A list of who owned property is often referred to as a chain of title. A chain of title is a list of the records of the transfer of land from a seller (grantor) to a buyer (grantee). The documents typically contain the names of the parties involved and a legal description of the property. Chain of title research requires the legal description of property and the name of the current owner. The legal description is different from the address or Assessor’s parcel number (APN), and typically includes references to a section, township, and range; or in the case of more urban areas the description will include a subdivision name and lot number.
For example: TRACT NO 2436, LITTLE MOUNTAIN ESTATES, LOT 100 or NE ½ if Section 18, T2N R4W
Before 1958 records are available on microfilm at the main Recorder office only, the microfilmed index is available by decade and the user will need to ask staff to check out these microfilm. With the legal description and name of the current owner, the customer can begin the process of property research in two ways:
- On Site: Currently Unavailable
- Online at the Recorder-Clerk’s Self-Service Web Portal
A user can trace backwards in time beginning with the current owner, using the Grantor(seller)/Grantee(buyer) index. A user cannot research by legal description, only by the name of the people involved as a grantor or grantee. Look for the current owner’s name as a grantee; match the legal description of the property. The document will list the grantor, start the process again locating this person as the grantee and matching the legal description. As the user proceeds, be sure to note each transaction and record the book and page and/or document number, especially if the user wants a copy of any document.
The index is available online and in the Recorder-Clerk’s office. The index allows customers to view documents and research grantors and grantees from 1958 to present day. Please note this is an index only and the user will not be able to view the actual document image (per GC 6254.21). The customer will be able to identify documents of interest to further research.
How To Research Building Permits
Permits are documents issued by the county, or a city’s, planning department. Permits were not required in the jurisdiction of the county of San Bernardino until approximately 1936; certain cities did require building permits earlier. If the user is researching permits on the property start with the city in which the property resides.
If the user is researching a permit on property in the County this research can be done at the San Bernardino County Building and Safety customer service counters during operating hours. For more details please see Land Use’s website. Neither the San Bernardino County Recorder nor the San Bernardino County Historical Archives have copies of any building permits.
How To Know When The House Was Built
People often want to learn when their home was built. Rarely do Recorder documents mention buildings. It is often difficult to use documents such as deeds to trace if a particular piece of property contained a house or business, because the deed will not mention a structure or details, just the legal description of the land. The user can research if a building permit exists, which requires knowing if the property at the time of construction was within city limits, or if it was part of the county jurisdiction.
Assessor Lot Books
The San Bernardino County Historical Archive has Assessor Lot/Parcel Books from 1895 to approximately 1950. These books can provide a key in determining the age of a structure by the year an “improvement” appears on the property. The record will not state what the improvement is, i.e. house, barn, or shed. This must be extrapolated from the amount of valuation, or improvement. The lot books are organized by school district and then by legal description. The following information can be found in these books:
- Name of owner/tax payer
- Legal description of the subdivision or tract, block and lot or township, range and section
- Valuation for land
- Valuation for improvements
- Valuation for trees and vines that are considered enough quantity to be sold, i.e. marketable
- Valuation for Water