I've often mused about how a certain biology professor I had in college lit up when he started talking about ants. We chatted in his office several times (I discovered early on that visiting professors during their office hours guaranteed a whole letter grade up from what I actually deserved), and I often envied this man, who, in his late fifties, expounded with boyish wonder the mysteries of the ant world, while I, at a little over a third his age had already come to terms with how mundane and predictable the world was. While I applaud ants for their superior strength of body and character, I never gave them much thought but when they were biting me.
It was years later, well into my career, that I developed a similar passion for something a college student would find insanely dull, probably much more so than ants! It's true, the title insurance world isn't one people look into and think "now there's some fun to be had in there!" I've never met a child who's so much as heard of title insurance, let alone one who aspires to work in it. It's just not rock'n'roll, space exploration or brain surgery. And yet I swear that from the inside, there is nothing in my professional life that interests me more than chain of ownership, property disputes, liens, enormous dollar figures and the high stakes that come with them! Title insurance is a science, and it involves peeling back decades, often centuries of history on a certain piece of property. Genealogy has been one of the biggest sectors of the Internet for years, implying it has a broad appeal and general interest. My work is like the genealogy of property, and it tells stories just like old diaries do.
Even the history of title (yawn, right?) is intriguing, and inextricably connected with the settlement of the American West. Abraham Lincoln, as a child growing up in Kentucky, was twice displaced from his home due to title defects. The first time, as a three year old, Tom Lincoln, his father, lost his 200 acre farm and famous log cabin because someone had better-looking papers validating a claim to the land. No more than four years later, Tom became embroiled in legal battles over his second farm, and resolved to settle some new land in Indiana with a government-guaranteed, clean title. The Kentucky wilderness itself would have had a much different history had not Daniel Boone continually lost his vast holdings of land to title disputes and had to keep pressing westward.
There are even famous names and dates in title insurance history, just as there are in military history, scientific history and printing history (another oddly-intriguing topic, I might add). After a famous case (Watson v. Muirhead) heard by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1868 that declared legal advisers not liable for investmenst lost over bad advice, that state's legislature passed a new measure (1874) allowing for the incorporation of title insurance companies. The first wasn't established until 1878, by a Philadelphia conveyancer (real estate lawyer) named Joshua Morris. His aunt was the first person to buy a policy - on her house on North 43rd Street.
Title insurance isn't strictly an American concept (though most underwriters worldwide are American) but it's largely unique to developed nations with a long history of stability and the rule of law. Countries that have recently undergone a governmental upheaval have no need for title insurance because all deeds predating the overthrow are rendered invalid by the revolution! Less egalitarian societies have no place for it because stronger parties prevail regardless of who is in the right! Title insurance is necessary where people want to do right by all people, including the parties who would like to turn a profit assuming the risk of transfer of ownership. It's a truly free-world concept.
Like any esoteric topic, title insurance comes to life when you start to dig into what it really means. We in the title industry underwrite the largest investments in the world. We research the histories of assets as old as our country. We meet all kinds of people - anyone who purchases property - and insure the most important asset they will ever own. Now that you've heard more, aren't you as Gung ho as I aml?