Editor's note: This is the latest installment in a series of stories taking a look at services, public offices and infrastructure we rely on every day but may not fully understand.
Since property records go back to 1822 in St. Francois County, there is still is a lot of referencing of old records for property information that needs to be done.
“If restrictions are not on the computer, a manual search must be done,” St. Francois County Recorder of Deeds Jay Graf said. “They do go way back. We have an old map from 1928 — they’ll refer to it even now — to see what restrictions are on there.”
Graf noted that when real estate has changed owners throughout the years there can be several issues and restrictions added.
“Some people have mineral rights, right of ways, easements — all of those different things that are a part of history of that property,” he said. “It’s an ongoing process because the new owner can put restrictions on a property too.
“There’s new ones coming in every day, and the old ones we’re trying to index and get into the system so that everyone can access through the computer system.”
Record searches will eventually be easier over time, Graf said. The recorder’s office is in the process of digitizing all the records.
“The local records preservation grant, that’s through the Secretary of State," he said. “It’s a big digitization project that we’re carrying on. Two years ago, they started the process of scanning them. Missouri has a grant process that you have to go through, we are applying for 2019-2020.
"Assuming we get the grant, we’ll get a team in here, they will scan our books. We have about 467 books, with about 650 pages in each one of them. It’s a long process, we do about 50 books at a time. Then there’s a big backlog of things digitized already. Then we have to get those in the computer. Then they have to be indexed. Then it’s verified.”
Any financial transactions that relate to real estate must at some point go through the recorder’s office.
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“When you pay off your house, you get a release of lien — that’s a permanent record on that property,” he said. “That has to run through this office to get attached to that property.”
Since Graf is new at his job, he relies heavily on his staff, such as Kim Schrum, chief deputy recorder of deeds. She discussed the different type of deeds involved in real estate transactions.
“The deed of trust is what you get from the bank," she said. "Some states are mortgage states — we’re deed of trust state. A warranty deed is what you acquire when you purchase property. It warrants the property against any liens. A quit claim deed means, ‘I don’t want this property any more. I’m going to give it to you. I’m not guaranteeing there’s no lien on it or anything. I quit claiming my interest.’”
Aside from his staff, Graf has had other assistance in learning the procedures and details of his office.
“Since I’m new, they assign me, through the Recorders Association of Missouri, a mentor,” he said. “My mentor is Debbie Dunnegan of Jefferson County.”
Another duty of the recorder’s office deals with the archiving and storing of military records.
“I have the military discharges, which are totally private files,” he said. “No one can get into them unless it is their own. They have to be properly identified. These are kept in the vault.”
Graf explained that recording marriage licenses can lead to more problems than any of the more complex filings in his office.
“Marriage licenses are the most difficult to deal with,” he said. “People will apply in one county and try to turn it in in another county or a witness forgot to sign it. Often there’s no phone numbers on it to call someone to fix a problem.”