Researching Deed Information

Finding historical information on a given piece of property is relatively straightforward in most cases. Here's how to go about it.

First, find a legal description of the property and any deed book references. You can do this online using the County Assessor's web site. Go to and click on "Online Assessments." Enter the street address in the spaces provided, and click the "Search" button. This will bring up a page of basic information about the property, its recent assessment history and, most importantly, recent sales and transfer history. Write down the legal description, which will be something like "Lot 15 Dennis' Addition to Waycroft;" this will be useful in making sure the deeds you look at are referring to the correct property. Also write down any Deed Book and Deed Page information from the Sales History.

That's about all you can do at home, unless you want to pay the county $50 a month to access their online database of deeds and other real estate information, which goes back to the 1950s. In Waycroft-Woodlawn, most lots were created in the 1930s, so that information will not be online. Instead, you'll have to look at the source records.

To do that, go to the County Courthouse at 1425 N. Courthouse Road, convenient to the Metro Courthouse Station. Go to Suite 6200, which is the Land Records Office (703-228-4369). Deeds are saved in two forms: Hard copies bound in large books, which go from the early days of Arlington (called Alexandria County back then) to about 1979; and microfilm, which goes from early to the present day. The hard copy books are easier to read, but heavy to lug around. Microfilm is easier to work with, but is white print on a black background. Books are to the left, way in back, as you enter the office. Microfilm is to the right.

Using the Deed Book number and Deed Page you wrote down, look up the deed for the property. Make sure it is the correct one by comparing the lot description. In the deed will be a reference to the previous deed to the property. Write down the book and page number of the previous deed, plus any other information in the current deed that you find interesting. Now find the previous deed and do the same thing, working your way back in time. At some point you'll come to a deed that sets out a subdivision of a large plot into smaller lots. This will be more complicated than later deeds, and will usually include a plat of the lots. The lot you're researching should be one of them. There may also be some "Limitations and Restrictions" listed. This is where you'll find out whether buildings are limited to one dwelling unit per lot.

If you're interested in going back further in time, just continue the process of looking up the deed and page as before. In the Waycroft-Woodlawn neighborhood, for example, you'll find that much of the land originally belonged to a Major Lacey.


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