As Register of Deeds for McPherson County, Laurie Wiziarde says she has the coolest office in the county’s courthouse.
“My grandsons always used to say, ‘Grandma works in a castle,’ ” Wiziarde said.
Inside the limestone structure, Wiziarde and three others staff a department that provides more services than its name implies.
The department’s main task is recording original deeds, mortgages, easements, leases and other documents for the public to access as needed. Most paper records have been transferred to microfilm — and have duplicates stored in the salt mines in Hutchinson — or have been digitized.
“We’re working toward a goal of having everything on the computer so people can look up their own stuff at home,” Wiziarde said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re working on it.”
With more than 17,000 parcels of land in McPherson County, that task is a daunting one.
“We do a lot of paperwork in trying to keep track of all this information,” Wiziarde laughed.
A vault with 18-inch thick walls holds a series of index books containing land records dating back to the 1870s.
“We have abstractors in here almost every day,” Wiziarde said. “If anyone is buying or selling a home, they come in and do the research through our index books.”
Handwritten notations in the index books give the history of a property. Entries in black ink show records of deeds, easements and death certificates; red ink is used to make notes about any mortgages on the property.
“We still write in them every day, color coded red or black,” Wiziarde said.
The index books can be used to trace the transfers in ownership for a property.
“We can get them back to the patent from the United States to whoever got it,” Wiziarde said. “That’s why we write in those books every day, so you can always come in and do that, no matter how far back, and keep track of everything.”
Old atlases, range books and city plat maps stored in the vault can also be useful when searching for details about a piece of land.
“Usually, when people come in, they know who owns it now. We’ll get the newest book out and start working our way back,” Wiziarde said.
The Register of Deeds office also provides information to several other county departments.
“Every time somebody buys a new home, we share that information with the appraiser and the treasurer so they know who to tax and what they’re being taxed on,” Wiziarde said. “It starts here and kind of goes throughout the courthouse.”
The Register of Deeds office also issues passports; between 700 and 800 passports each year, Wiziarde noted.
“Right now, we get $35 for every passport that comes in the office, so it’s a nice little perk for the county,” Wiziarde said.
Another component of the department’s responsibilities involves filing military discharge forms.
“When you are discharged from the military, whatever county you live in at the time of your discharge, you are supposed to bring those in and record them,” Wiziarde said. “We don’t charge for that. Our theory is you paid because you served.”
Having the forms on file with the county gives veterans a recourse if, when the papers are needed to receive benefits later on in their lives, they have been lost.
“By having it here, we can always help them out,” Wiziarde said.
The department’s vault also holds records from cemeteries in McPherson County, along with information from pre-1950s country schools.
“That’s a great genealogy tool,” Wiziarde said.
School records can aid in finding an ancestor’s siblings, but not much else, Wiziarde said. Records generally note only the students’ names and ages and what subjects were taught each year. They also show what year and into what district the school was consolidated.
“There’s a lot of rich history in this office and we keep making history,” Wiziarde said.
The opportunity to give people answers to their questions is a big part of why Wiziarde has spent the last 20 years in the Register of Deeds office.
“If you’re a history buff, you’ll love this office,” Wiziarde said. “That was always my favorite subject in school, so it’s kind of like I’ve found my home.”
Wiziarde began her career as a clerk, and decided to run for the Register of Deeds position in 2012. She won and was re-elected in 2016.
“It was meant to be, I always feel, because I love history and I like working with people,” Wiziarde said.
The Register of Deeds office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday in the McPherson County Courthouse, 117 N. Maple St. They can be reached at 620-241-5050.
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.