Wednesday, November 30, 2005

New Direction for the Blog

We’re putting the final touches on the newest version of our Blog. The new version will have an entirely different appearance and will use software called WordPress. Best of all, the Blog will reside on our in-house registry server. Blogger has served us well, hosting the Blog for nearly two years at absolutely no charge to the Commonwealth, but it’s flexibility is somewhat limited. The new version of the Blog will have many additional features including a display of the titles of the most recent posts. There will also be posting categories, so if you want to read all of our comments about electronic recording, for example, you need only click on the “electronic recording” category and all the postings relevant to that topic will be displayed. This new version should appear sometime next week unless we run into some unforeseen difficulties. We are also working on a compilation of our past blog entries that will be divided by subject category. The first installment, “Electronic Recording”, will contain all the Blog postings we’ve made about electronic recording during the past two years plus an up-to-date commentary that provides background and context for the original entries. The collected Blog entries will be offered as installments in PDF format on our website.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

October Stats

October was not the best month for the Massachusetts Housing market. Our once red-hot real estate market is definitely showing signs of cooling. According to the Massachusetts Association of Realtors 3,863 houses were sold last month…that makes this October the slowest of the past four. Sales fell 9.1 from October 2004 and 14.5% when compared to September of this year. The median price of a home in Massachusetts is still very high …$349,000…but, this figure is 3% lower than September and 6.9% lower than August ($375,000). Of course, high interest rates and high prices are having a negative effect on sales...
The news is better in the condo market. Sales remain strong, although the market is beginning to show signs of change. The MAR reported that 1,777 condominiums sold in October 2005. That's 14.8 percent higher than October 2004… but (the bad news), 17% lower than September 2005. The median condo price in Massachusetts is $271,350…7.5% above last October. Some experts believe that the high demand for condominiums is having an impact on the sale of single-family homes in Massachusetts. Traditionally, not much happens in the real estate market during the holiday season...with this in mind we could see even higher inventory levels come January.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Open Meeting Law & the Internet

Yesterday’s Boston Globe NorthWest weekly section contained an interesting article about the use of the Internet by elected officials. A member of the Westford Board of Selectmen has apparently been posting comments on a private, politically-related bulletin board called Some of the other members of the board of selectmen are concerned about the practice, asserting that it may constitute a violation of the state’s Open Meeting Law. Representatives of the Middlesex County District Attorney (the office charged with enforcing the law) recently traveled to Westford to host a seminar on the implications of online communication and the Open Meeting Law. The folks from the DA’s office reminded everyone that any time that three or members of a board come together to discuss official business, it constitutes an official meeting that must be open to the public and notice of which must be posted in accordance with the law. Without addressing the specifics of this case, the DA representatives reminded everyone that if the three or more officials use technology (phones or computers) to communicate, it still constitutes a meeting notwithstanding the fact that the parties to the communication may all be at distant locations. While I can’t imagine a situation where the registry of deeds would be subject to the open meeting law, we do use the Internet extensively to communicate with our users. Ironically, I’ve found that communicating online opens up the process, giving everyone with a computer and an Internet connection and equal opportunity to track what is going on. Nevertheless, since the Open Meeting Law does have broad application and since it’s last amendment was done in 1974, long before the Internet as it now exists was envisioned, cases of this type are exploring new territory in government operations and deserve our close attention.

Friday, November 25, 2005

FBI Virus Emails

During this past week, some of us have been bombarded with emails purportedly from the FBI stating that the Bureau has tracked our IP addresses logging onto more than 30 illegal websites and instructing the recipient to answer the questions contained in the attached document. For a split second, I thought this might be some new wrinkle on the Patriot Act but then a half dozen more emails arrived in rapid succession along with a few from the CIA so it was pretty obviously phony emails. Shortly thereafter, a warning notice arrived by email from our computer security folks alerting us not to open the attachments. Doing so would unleash a computer virus known as the Sober X worm. I don’t know of anyone who did open the bogus messages, but this episode just reinforced the guideline that if you receive an unsolicited email from someone who you don’t know, it’s probably best to just delete it.

Hope all our readers had an enjoyable Thanksgiving. Only 211 documents were recorded today.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thanksgiving Quiz

Here’s your chance...


a. In what year did the Pilgrims have the first Thanksgiving Feast?
1619, 1620 or 1621

b. The Horn of Plenty, or Cornucopia, which symbolizes abundance, originated in what country?
Holland, Greece or Canada

c. Which President established that Thanksgiving would take place on the fourth Thursday in November?
Lincoln, Washington or FD Roosevelt?

d. In what month is Thanksgiving celebrated in Canada?
May, October or November?

e. What was the name of the Captain of the Mayflower?
Roger Smith, Miles Standish, Christopher Jones

f. Approximately how many Pilgrims were on the Mayflower?
100, 200 0r 300? Bonus…About how many survived the first winter?

g. Which Turkey is considered to be most tender?
Old Female, Old Male, or Young Male

h. What is the name of the Native American tribe that celebrated the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims?
Sagamore’s, Wamesit, Wampanoag

i. Approximately how many Turkeys are eaten in the US on Thanksgiving?
20 million, 45 million or 100 million


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Foreclosures on the Rise?

The legal notice section of last night’s Lowell Sun was larger than usual for it included ten notices of foreclosure sales (there was an eleventh one, but that was for Fitchburg, so we won’t count it). While there always seem to be two or three such notices in the paper, the sheer mass of space occupied by these ten caught my attention. Trying to spot trends or common circumstances, I briefly glanced at our records relating to the subject properties. Though not scientific, here’s what I found. Six of the properties being foreclosed were in Lowell, three were in Westford and one was in another town. Two of the ten properties were acquired in “related transactions” meaning that the purchase price was stated as $1; the others all appeared to be arms-length transactions. Of the eight that paid what appeared to be full price, none of the property owners put much of their own money into the deal. Here are the percentages of the purchase prices that were borrowed: 91%, 95%, 97%, 100%, 100%, 102%, 102%, 156%. Refinancing frequently was another common element. One had 8 mortgages in 9 years, another had 5 mortgages in 11 years, another had 4 mortgages in 4 years, another had 3 in 8 years, another had 2 in 1 year, another had 1 in 3 years and the final one had 2 in 7 years. Based on this small sample, the newer the mortgage, the more likely it will be foreclosed. Of the 10 in last night’s paper, 7 mortgages were recorded in 2004 with one each being recorded in 2002, 2001 and in 2000. We’ll continue watching for trends in foreclosures and will report anything of interest.

Quiz Answers

Thanksgiving Quiz Answers

a. The First Thanksgiving was in 1621, one year after the Pilgrims arrived.
b. Cornucopia originated in Greece
c. FDR established the fourth Thursday as Thanksgiving
d. Thanksgiving in Canada is on the second Monday in October
e. Christopher Jones Captained the Mayflower
f. 102 Pilgrims sailed across the Altantic in the Mayflower...Bonus: about half died the first winter.
g. An Old Tom
h. WamPanoags
i. Americans eat approximately 45 million turkeys on Thankgiving

Monday, November 21, 2005


The largest phase of the 1941-1950 “Grantor Index Imaging” project is done. Two tasks remain… quality checking the images and verifying for completeness. The free CD’s of this index should be available in the next few weeks…just in time to give away as a stocking stuffer.

Since the bulk of ‘41-50 is complete we have begun the 1926-1940 Index. This project is going well also…as of today we have finished about 40% of the images.

more on Grantor Index Imaging…while these two indexes are in process a registry employee has begun preparing the next index (1916-1925) for imaging… so, actually we are working on three indexes at the same time…each at a different stage.

The Probate Indexes from 1648 to 1939 have been taken off their shelves and brought to the Plan Department…also, our old Atlases are now off the shelves and in the Plan Department (these include various Atlases of Massachusetts, the City of Lowell, Middlesex County, Lock and Canals etc). The decision to move these rare, irreplaceable books is long overdue. To avoid any inconvenience to the public both the Probate Indexes and the Atlas are “immediately” available on request.

For the past two weeks we have had a “minor” problem with the new Probate computer connection…Simply put…after ten minutes of inactivity the computer went to “sleep” then required a password to logon. Of course, we don’t have the manpower to have someone running to the record hall every ten minutes to reboot it… We believe we have solved this problem…this morning we swapped our internal computer (which doesn’t require a logon) with the public one…this should work.

In a related topic…we are in the halls often… but please, if you see a logged off computer let us know.

We awarded a new public copier contract last week…the new copiers should be arriving in about a month. In the last ten years this area has seen major changes. Since over computer system now holds approximately 90% of our images (with more being added every day) the public copiers get less and less use.

Coming Wednesday…a Thanksgiving Quiz…There is still time to brush-up.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Mortage Company in the News

When you spent a lot of time working with Deed Indexing Standards, certain names become quite familiar to you. One is E*Trade which is noteworthy because of the presence of an asterisk in the middle of the name. The general rule of the indexing standards is no punctuation, so we’ll probably be jettisoning the * but that’s still a matter of debate. Another familiar name is 1-800-East-West-Mortgage, one of the most active lenders in this area. That name is indexing standards-worthy because of all the hyphens but the standards make an exception for that particular punctuation mark so they will probably stay. This all came to mind early this morning when I stumbled upon an article in the Boston Globe business section describing how “East-West settlement ends kickback investigation.” According to the Globe, East-West has agreed to pay $150,000 to settle an investigation by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the FDIC into the alleged practice of East-West of funneling mortgages to closing attorneys, home appraisers and title companies who provided East-West with Red Sox and Patriots tickets as well as other costly perks. East-West denies any wrongdoing and says it settled the claim just to avoid the costs of litigation. Government sources say that East-West is cooperating in the further investigation of those who provided the tickets and other gratuities.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Indexing Standards Update

There's still time to comment upon the proposed update to the Deed Indexing Standards. I plan to compile all of the comments I receive by next Wednesday (the day before Thanksgiving) and group them by the specific standard they refer to. Standards that have generated no comments will be implemented without any change. As for those standards that have received comments, I will create a referendum-like document that contains the specific standard, the content of the comments received, my response to the comments and two or more options formatted as a type of ballot. I will then mail each registry one of these documents and the registry will have a certain amount of time to "vote" and return the document to me. The majority will dictate any modifications to the standards. This will all take place in early December so the new version of the standards can be finalized prior to their effective date on January 1, 2006.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Joseph P Thompson

We assigned an employee to inventory all our of books, documents, records etc... a huge task, of course. Over the past two weeks this individual has come across some interesting finds (one of which was the 1910 Massachusetts Lawyer’s Diary which I blogged on last week). This week as he scoured through our “seldom used” storage areas there were even more finds. One of these was a box of records dating back to the late 1800’s. It contained original documents signed by past Register of Deeds Joseph Thompson. An example…one of these documents is an Assignment of Mortgage dated Feburary 16, 1883 notarized by Hiram Browne and attested by Register Joseph P Thompson in his own hand. An original Thompson signature is exciting. He certainly was an accomplished individual.
Thompson had a distinguished career as a military man. He was born in Broomfield, ME in 1830 and lived there until he was fourteen years old. He moved to Lowell in 1849 and went to work for Addison Putnam on Central Street. In 1862 after the break out of the Civil War Thompson enlisted in the US Army serving in Company G the 33rd Massachusetts. Lt Thompson severed as an aid on the staff of General Francis Barlow commanding the second brigade, Third Division of the 11th army. Later he was promoted to the staff of General A. Von Steinert. He fought in the Battle of Gettysburg and was promoted to Marshall for distinguished service during the battle. Thompson also served with General Sherman at the siege of Atlanta and took part in Sherman’s infamous “March to the Sea”. After the war President Abraham Lincoln promoted Thompson to Captain honoring his gallant and meritorious service. In 1874 he was elected Middlesex North Register of Deeds, a position he held until 1908. Unfortunately Thompson died “suddenly” in a Worcester Asylum.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

REBA Annual Meeting Seminar

The Real Estate Bar Association for Massachusetts (REBA), formerly known as the Massachusetts Conveyancers Association, held its annual meeting seminar at the Wyndham Hotel in Westborough. Thanks to REBA for inviting Registers of Deeds to attend. I squeezed into the standing room only crowd for the foreclosure program (Members of the bar must be noticing the rapid growth in the numbers of Notices of Sale appearing in the local newspapers). While the formal instructional portion of the day was very interesting, the most useful time I spent was in the hallway, chatting with dozens of attorneys who concentrate their practices in real estate. One message I received loud and clear is their strong support for Indexing Standards. While they may differ with some of the details, they long for predictability in registry databases. Two problem areas that were mentioned repeatedly have little to do with the actual Indexing Standards themselves. A lack of compliance with the standards seems to be a widespread phenomenon at registries. While the folks in the front office may have voted for the standards, the clerks at the counter may not be following them, especially where the standards dictate a method of indexing that differs from the long-standing practice at that particular registry. The other issue that arose was the need to convert existing registry databases to comply with the new standards. This will be a complex, labor and resource intensive operation, but it really must be done, otherwise title examiners will have to conduct multiple searches on the same name just to catch all the possible variants of that name created under the evolving methods of index creation through the years.

Monday, November 14, 2005


There is good news on the war against Spyware. Spyware tracks your Interent activity, and bombards your computer with unwanted Pop Up Ads. A US District court located in Los Angeles has ordered a Web business to halt down loads. The court froze the assets of Enternet and charged it with unfair and deceptive practices in violation of the FTC Act. The company offered Internet users free browser upgrades, phone ring tones and music files. Enternet, also operates under the names, and The FTC is alleging that Enternet was bundling Spyware with their download offers. According to the allegations…during downloads, the company caused “installation boxes” to pop up on users computer screens. In some cases the "installation boxes" offered freeware, such as music, mobile phone ring tones and song lyrics…in others the pop up boxes offered security patches and upgrades… however, when a user clicked on the box, his PC became infected with Spyware. In May the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would stiffen sentences and establish multi-million dollar fines for Spyware purveyors... still the US Senate has yet to take up the matter. Google, Microsoft and Webroot helped the FTC with the investigation.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Changes Coming to the Blog

Sorry if you had trouble finding the link from the registry’s home page to the blog, but we had to make some changes. Back in December 2003 when no one other than the Howard Dean for President campaign had ever heard of the term blog, much less read or used one, we launched this site, a blog devoted to the latest news in registry operations, real estate and technology. Rather than engage a high priced consultant before we knew what we were getting into and thereby waste a lot of the taxpayers’ money, we discovered Blogger, a site that gave us an efficient and free means of communicating with the rest of the world. Of course, nothing in life is free, so Blogger does come with a price: advertisements for Blogger and a lack of complete control over the site by the user (after all, it is operating on Blogger’s computers). Yesterday, it seems, someone discovered (after two years) that we were operating our blog on an unofficial site and became concerned about that. I won’t get into the details other to say the concerns were legitimate. Consequently, we will be moving the blog onto our own website and will use new software that will give us complete control over its content. This will take a couple of weeks, so in the meantime, you might see some disclaimers en route to this site. The good news is that the new software will give us all types of new and useful features that will really enhance the site. As always, we will keep you posted.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Winter Schedule

Mark your calendar...

It might be a little early… but here's the Registry's winter schedule…

November 11, 2005 (Friday)- Veteran's Day- Closed
November 24, 2005 (Thursday)- Thanksgiving- Closed
November 23 & 25, 2005- Days before and after Thanksgiving- Open for normal business 8:30am-4:30pm.
December 23, 2005- Friday before Christmas- Open for normal business 8:30am-4:30pm
December 26, 2005-(Monday) - Closed for Christmas holiday
January 2, 2006- (Monday)- Closed for New Year's holiday
January 16, 2006- (Monday)- Closed for Martin Luther King Day

Please note... the Registry will be closed the Monday after Christmas and the Monday after New Year's!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

More on Swipe-Card Security

There’s an article in today’s New York Times on “swipe-card” hotel keys. In a posting on this blog some months ago, we reported many hotels imbed an immense amount of personal information (name, home address, credit card number and expiration date) on the magnetic swipe-card hotel key you get each time you stay away from home. That article recommended carrying away the card-key and destroying it at home. Today’s article quotes a number of folks in the card key industry as saying this is just an “urban myth” and that no such information is ever placed on these cards. Who knows? The author of today’s article suggests you either turn your key in at the front desk at check out or take it home with you and cut it into little pieces before throwing the fragments away.

Monday, November 07, 2005


The Middlesex North Registry of Deed's blog is now available as an Atom feed. Atom is an information feeder that regularly sends updated summaries of web and blog content to subscribers. With Atom you will automatically receive registry blog entries as soon as they are posted. These immediate updates are available only if you have a “FeedReader”. It sounds a little complicated, but it's really not. All you need to do is download a FeedReader, we (well, actually Blogger) does the rest. Atom is widely used by the blogging community to share the latest entries’ headlines or full text. When Atom syndication is activated an XML version of the updated blog can be picked up and displayed in a variety of ways, such as newsreaders, web sites and handheld devices. As mentioned earlier to receive Atom updates of the registry’s blog you must first download a feeder. Bloglines and GoogleReader are two very popular readers that are available free.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Probate Court Computer Link

Good news. We now have two computers that are connected to the Middlesex Probate Court's docket database. One of these computers is in the upper record hall where the public has access; the other is in our customer service office. These computers permit you to search the probate court docket by name to determine whether an estate exists. It will be of great help to those doing titles here. We're not yet sure how far back the data goes (our initial experiments suggest it might only be a few years ago) but this will become increasingly useful as time goes by. Not only are you able to find the docket number of the estate, but you are also able to look at all docket entries to ascertain what's been filed and when (although you can't see the documents themselves). The system also has access to the divorce and other probate court databases (in Middlesex) in a similar manner.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


One of the many things I love about working at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds is its rich history. So often we come across items or books that remind me of this fact. You may remember that last summer we found newspapers printed in the 1930’s attached to old Registered Land documents. Yesterday was one of those lucky days here at the registry. We found eight old and rare copies of the Massachusetts Lawyers Diary in the basement of the registry: 1910, 1913, 1914, 1918, 1919, 1922, 1932 & 1939. This morning I glanced through the oldest of these, the 1910 edition. It gives one a rare glimpse of Massachusetts 95 years ago. The structure of the book is very much like the one published today. Listings of judges, sheriffs, courthouses, clerks, District Attorneys etc can be found in the book. And of course there is a listing of the lawyers that were members of the Mass Bar Association in 191o. Interestingly enough, this group is divided into "Boston Attorneys" and "Attorneys from outside of Boston". We are presently working on uploading the complete list of Lowell members to our webpage For now... I thought it might be interesting to mention some of the information listed in the old diary.

On the inside cover of this 1910 edition is an advertisement for the book...the Mass Lawyer's Diary was available in three different styles 95 years ago…Full Russia for $2.50Leather Back with Cloth Sides for $2.00 and the “New” low priced edition Full Cloth for only $1.50.

The Governor of Massachussetts was Eben Draper of Hopedale, Lt Governor Louis Frothingham of Boston, Secretary of State was William Olins also of Boston, and the Attorney General Dana Malone of Greenfield.

Listed on page two is the official postage rate: in 1910 you could mail a first class letter for $.02.

The two US Senators from Massachusetts were Henry Cabot Lodge and W. Murray Crane. Lodge served for a total of 37 years as both a Congressman and Senator before leaving in 1924. You may remember that his son Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr also served as a US Senator for 15 years before being beaten by none other than John F Kennedy.

Massachusetts’ official holidays in 1910 as listed on page 5: Feb 22 (Washington’s Birthday); April 19(Patriot's Day); May 30(Memorial Day); July 4;
September 5(Labor Day), Thanksgiving, & Dec 25.

The Congressman from the fifth Congressional district was Bulter Ames of Lowell. Butler Ames was the son Tewksbsury’s Civil War General Adelbert Ames and the grandson of Lowell’s famous Benjamin Butler. Butler Ames served in Congress from 1903-1913.

The Middlsex North Register of Deeds was William Purcell. Purcell was elected in 1909 and served for 25 years until 1934 when he died in office. In one of his re-election ads (not in the diary) he boasts that he "Complied a consolidated classified index of attachments" (computers do that now).

It's not the "On The Road" scroll, but the 1910 edition of the Massachusetts Lawyer's Diary is very interesting ...especially... if you are a local history junky. If you get a chance drop by Customer Service and we will be happy to let you take a look at it.

E-Recording Glitch

The wisdom of our long test period with electronic recording was made evident yesterday when a significant problem arose for the first time. We had agreed to increase the volume of submissions to evaluate how the system (and we) handled it. With the system already busier than usual with the predictable last day of the month up tick in recording volume, we received 82 separate electronic recordings all at once. Fortunately they were all mortgage discharges so the indexing data we had to verify was not particularly complex, and each document consisted of only a single image. The problem occurred with the 21st document. Each document was a separate “payload” so they were being recorded individually (remember, a “payload” is a group of related documents, much like a “set” is with walk-in recordings). This 21st document was all in order, but when we clicked to put it on record, the computer generated an error message that indicated that the work station we were using had lost contact with the database on the main server in mid-recording. The transaction was issued an instrument number, all indexing info was present in our database, and the correct fee was charged, but there was no image – it had evaporated. Of course, the obvious risk with electronic recording is that there’s no paper document to fall back on; all you have is that electronic image and now we didn’t even have that. Unfortunately, none of us had contemplated this exact problem. We had experienced computer problems previously, but they would simply bounce the recording back to the customer. This was different – the document was recorded but suddenly there was no document. So we’ve put a halt to electronic recording for now until we develop a standard procedure to follow in the case of a damaged or missing electronic document. We’ll share this procedure with you and make an announcement here once we have resumed electronic recording.