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Norfolk/Wrentham - Local Town Pages

Good Deeds: Technology Drives Change

By William P. O’Donnell

Register of Deeds

Growing up my beloved Uncle Ray would say, “There is nothing as constant in life as change.” We all have a beloved relative or parent or friend whose words of wisdom we often think of, act upon and repeat. The sentiments expressed by my uncle were that of an ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus who has been quoted as saying, “The only constant in life is change.” 

There have been a number of modernization initiatives implemented at the Norfolk Registry of Deeds. What has driven those modernization initiatives? Technology and the advances in technology have been the foundation for change at the Norfolk Registry of Deeds.

My grandparents were immigrants that came from Ireland. My grandmother came at age 17 in 1923 and lived to be 106 years old. I think of all the changes she witnessed in her lifetime. Some of that change was driven by technology- radio, television, color television and the space program that landed an astronaut on the moon in 1969. Today, we take changes driven by technology for granted in our day to day lives.

Did you know on September 21, 1983, Motorola made history when the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) approved the world’s first commercial portable cell phone? Although the cell phone was approved in 1983 it took years of technology and technological improvements to get where we are today with cell phones and cell phone use.  Young readers may not be aware of the “facsimile machine” which scanned printed textual and graphic material and then transmitted the information through the telephone network to similar machines where facsimiles were produced close to the form of the original document. The technology for “fax machines” was invented a long time ago. However, it was not until advances in technology and technological improvements took place that fax machines became popular with consumers and businesses in the 1980s.

You also may not be aware that on December 3, 1992 Neil Papworth, a 22-year-old software programmer, sent the first ever text message by typing, “Merry Christmas” on a computer and sending it to a cellphone of Vodafone director Richard Jarvis. Again, it took technology and advances in technology to get us to the present, when we rely upon text messages for communication.

The Norfolk Registry of Deeds is an arm of government that deals with the biggest asset most of us have- our homes. As the eleventh (11th) Norfolk Register of Deeds, I take great pride in preserving these land records that were first recorded for the communities of Norfolk County dating back to 1793. The mission of recording land documents may be similar to the days of scriveners and quill pens at the Norfolk Registry of Deeds. However, the delivery of services in this technology-centric world is so vastly different than the days when land records were delivered by horseback to Dedham where the Norfolk Registry of Deeds is located.

As I reflect on my tenure as Norfolk Register of Deeds, the delivery of quality recording services to the Registry stakeholders and citizens of Norfolk County has vastly changed.  The quality services provided by and through the Norfolk Registry of Deeds, like so many other sectors in our society, is driven by technology and advances in technology. There was no internet land record research at the Norfolk Registry of Deeds when I became Register of Deeds in 2002. 

January 1, 1983 is considered the official birthday of the internet, which allowed various computer networks to communicate with each other. Now, because of technology, you can go to the Norfolk Registry of Deeds website at http://www.norfolkdeeds.org and search the county’s land records. A lot of businesses and government entities like the Registry of Deeds did not have websites, something that is commonplace now. The Registry’s records in its internet library of over 15 million scanned images have been brought into homes and businesses because of technology. You can search and view land records from your computer, including those records related to four Presidents of the United States born in Norfolk County.

The Norfolk Registry of Deeds undertook a transcription project which transcribed over 450,000 recorded land documents handwritten between 1793 to 1900.  David McCullough, an American historian and author, wrote, “I was fascinated and delighted to learn about the way the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds and the Xerox Corporation are transcribing the historical deeds into easy-to-read computer text, and I say this as one who has spent a great deal of my working life struggling to read original letters, and diaries, and other old documents….you are making an important contribution and I send my warmest congratulations.”  It was technology and advances in technology that made this historical and impactful undertaking come about.

Many other modernization initiatives have been implemented at the Norfolk Registry of Deeds. For example, a closing can take place in a lawyer’s office and the land documents to be recorded are transmitted for recording to the Norfolk Registry of Deeds. 

Technology and advances in technology in our society and world will continue. Technology and the need to deal with technology as a way to deliver quality service by the Norfolk Registry of Deeds needs to continue. To those who may think otherwise, I will harken back to my Uncle Ray’s words, “There is nothing as constant in life as change.”       

To learn more about these and other Registry of Deeds events and initiatives, like us at facebook.com/NorfolkDeeds or follow us on twitter.com/NorfolkDeeds and Instagram.com/NorfolkDeeds.

The Norfolk County Registry of Deeds is located at 649 High Street in Dedham.  The Registry is a resource for homeowners, title examiners, mortgage lenders, municipalities and others with a need for secure, accurate, accessible land record information.  All land record research information can be found on the Registry’s website www.norfolkdeeds.org.  Residents in need of assistance can contact the Registry of Deeds Customer Service Center via telephone at (781) 461-6101, or email us at [email protected]