June 30, 2008, marks the end of the terms of office for the last commissioners of deeds appointed for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Commissioners of deeds were individuals in other states, territories or countries who applied to and were appointed by the governor. Commissioners of deeds were empowered to take acknowledgments and proofs of execution of any deed, mortgage or conveyance of any land situated in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to record any contract, letter of attorney or other writing under seal, and to administer oaths or affirmations. Those documents could then be recorded in any county with the full force and effect they would have had if they had been executed within the boundaries of the Commonwealth.
The General Assembly first authorized the governor to appoint commissioners of deeds in 1828. The law directed that each commissioner of deeds “shall take and subscribe an oath or affirmation before a judge or clerk of one of the courts of record of the state, kingdom, or country in which said commissioner shall reside,” thereby promising to execute the duties of commissioner of deeds well and faithfully under the laws of Pennsylvania. The oath, a description of the commissioner’s seal of office, and the commissioner’s signature were then filed with the Secretary of the Commonwealth.
Seventy-five years later, in 1903, women “being twenty-one years of age” became eligible to be appointed as commissioners of deeds. A woman who married was required to return her commission to the governor who thereupon issued a new commission “conforming to the change of name and covering the term for which she was originally commissioned, without requiring any payment to the Commonwealth …”
Act 151 of 2002—the same act that updated Pennsylvania’s Notary Public Law—finally abolished the office of commissioner of deeds. Although Act 151 took effect July 1, 2003, a provision in Title 21, Deeds and Mortgages, of the Pennsylvania Statutes allowed commissioners of deeds appointed before that date to serve out their full five-year terms.