I got some great feedback researching the history of my 85-year-old house using free deeds and public records at the county courthouse that anyone can look up themselves. But some people said they had trouble using Bexar County’s Web page set up by County Clerk Gerry Rickhoff to look up public records. Here are a few tips to get started.
When you visit the site, you have to register for free. Once that’s done you can log in and you’ll see this intro page:
Here you can search foreclosure notices, marriage licenses, business records — life’s important moments, all documented and filed at the county courthouse.
Deeds documenting property sales are also filed at the courthouse. If you want to know more about the history of a property, click on “name” to search by the name of the grantee or grantor. The grantor is the party selling the property, the grantee is the person who bought it.
You can’t look up a property by its address, but you can look it up by its legal description. To find the legal description for a property, visit the Bexar County Appraisal District’s page and click on “Property Search.” You can type in the name of the owner, the address or look up the property on a map.
So if you do a search for “Tedesco John” my house comes up and you can see the legal description is New City Block 1946, Block 24, Lot 28.
Go back to the document search page and click on the “Land info” tab. It pulls up this page:
Type in the legal description for my house and you’ll see all the deeds, tax liens, easements, and any other record filed at the county courthouse in connection to that property going back to 1960.
The search pulls up five documents tied to my property, and you can download digital copies of the records. For example, you can pull up this deed showing that I bought the house in 2003 from Angie and Andrew Millman, and I paid for it with an $87,899 bank loan.
Another deed shows the Millmans bought the house in 1996 from someone named Wilma Nora Boyle. My neighbors told me she was a nice woman who had lived in the house for years.
This search goes back to 1960 [UPDATE: The clerk’s office has since expanded the land records search to 1837. You can now ignore the part in this post about the historical records search], but my house was built in 1924. So how do I figure out who Boyle bought the house from?
Go back to the search menu. Under the application menu, don’t click on “Land Records” like you did last time. Click on “1837-1963 Historical Records.” There, you’ll see a “Grantor/Grantee” search option.
Searching for Boyle’s name turns up the fact that she bought the house from the Ring family. Search for that couple and you see that they, in turn, bought the house from Hortanz Wiegand. Wiegand had bought the house from her husband, G.A. Wiegand. And the very first deed for the property was dated Dec. 9, 1925 when G.A. Wiegand bought the house from the builder, L.S. Busby.
If you own a house, your title company might have provided you with deeds showing the chain of ownership for the property. But you can also be your own title company and conduct your own research for any property. In the past, I’ve written stories about controversial land deals and developments. The two Web sites set up by Rickhoff and the county’s appraisal district let me quickly figure out who owns what, where and when.
And sometimes, these old records simply offer a glimpse at what life was like in another era.
Note: I’ve updated this post to reflect recent changes to the county’s search page.