Deciphering stories from certificates

1. An 1894 Land Transfer Title from the Ashburton Museum archives.jpg

Since the 1840s New Zealand’s land transfer and title records have been paper or parchment based. It was not until 2002 that records of land transfers and titles were electronically managed.

In Ashburton Museum’s archive, local land transfer records date back to the 1860s. There are also some land title documents, usually associated with personal papers and historical wills, as well as a few Crown Grants.

Such records enable any interested person – someone perhaps doing family, property or land histories – to more easily trace title transfers, mortgages or transmissions on many land parcels in the Ashburton District.

Long-serving museum volunteer, John Carter, has been transcribing and electronically recording these records over the past seven years. He is now close to finishing a mammoth job recording over 2500 Certificates of Title.

This is no mean task when earlier cursive handwriting has to be read, reread and transcribed. John’s work has resulted in a searchable database listing important information, including names of successive property owners, mortgage transfers and discharges, legal descriptions and locations of the property in question and dates of land title transfers.

2. Ashburton Museum volunteer John Carter workign on the Certificate of Title project..jpg

Land parcels

Some land parcels had reserves or specific land use activities attached to them, such as gravel pits, forestry plots or educational reserves. Many of the educational reserves were acquired as a result of planned population growth, which did not always eventuate.

Crown grants were issued for reward or military service. Almost always, if it was granted or balloted, Crown grants included expectations such as land development, for example fencing and stocking within a set period of time.

All titles carry part of the social history of the Ashburton District, especially in terms of land transfers and mortgages. While today most mortgages are from banks, in the past they were as likely to be family or private investors. People would go to a lawyer if they had money to invest or needed to borrow money, so the lawyer would make introductions.

Transmission of title occurs for many reasons, such as when the registered owner is deceased, a life tenant dies or by company amalgamations. These transmissions can lead to knowledge of interesting family connections. For example, land deeds have transmission numbers and details which can help locate wills and other documents.

The Certificate of Title for one parcel of land begins its history with a purchase under mortgage in 1894, by M G Rich and H M Hutton. The map on the Title shows that the land is part of the Lowcliffe area, with its southern border road on Drain Road.

The story of this Title is a fascinating one, showing numerous transfers of title, reasons for land use, mortgagees, familial relationships, the impacts of war, successes and loss.

3. An example of a Certificate of Title dating from 1919..JPG

A rich source

Certificates of Title are a rich source of information for anyone interested in researching the history of a family farm, property or people.

Reading the sequence of land transfers provides a fascinating social story, as well as a family history. They can chronicle insights into the social history behind the buying, selling or change of use of land in the Ashburton District.

While not exhaustive, Ashburton Museum has many hundreds of these documents available for research purposes. Perhaps we have a Certificate of Title showing just what you need to fill in those historical gaps in your local or family story?  Alternately, if you have such documents, the museum is keen to copy these to add to the collection.

There are so many Certificate of Title stories just waiting to be discovered and incorporated into histories. Ashburton Museum enjoys making this information more easily accessible so that these documents and their stories can be told, preserved and shared.

Thank you John, for helping make this information available through the many hours of locating, transcribing and deciphering! The magnifying lenses worked!



A story of land and ownership

A Certificate of Title beginning in 1894, shows a pattern of changing land use and ownership:

1894 – Land is purchased by mortgage by M G Rich and H M Hutton

1896 – E Rich and A Read take out a mortgage which is later transferred to H J Beswick

1899 – M G Rich takes out a new mortgage from W G Rich on April 8, 1899.

1899 – April 22, there is a mortgage transfer from E White and A Read to Irving and Miller.

1902 – A parcel of land is sold to the Crown for roading purposes

1913 – There is a transmission of mortgage to M G Rich and J L Vernon

1915 – There is a reduction of mortgage notably, in the middle of World War One.

1919 – There is a transmission of mortgage to Maitland’s widow, Mabel and G G Rich.

1919 – On June 10, land was sold to the Crown, most likely for splitting up for returned WWI soldiers under the Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act of 1916.

1950 – 20 perches of land is then used by the Crown for roading.


By Glenn Vallender




  1. An 1894 Land Transfer Title from the Ashburton Museum archives.
  2. Ashburton Museum volunteer John Carter working on the Certificate of Title project.
  3. An example of a Certificate of Title dating from 1919.
  4. Part of a 1923 land purchase agreement document showing. With a £50 deposit and a cost of £435 this could have been yours.




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