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Chicago's land title systems

Chicago has used several land title systems. These systems were used to secure titles to the ownership of property. They were created initially by the U.S. government and later by legislative action in the Illinois State Legislature. Before Chicago became a city, land was registered in the U.S. General Land Office. When Chicago became a city, records were kept in various offices. Titles were registered by date, name, legal description of property and number of acres. Maps and plat descriptions were included.

Daley Plaza at night
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 caused the loss of all legal proof to titles to real estate in Cook County. As Chicago was burning, Shortall and Hoard; Jones and Sellers; and Chase Brothers and Company, legal firms specializing in real estate titles (conveyancers), speedily gathered their files, transported them out of the city and housed them in safe sites west of the city. Another firm, J. H. Rees and Company, saved all the maps and plats made of Cook County property.

Following the fire, the Burnt Records Act (1872) passed by the Illinois State Legislature made the records of the first three companies admissible in all courts of record. The combined records of the companies were stored in a building on the north side of Lake Street between Peoria and Green Streets. Later, the firm of Handy, Simmons, Smith and Stocker received these records. That firm later became Handy, Simmons and Company, and finally it became Handy and Company, which remained in business until 1887.

In 1887, the General Trust Company Act was passed by the Illinois State Legislature, and it granted qualified corporations rights to act as executors, administrators, guardians and trustees in real estate matters. The Title Guarantee and Trust Company, authorized under the trust act, succeeded Handy and Company. To be continued…

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