Guide to Researching a Chain of Title in Northern Virginia
by Debbie Robison
July 19, 2007

Once you have the address of the property you are interested in researching, access the appropriate County’s real estate website to obtain the last recorded deed book number and page number.


Fairfax County Property Search

Loudoun County Real Estate Assessment Site

Prince William County Land Rover


Physically go to the County’s Circuit Court for access to their database of land records; unless you have an online account. See the following links for information about the land record offices.


Fairfax County Land Records General Information

Loudoun County Land Records

Prince William County Deed and Land Records FAQ


Enter the deed book number and page number into the program located on many of the computers in the land records office. This will give you access to an image of the first deed in the chain of title. The deed image will likely include the deed book number and page number of the previous deed. Enter these new book and page numbers into the database to find an even earlier deed, and so on, and so on. If a deed number and page number are not provided in the deed, search by name.



Throughout Northern Virginia history, deed language has pretty much followed a standard format:

  • Date of deed
  • Name of Grantor(s) and where they live (A grantor is the party selling the land.)
  • Name of Grantee(s) and where they live (A grantee is the party buying the land.)
  • Purchase price
  • General location of parcel
  • How the parcel was acquired by the grantee (Sometimes this information includes the previous deed book number and page, and it may also be near the end of a deed or in an exhibit that provides a legal description of the parcel.)
  • Specific metes and bounds of parcel
  • Parcel size
  • Statement that all appurtenances, e.g. houses, orchards, etc., are included in the sale.
  • Guarantee by the grantor and his heirs that the grantee and his heirs will hold land free and clear.
  • Signature of grantor and witnesses



Make note of the deed book and page number. Historians often abbreviate the deed reference. For example, Loudoun County Deed Book 1120 page 359 may be abbreviated LNDB 1120:359.


Before there were deed book numbers, there were deed book letters. The first deed recorded in a county is located in deed book A on page 1. Once this first ledger was filled, a new book was started named B. Once the alphabet was used up, the clerk named the books AA, BB, and so on. Once the clerk filled all the double letter books, he started naming the books A3, B3, and so on. Eventually, the clerk started to use numbers for the deed books, abandoning the alphabet.


Fairfax County has images of the old deeds available via computer. As a result, they assigned a logical book number to the alphabetized books. Starting with Book A (numbered 1) they consecutively numbered the deed books. For example, Book AA was assigned logical book number 27. You may wish to include the logical book number in your references; e.g. FXDB A2(27):345



In the earlier deeds, attorneys sometimes used Latin terms in the deeds. Liber means book, and Folio means page.



Once you get back in time far enough with your deed research, you will no longer have a database on a computer to search, and will need to use the paper indices. To research in an old deed book index, visit the circuit court.


In Fairfax County, the early deed books and indexes are available at the public computer terminals in the research room. Deed books prior to 1945 are maintained in the Archives Room in the Historic Courthouse building.


In Loudoun County, the earlier deed books are located in the Circuit Court Archives.


In Prince William County, paper indexes are available in the research room on the third floor of the Courthouse. The deeds are available on microfilm. Call for an appointment if you need to see an original deed or a chancery case. Prince William County Historic Records Room


The old deed books and indices are also available on microfilm at the following libraries:


Fairfax County Public Library Fairfax Regional, Virginia Room


Thomas Balch Library (Loudoun County)


Prince William County Public Library, Bull Run Regional, Relic Room



From the mid-nineteenth century onward, each deed was (supposed to be) recorded in two places: the grantor index and the grantee index. An index to the index assists you in determining which page contains the last name of the grantee or grantor you are searching. The first two or three letters of the last name were used to divide up the index. Common last names were grouped together on separate pages. If the name you are searching for is not listed as a frequently occurring name, search for the last name based on the key for mixed names. Corporations were listed either before or after the people.


As an example, if you were searching for a grantee named George Gandy, you would turn to page 45 in the grantee index book for a listing of all the people with the last name beginning with Ga who did not have a common name, such as Garrett.


Fairfax County Deed Book Index Names Start With G


Within the index, the first (given) names are divided into three columns by a group of alphabet letters. This makes it quicker to locate a name. To continue the example of George Gandy, look down the first column of given names beginning with A-H and you’ll see George S Gandy was a grantee on November 7, 1896.


Fairfax County Deed Index Names Start With G A


Note: Early on, the indices did not segregate grantors and grantees.



Et. al. refers to "and others"

Lis Pend abbreviates Lis Pendens, Latin for lawsuit pending

P of A refers to a Power of Attorney

Tee abbreviates trustee

Tr abbreviates trustee



Chances are that, at some point, land will transfer through inheritance, and therefore shall not be recorded in a deed book. You’ll need to research the will books to find out who bequeathed the land. Often this shall be stated in the subsequent deed. The will books are housed with the deed books. Fairfax County will books are digitized, and can be accessed at the same computers used to access deeds. The will books are also on microfilm at the libraries. Will books also have indices. Will book transfers of ownership are also included in the chain of title.


Once you know who bequeathed the land, search the grantee deed books to find out who sold them the property.



Land tax records list property owners alphabetically. This resource can be used to figure out who sold the land, and when. Land tax books begin in 1782.


Each year may have more than one land tax book, since the county was divided into regions for tax collection purposes. Each land tax entry includes, among other things, the owners name, land acreage, description (often includes a road or stream), distance and direction from the courthouse, assessed value of land, and (1820 and later) assessed value of buildings.


The last column provides space for notes. When there was a change in ownership, amount of land, or value of buildings, a comment was provided that year giving the reason. In cases of change in ownership, the previous owners name is given. Thus, you can search the deed indices for that person’s name.



You may be successful in taking your chain of title back to the original land grant. Publications of grant maps are available for Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, though not all of Loudoun County has been completed. Contact the appropriate history library for information.


The grants and patents are available online in a searchable database provided by the Library of Virginia.