I went to the District Civil Court to trace the chain of property owners for several of the restaurants in our project. Seth Gray had told me about his trip to the Conveyance District (the branch of the DCC that houses the property archives of a certain time period) – his account of his research not only sounded wildly successful, but like something that I could do too. He had sold me on the romance of digging through title archives in a stuffy silent room of the Court House so, armed with a pen and no real idea what I was doing, I set off.
After greeting me, the office receptionist plugged the addresses of my restaurants into the archive computer and rattled off instructions for what I needed to do next, utilizing a vocabulary and acronyms mostly unknown to me. She must have sensed I had not followed her completely (possibly the vacant expression on my face – a result of my confusion and increasing light-headedness from not eating that morning) so she took a moment to write down all of the stats she had just looked up on my properties and told me to head to the fifth floor. On the fifth floor, an archivist was called over to assist me. He, like the woman downstairs, began talking to me in archive speak. My first reaction was to nod knowingly at what he was telling me about districts and notaries, etc., so as not to give myself away as an absolute research novice, but I reconsidered, realizing that would not be effective if I actually wanted to learn something.
The archivist set me up with five or so gigantic metal bound books of property title changes. By set up, I mean I had these books in front of me on a long table where I could bend over awkwardly to read them . For whatever reason, chairs were not made available for this type of research, but Seth was right about how excellent these documents are – they list births, deaths, divorces, and aliases of all parties involved. They even list the previous spouses of all title vendors and vendees. The information seemed too personal to be public domain. I wanted to photograph some pages and handwritten property notes, but wasn’t sure if photography was permitted. Rather than asking a researcher, like a normal person, I tried to capture the footage sneakily. Not so sneakily as it turned out, when I was unable to turn my camera to silent so that my every button push was accompanied by a chime . I was like a really bad, boring spy. Needless to say, my photographs from that day are not top-notch. I am currently in the process of compiling title tracks for each of the restaurants I will be researching and have vowed to be more collected and adult-like the next time I return to the Civil District Court to complete these traces.