign when a new system of written transfer of property replaced a feudal system of public symbolic transfer of real estate.1 Prior to the Revolutionary War, all colonies kept their own records with the proprietor holding all titles to land unclaimed.2 During the first fifty years of Delaware's existence, three governments with three different methods of administration were alternately in control, resulting in numerous conflicting claims and registrations. Land titles from 1655 to 1664 when the Dutch West India Company was the proprietor of Delaware were recorded in Holland. From 1673 to 1674 when the city of Amsterdam gained control titles were recorded in Sweden, Holland, England, New Amsterdam (New York), Philadelphia, St. Mary's, and Annapolis.3 Few records from 1638-1655 survive; those of the Dutch colony are in Albany, New York. The Duke of York, proprietor from 1674-1682, recognized all previous Dutch and Swedish titles but required that all forms of agreement, be it bargain, inheritance, or sale, be recorded by the clerk of the `Court of Sessions.'4 The first officially recorded land title is dated 1646.5 In 1682, under William Penn's Statue of Enrollment, all land transactions had to be recorded within two months of the original transaction or become void. They were recorded in a newly created public enrollment office located in the county seat. Those transactions occurring beyond the bounds of the province had to be recorded within six months or face the same penalty.6 The Penn family were proprietors here from 1682-1776 through a grant from James, Duke of York.

The General Assembly passed a law in the period between 1738-1747 that provided for "an Office of Record in each county" to be called "the office for recording of deeds," and thereby creating one of the earliest `official' offices.7 The 1792 constitution empowered the governor to appoint a recorder of deeds in each county for a five-year term.8 In 1897 the office became elective although the governor has power to remove the recorder from office in certain cases.9 He/she may serve consecutive terms but may not hold any other public office simultaneously.10 Originally, a newly appointed/elected recorder was required to make an inventory of all papers contained in the office before entering therein and deliver said list to the prothonotary. This practice is not required today.11

In 1827 under the “Act concerning Apprentices and Servants” Justices of the Peace and Trustees of the Poor were required to deliver any indenture of deed of apprenticeship to the Recorder of Deeds within 60 days of its execution. The Recorder was required to record the document “in a book to be used for the purpose of recording such indentures and deeds an no other. . . ” The Recorder was further responsible for preserving the “original indenture or deed in a file in which all such indentures and deeds for the year shall be placed in alphabetical order with a label of the year.”12

The recorder of deeds is today responsible for an accurate recording and indexing of: deeds, mortgages, releases, assignments, and agreements involving real estate rights; certificates of incorporation and amendments and dissolutions thereof; obligations, satisfactions, recognizances and oaths, affirmations and affidavits of other public officers; all private acts of the General Assembly including those relating to private companies and banking concerns; official maps of districts and all amendments, permits, prohibitions and restrictions thereof; easements, restrictions of mortgages, or any other document relating to the buying or selling of real estate; certificates of incorporation; and certificates of discharge for members of the armed services.13

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1 Taylor, Clarence W., Our County Government, 1957, p. 10

2 Fairlie, John A., Local Government in Counties, Towns and Villages, 1906, pp. 127-128

3 Work Projects Administration. Inventory of County Archives of Delaware, New Castle County, 1941, p. 64

4 Duke of York’s Book of Laws, pp. 23-24

5 Duke of York Record, p. 6

6 Duke of York’s Book of Laws, pp. 118-119

7 1 D.L., ch. 83

8 1792 Constitution, Article 3, section 8

9 1897 Constitution, Article 3, section 13 and 22

10 Messersmith, George S., Government of Delaware, 1908, p. 142

11 1852 D.L., ch. 24 s. 6

12 7 D.L., 1827

13 40 D.L., ch. 39; Messersmith, p. 65; 43 D.L., ch. 266; 45 D.L., ch. 258; 51 D.L., ch. 185