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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Land records: the titles office

One of my lingering undead ancestors is my great-great-grandfather James Bennett (1831-??). The next step in my research plan for him was to follow up on his land records.

I obtained the records relating to his initial purchase of the land from the Public Record Office of Victoria last year. They were interesting in their own right, but didn’t answer the question “When did he die?”.

The records I obtained didn’t cover his disposal of the land. For that, I would have to move away from archive research and into land title records. This sounded, well, scary. From my preliminary reading and general poking around online, it seemed like I would have to go to Melbourne and visit the titles office in person for such old records.

Easier than I thought

It turns out, this is not the case. Looking into title records again, I found that not only does the Victorian Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure provide an online database of recent title information for sale on their Landata site, they have also scanned in the older folios. For $10, a colour image of the old title information could be mine!

Obtaining the file was fairly simple. Search for the details of the property you want – various search options were available. Select the type of information you want. In my case, the historical title. Pay money. Get title.

In practice there was a little more complexity.

I couldn’t see any obvious way to determine which of the several folios listed against my very specific search was the correct one. I decided to take the plunge and just go ahead and purchase one. I didn’t find the correct folio on the first try, but I did find it before I needed a new mortgage on my own home.

I learned that in 1893 the small plot I was interested in was no longer owned by James Bennett. It had been combined with several others into a larger property under one new title by a new owner. I’m sure there’s some legal word for the process. I could also see a series of later transfers of that title through sale and probate processes.

The file gave several references to earlier folios – one for each of the Bennett family plots but again, there was no obvious way to tell which folio related to which plot. At least this time they were all owned by family members and so of some interest to me. Out came my credit card again.

$20 later, I had the folio I wanted.

It appears that the Bennett family members sold up their land in Bung Bong at the same time. I found that James Bennett, my research target, was still alive in 1892. Before that he was last been seen being discharged (alive and recovered) from Amherst hospital in 1883. While it would have been useful to discover a death date for him, at least I extended his known life span by nine years.

Now that I know how easy the title records from Victoria are to get, I will definitely keep them in mind for other family members I am researching. 

Look out credit card!

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