Brooklyn Standard Union Brooklyn, NY Sunday, 31 July 1910 Commissioner SWASEY Completes Task Imposed Under Reindexing Act POSSIBLE TO TRACK BACK ALL REAL ESTATE TITLES Many Facts Concerning Past Days Brought to Light What is said to be one of the most complete records of real estate transactions in the world will be available as as result of work now being done by Commissioner of Records, Lewis M. SWASEY. He has now finished the first report of the work of his office ever prepared. It is full of almost unknown facts regarding the early history of Brooklyn, forming a veritable treasury of information for the local historian or genealogist. Every purchaser of land in the community will be illustrated with copies of old maps, deeds, and original colonial patents of curious design and quaint phraseology. Commissioner SWASEY's report covers many subjects. It is a summary of more than half a century of patient investigation and restoration of old documents. The records office was established in 1856. It has been carefully collecting and preserving records having to do with the life and activities of Brooklynites from the time of the first settlers to date. The laws creating and directing the work of this office are considered models, and they are being copied for other counties in the State, chiefly New York County. A revision of the records was required by a law passed in 1904, and when the task is finished it will then be possible for any person of ordinary intelligence to search the title of a plot of land back to the time of the Indian occupation in a very few hours. No less than 29,231 manuscript records of former towns comprised within Kings County have been collected from various sources. These contain much material in the forms of local ordinances, decrees, agreements and the like, showing the creeds, habits of thought and the manners of the time. Occasionally light is cast upon the private life of individuals, some of them the most prominent in their day. The legislation of the small towns looked carefully after the morals and manners of the people. Curious entries are everywhere detected, being of the greatest sociological value to ne who would analyze the primitive customs. Often these old records have been the only foundation for a knotty legal problem. The monetary values of these records will be almost incalculable in the settlement of the true ownership of marsh lands in Jamaica Bay. It is believed before the improvement here has progressed very far claims to what then will be valuable marsh lands will come up by scores, and these can only be settled by consulting the old manuscripts. the condition of the records, when they were delivered to the Commissioner of Records, almost defies description. All were illegible and badly bound. It has been the untiring task of years to restore them. The entries have all been copied in permanent form. Vital statistics are carefully covered in some of these papers. Interesting tales of slavery are unfolded. Among the more valuable of the records are those dealing with franchises for railway, lighting and water companies. Despite the thoroughness with which the work of restoration has been going on, there are many missing records. The report itself tells how difficult it is to trace a good many matters. "Few persons realize", says the report, "the extent to which the earlier records of King County towns have disappeared, and it is only when some question arises, bringing to public notice the fact that certain much needed records are missing, that the people give a thought to the matter. That these records are missing is not surprising when it is recalled that although the Town Clerk's office was made the repository of many books, papers, records and plans, his office, if such it can be called, was his dwelling, or store, or business office, which might be his own or one in which he was employed. It was quite a common custom for clerks to loan their records and papers to persons asking for them, especially to historians, who strange to say, usually took no care for their safety. "Of the missing records, those of the Town of Brooklyn are without doubt the greatest importance. These records were taken to England during the Revolutionary War by John RAPELJE, who was employed as a clerk by Leffert LEFFERTS, the Town Clerk. After the death of RAPELJE, these papers came into the possession of his granddaughter, who married William WELDON, of Norwich, England. About the year 1810, WELDON and his wife came to New York, bringing with them the lost records of Brooklyn, which they offered to sell to the town for a large sum, but would not allow them to be examined before delivery. The town officers did not appreciate the value of these records and they were allowed to be returned to England." Many of these records were written partly in Dutch, partly in English and partly in Latin. The original volumes are arranged in order in a large, fireproof safe. Every facility is provided for the convenience of those desiring to examine the records. some of the older records have become so worn and mutilated by exposure and by the chemical action of the ink that portions are continually crumbling off and disappearing. In these instances, a silk covering process has been applied by experts to arrest their disintegration and preserve them indefinitely. Various methods of recording deeds in the Dutch period and later are illustrated in the report. In order to show the successive advances in the laws governing the recording of titles abstracts of the essential parts of the old laws are given. But even at that, until after 1894, owing to a lack of authority to systematize the various classes of records, things were in a pretty bad way. Prior to the Reindexing Act, which was worked out bye the Commissioner of Records, in order that one might make an absolutely perfect search, it would be necessary to examine every page and to read every instrument recorded during the period covered by the search being made. In other words, in making a search from 1800 to 1894, it would be necessary to examine upward of 480,000 deeds. Of course, this was not done by the title searchers; but now, owing to the collections of the Commissioner of REcords, it is not necessary to get a perfect search of title. Since the Reindexing Act was passed, 1,273,868 records have been examined and abstracted by the Commissioner of Records' office force. Trouble was experienced with some of the historical works dealing with the colonies and the history of Brooklyn. Many inaccuracies, long accepted as facts, had to be straightened out. Other matters of interest in the report deal with the original patents to the SCHEMERHORNS, LIVINGSTONS, REMSEN and other families which formerly owned all the downtown section. Reference is made to the old common lands, in which each property owner had privileges of grazing his cattle, and other rights, and to the lines of the old roads of Brooklyn. These roads, which are now practically obliterated, have been traced by experts, and maps showing their exact rousts as compared with the lots and streets of to-day are on file in the office. It is generally conceded the title to the lad occupied by roads laid out and used by the Dutch was vested in the Dutch Government. The roads so far investigated affect 3,198 blocks on the Land Map of the County of Kings, and had a total length of 175 miles. The report closes with various catalogues of maps, books and papers under the supervision of the Commissioner of Records. Perhaps one of the most valuable collections consists of the charters granted to the told towns of Flatbush and Gravesend. The Gravesend Charter of 1645 was the first "home rule" charter in this country. It is written in English, as Gravesend was an English settlement. The minutes of the town meetings for 1646 are also on file. The original patent of the town of Flatbush, granted by Gov. DONGAN in 1685, is in an excellent state of preservation also. It is written in Dutch on parchment, and bears the great seal of New Netherland. Transcriber: Dianne Thomas RETURN to VITALS MAIN RETURN to BROOKLYN MAIN