You may not know it, but you are part of an industry that dates back over 5000 years! That's right, land title conveyancing can date its roots back to the Tigris and Euphrates valleys in 3000 BC. Archeologists have unearthed clay boundary markers which were used to segregate lots and blocks in the city of Babylon. It was over 2600 years ago (600 BC) that we have evidence of the first written forms of land title conveyances showing ownership. The Medes and Persians used the first written forms of ownership identification of land back then.
The idea of land title ownership takes a turn as the western world begins in the middle ages. The Feudal system was developed in Europe. This system held the idea that the land was divinely given to the monarch to use for the kingdom. Many kings gave land grants to knights or feudal lords. Feudal lords worked the land with vassals or surfs. These were land-tenants. What was unique about the relationship between the Feudal lord and the vassals was when the vassal died, his tenancy died with him. His Heirs would have to apply to the Feudal lord to keep the land they had worked all their lives.
This was the norm until 1215 AD when King John of England signed the Magna Carta, which among other things, pledged that the king's ownership of land was not absolute. Feudal lords could buy and sell lands, ownerships could be transferred by deed. Unfortunately, this did not change the plight of the vassal or tenant farmers who worked the land. Their interests were still extinguished upon their death.
However from this medieval system, grew the English system of land transfer. Almost all lands in England are long term tenancies now. Our system of land ownership in the United States has its origins in this leasehold tenancy system of England. However the 13 colonies adopted Allodial Tenure. This was quite the opposite of the Feudal system. Allodial Tenure held that land ownership was absolute and only the government held a higher right in land than the owner.
The United States had many new ideas, and one of them was the first ever recording law in 1640 AD in Massachusetts. In all of human history, this was the first ever law requiring to perfect a land title claim, you must register the deed with the registry office. Lands were registered using the Torrens system of land registry, which is by Grantor, Grantee, Land and date. The act was later amended to require full copies of registered documents.
In 1785 the first Continental Congress passed The Land Act. This act granted that all public lands were freely alienable. All lands can be held and owned by anyone. This was also very new and has no predecessor in the history of the world.
Why should we as title people care about the history of land titles in the United States and the world? Because we are part of a unique industry that has no other parallel in the world. Our system of land transfer that we as title professionals work every day to protect is the basis of over half the wealth in the United States. And it all started over 5000 years ago to get to this place in history today.
Dakota Homestead Title Insurance Co