No doubt we are in the information age and some are saying we are entering the knowledge age. Land records are at the core of our free society. We have every opportunity in front of us to harness the digital revolution and perpetuate this foundation of liberty.
Our society is saturated with frivolous angst from the intravenous delivery of inconsequential news feeds “twenty four seven”. The mindless and brain numb of the next college-educated generation may be incapable of disseminating the importance of evidence not spoon fed through social media. These same folks may also be the underachievers that show up at their government jobs for eight hours a day and adopt records policies approved by old Zuckerberg and crew over at faceplant.
Surveyors are a small but leading voice that can speak to the value and necessity of land records. We need to be extremely vocal with our elected officials when we smell bad policy from the kids down at Tammany Hall. The old adage “You don’t know what you don’t know” is welling up in the digital realm and I’ve been left with a bad taste in my mouth at both the municipal and state levels. The phenomenon I’m seeing is sort of a “disposable information” attitude. Database managers and GIS folks are having trouble digesting relevant historical information that has been superseded.
Reversionary acts seem to be especially problematic. This is a place that information can easily be lost. When a roadway is vacated it is generally assimilated with the title of the underlying land. Extinguishing the public right does not extinguish the historic proceedings affecting the chain of title. Yeah, sure remove the road from google maps to keep people off of it but develop a placeholder for the legal actions that now appear invisible. Without a placeholder for a reversionary act, future researchers are left with nothing but a null search result.
Believe it or not my state land database showed nothing for a current main county highway built by the state DOT with federal money over 50 years ago. The hiccup came when the right of way was assigned from the DOT to the county automatically under an operation of law. The DOT’s new alignment was accounted for under their realignment project. The state acknowledged the old road in a simple “paper” memo to the county at the time. The wires got crossed somewhere along the line when a database manager assumed that the re-alignment documents were the “current version” and decoupled the older right of way document from the database. Poof! It’s erased and the poor girl at the counter could no longer find the original documents. It took some ironing out between agencies but we resolved the issue without harm. And for the record, the state’s team was in no way the cynically fictitious beasts I described earlier, in fact just the opposite and very concerned with the synapse.
They never told me in school how devastating Sherman’s March through south really was to our citizens. As Decided Guidance in this issue examines a case in South Carolina we are reminded of the atrocities and undue destruction unleashed on Americans and our land cadastre. The repercussions of destroyed land records were felt many decades later and continue to this day. The heroic surveyors of Carolina were forced to cobble the fabric of society back together from seemingly thin air. Whether it’s fire, or war, or apathy, we must be vigilant toward the enemies of cadastral records. The surveyor is the knight of the American land cadastre.
Jason Foose is a Professional Surveyor licensed in multiple jurisdictions.