The depth and scope of information that exists on people, businesses, and places is staggering. What used to be mostly paper and microfiche trails of data have turned into cyber trails of bytes managed by the government and by private companies.
“Yes,” says the clerk at the County Recorder’s Office. “All our recorded documents are online.”
She neglected to mention that only the index is online – not document images. She failed to mention the index only goes back to 2007, except for the records lost in the flood in the spring of 2009. She failed to say only real estate related records are in the index, only the debtors’ names are searchable, and there are no identifiers to distinguish the subject.
Oh yes, the system is managed by a private company that requires a user name and password. The clerk doesn’t know the phone number, but it doesn’t matter anyway because the company doesn’t return calls.
This story may sound far-fetched, but it is closer to the truth than you might think. Actually many of these searching idiosyncrasies mentioned really do exist on searchable websites for many counties and towns.
There is no easy way to generalize about government-held records because of the diverse nature and variations of public policies associated with them. In reality some records are closed or restricted. The purpose of this article is to set the foundation on how to perform public record searching.