Just as with every other state in the United States of America, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania provides for a system of publicly recording notices for claims in real property.
Typically, when one party transfers, or conveys, his or her interest in a parcel of real estate to another party, that interest very often is in the form of a deed. In Pennsylvania, that deed is then recorded in the office of the Recorder of Deeds for the County in which the real estate is located.
Our present system for affording people the ability to put others on notice of their real estate interests owes to the system used by William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. At one time, all the land comprising the colony of Pennsylvania was owned by William Penn.
A relatively recent case from the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, Dutch Corner Historical Society v. Stahl, 78 A.3d 1201 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2013), sets out a succinct history of William Penn’s land recording system and how the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania tracked real estate conveyed from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
“By the Royal Charter of March 4, 1681, King Charles II of England granted ‘William Penn, his heirs and assigns … make, create and constitute the true and absolute proprietaries of the Contrey [Pennsylvania]” conveying to him “an immediate and absolute estate in fee to the province of Pennsylvania.” Thompson v. Johnston, 6 Binn. 68, 70 (Pa.1813) Throughout the proprietorship, lands were conveyed by warrant and patent by the Land Office which has operated continuously since William Penn arrived in Pennsylvania in 1682 and began to administer and sell land.”
Dutch Corner, 78 A.3d, at 1202.
Following the grant from King Charles II, William Penn began to sell the land to settlers and in order to do so, Penn established the Land Office. Plum Hollow Hunting Club, Inc. v. Fraker, 1210 MDA 2015, 2016 WL 5684045, at *21 (Pa. Super. Ct. Aug. 10, 2016), citing, Hermansen, Knud Everett, Boundary Retracement Principles and Procedures for Pennsylvania, (1986).
The Land Office has been housed in various departments of the Commonwealth over its history. Dutch Corner, 78 A.3d, at 1202. In 1981, the land records and the functions of the Land Office, which had been in the Department of Community Affairs, were transferred to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Id. Among other duties, this Commission has the duty to maintain and preserve papers relating to the surveys of this Commonwealth, reports of commissioners relating to the boundary lines of this Commonwealth, and maps and other papers lodged with the Land Office. Id., at 1203, citing, 68 Pa.C.S.A. § 6102. Commonwealth land records only document transactions between the Penns or the post-revolutionary Commonwealth and the first purchaser(s) of each tract of land. Dutch Corner, 78 A.3d, at 1203.
Because of William Penn’s foresight to establish the Land Office, we are able to definitively trace back the ownership interests of all land within the boundaries of Pennsylvania back to William Penn in an organized manner.