With the deed number referenced at the end of the deed, look up the deed of the previous owner. Continue this process until there are no buildings listed on the tract of land that is being transferred, or until you know you have gone far enough by the style of the house you are researching. If your search proceeds smoothly, you will end up in the late 1600s when deeds were first recorded in Delaware for land that was owned, divided, and sold by William Penn to Delaware's first European settlers. However, it is rarely necessary to go that far since there are few seventeenth-century buildings in Delaware!
For many reasons you may lose the chain of title along the way. This sometimes happens when a deed does not refer you to the number of the previous deed. It is frustrating when the deed reads, "Being the same lands and premises of Jane Doe by deed dated - in deed record -' It and the blanks have not been filled in. However, with patience and persistence, you can sometimes get back on track. Try the following:
• Check the deed indices for the name of the previous owner (Jane Doe) and hope the deed number was recorded there.
• Sometimes you will find several people with the same name in the deed index. In these cases, it is useful to know something about the person whose property you are researching, especially occupation and place of origin. Then, although you may have to look at each deed for that name, you can eliminate much more readily. You should also look at the parcel description, because you might be able to recognize the land you are researching by its boundaries, size, and neighbors.
• Sometimes property belonged to the wife's family and was given to the bride and her new husband at their marriage. Earlier deeds will be found under the wife's maiden name.
• It could be that the land was transferred without a deed to a family member through a will record. You may therefore want to look at probate records, for the family names of both the husband and the wife.
• You may be able to look at an old map to find the name of an earlier property owner. You can then look up that name in the deed indices to find the deed reference.
Step 4: Interpreting Deed Information
Dates of construction are seldom known with precision. More often than not, they are based on interpretation of documented evidence. In order to make a judgment about when a house or addition was built, you need to be aware of the changes in the size and cost of the parcel and also know something about the various owners. This is where additional research comes in handy. For example, if a property is tied up in legal documentation because of a death, construction would also likely come to a halt. Or, if census information indicates that the number of people in a household increased significantly during a ten-year span, this could support the idea that the addition to your residence was constructed at that time. If a parcel is located in an area that has recently been subdivided, construction would be expected. Maps can corroborate this idea because they might show that the land in the area was being subdivided at the time. A significant increase in the cost of the parcel can indicate a date of construction. Do not be dismayed if the deed doesn't say, "All those certain lots. .. with a frame house." It may not be that specific, but your interpretation based on size, cost, as well as other information, can lead to a fairly certain construction date. By now you are becoming an accomplished detective!
• Bring with you to the Recorder of Deeds photocopies of old maps and a current road map. These help you pinpoint the parcel being described.
• Keep notes on deed book and page numbers, names of owners, their occupations and place of residence, dates of ownership, parcel size, cost, and buildings mentioned. How have these things changed from deed to deed?
• Try to draw the property description and take note of names of adjacent owners. Sometimes this information provides important clues, particularly if you have an old map in hand.
• A Note on Hundreds: What is a "hundred"? The original rationale for the division of land known as a