In the State of Georgia, our real estate recording system is based on a Grantor-Grantee index of documents recorded at the county real estate records office. Therefore, to locate a particular document affecting an interest in real estate would require knowing the name of an interested party. In contrast, some States use a system where all real estate filings related to a particular property can be easily located on a map.
In Georgia, a title search works like this– deeds recite the name of a grantor (the seller) and a grantee (the buyer). When the clerk of court accepts a deed for recording, an entry is made into a grantor index and a separate entry into a grantee index. A real estate search will research locate the current owner of record by searching backward in time in the grantee index. This will reveal the name of the party that last transferred (sold) the interest. That name is then searched in the grantee index and the process is repeated until a given period of time is covered. In a purchase closing, we typically search for a period 50 years since that is the professional standard in Georgia for determining marketability. Once the original grantor is located, the examination changes focus from the grantee index to the grantor index. The purpose of searching the grantor index is to identify all potential interests that have been given out such as prior conveyances and mortgages that may be outstanding. The search up to this point is based upon the deed record only. A proper real estate search would involve repeating the same search process in the lien index as well as various other court indices and dockets which may indicate a claim or interest to real estate.
In theory, a real estate search is fairly straightforward, but in practice they can be extremely complex and tedious.