Norfolk County Registry of Deeds Visits Long Lost Friend

Dedham, MA – Norfolk County Register of Deeds William P. O’Donnell appeared as a guest speaker at the Hyde Park Historical Society, July 20, along with Suffolk County Register of Deeds Stephen J. Murphy and Suffolk Registry of Deeds First Assistant Register Thomas M. Ryan, as part of his ongoing efforts to bring the Registry of Deeds directly to residents, including those from Hyde Park, a town that was once part of Norfolk County.

Register O’Donnell and Register Murphy gave a collaborative presentation, addressing topics of interest for homeowners and consumers, such as the Homestead Act, mortgage discharges, and the anti-property fraud Consumer Notification Service offered at both Registries.

“The participants said the program was very informative. In addition to consumer information, lots of interesting history was presented and the handout materials were filled with great resources,” said Patrice Gattozzi, Hyde Park Historical Society Treasurer. “Registers O’Donnell and Murphy had a good give and take during the presentation. Both have the same state mandates, but their individual regions are unique.”

Register Murphy warmed up the crowd by covering the Consumer Notification Service offered at both the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds and the Suffolk County Registry of Deeds, stating that the registries recognize the presence of individuals who may try to take advantage of the property rights of others. 

“This initiative came about in response to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) indicating property and mortgage fraud was one of the fastest-growing white-collar crimes in America,” said Register O’Donnell.

Register Murphy went on to say the Notification Service is a free service whereby subscribers sign up to be notified when any document is recorded under their name and that, like the paid services, it does not protect against fraud but will at least alert the owner if a fraudulent deed has been recorded.

“Deed fraud was on the minds of several in the room. Several participants left the event relieved, but they also left with homework. Darlene Smith had never looked at her deed before and immediately went home to check that she had a Homestead Act on her property. She said, ‘You need to know what and who is on your deed, you just never know.’ Now she is helping other family members and friends who are interested in learning more,” said Gattozzi.

Register O’Donnell and Register Murphy also emphasized the importance of understanding a Declaration of Homestead, which provides homeowners with protection against creditors in most cases.

“Homeowners can have peace of mind knowing that with a Declaration of Homestead recorded at the Norfolk County or Suffolk County Registry of Deeds, their primary residence cannot be forcibly sold to satisfy most debts. This is especially important when you consider that for most of us, a home is our most valuable asset,” said O’Donnell.

Register O’Donnell and Register Murphy highlighted the significance of mortgage discharges, explaining how they ensure that property titles are clear and free from any liens or encumbrances. 

“As consumers, we all need to borrow money. There are many reasons why consumers borrow money, to purchase a house, to make home improvements, or to help pay for the ever-increasing tuition payments of our children and a mortgage discharge is a document, typically one or two pages long, issued by the lender that tells the world that that mortgage has been paid off,” said Register O’Donnell.

Register O’Donnell also gave an overview of the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds, which is the principal office for real property records in Norfolk County, cataloging and housing more than 10 million land documents dating back to 1793. These documents include records from when Hyde Park was part of Norfolk County.

During the presentation, Register O’Donnell stressed the importance of maintaining accurate and accessible records to ensure transparency and facilitate property transactions. He also highlighted the Registry’s efforts to digitize these historical documents, making them easily searchable for researchers and the general public. 

The presentation also included an in-depth look at the origins of land document recording in Massachusetts and the founding of Norfolk County and Suffolk County given by Suffolk First Assistant Register Thomas M. Ryan, a resident of Norfolk County. He discussed how the recording of land documents dates back to the early colonial period and how it has evolved over time. 

Ryan explained that the early settlers in Massachusetts recognized the need for a system to record land ownership and transactions in order to establish legal rights and prevent disputes. Initially, these documents were recorded in town records, but as the population grew, the need for a centralized registry became apparent. The founding of Norfolk County and Suffolk County allowed for the establishment of dedicated registries of deeds, which have played a crucial role in preserving property rights and facilitating real estate transactions in the region.

Additionally, Ryan explained that the documentation of the transfer of ownership of land was a name-based transaction and not based on addresses. So, individuals doing genealogical research should focus on the names and deed references in order to trace the history of a particular property.

First Assistant Register Ryan said, up until Boston annexed it in 1912, the Town of Hyde Park was a part of Norfolk County. Ryan continued, during the 19th and 20th centuries, due to an expanding population, an influx of people immigrating to the area, and the restructuring of county lines, Boston and Suffolk County began running out of room. To counteract this, the City and County expanded in two ways: by annexation and through landfill. Through annexation, Boston was able to incorporate neighboring towns and expand its territory, including the Town of Hyde Park. This allowed for increased space to accommodate the growing population.

“Many Bostonians do not realize that Boston’s city limits grew by annexing several of the surrounding towns, such as Roxbury, the first town annexed in 1868, and Hyde Park, the last town annexed in 1912. Consequently, searching for land records can be complicated,” said Gattozzi.

The Norfolk County Registry of Deeds still maintains those Hyde Park land documents dating back to 1793. These records are available to the public via the Registry’s website at or by coming by the Norfolk Registry of Deeds, building across from the gold-domed Norfolk Superior Court in Hyde Park’s neighboring town of Dedham.

Concluding the presentation, O’Donnell stated, “I first want to thank those who attended the event, they asked great questions, and their attendance was greatly appreciated. Thank you to the Hyde Park Historical Society for inviting me to speak and to Patrice Gattozzi for helping coordinate the event. I also want to thank Suffolk County Register of Deeds Stephen J. Murphy and Suffolk Registry of Deeds First Assistant Register Thomas M. Ryan for joining me in presenting this valuable homeowner and consumer information.

The Norfolk County Registry of Deeds will be closed on Thursday, July 4th in celebration of Independence Day. We are open Friday, July 5th.

The Norfolk County Registry of Deeds is closed Today, July 4th in celebration of Independence Day. We are open Friday, July 5th.