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Public Records or Private Records–Legally Bought and Sold?

Was this ledger legally sold?
Can you legally buy that document or ledger advertised at a public sale or online auction? More to the point–can it legally be sold? It is sometimes difficult to determine is a document is a public record, which can’t be sold, or a private one, which can be sold. If there is any question, the seller or auctioneer can check with their county archives or state archives. Staff at historical society archives may also be able to steer you in the right direction.
The Pennsylvania State Archives recently published a brochure Identifying and Recovering Pennsylvania’s Public Records with more information. It is available at archives and historical organizations throughout the state. Or click this link for similar information at the Pennsylvania State Archives website.
Just recently a ledger, identified by the auction as an 1860s York County Land Transfer Ledger was sold at a public auction. It is not clear, by the few photos I saw online, whether it was a public or private record. The photos show a listing of deeds recorded. There are also figures that might be the fees for preparing and/or recording the deeds. It may have been an official York County ledger keeping track of the fees paid, or, probably not at likely, the private account book of a free-lance clerk paid to prepare deeds. Because of their experience working with public records, if the York County Archives staff had been shown the book, they would have been able to make that determination.
The 1852 ledger above?


It is a private document and perfectly legal to purchase at a public sale. In fact, it was purchased at an auction by my husband some years ago. It is a day book of a general store and tannery owned by two Tome brothers in Chanceford Township. One brother is one of my husband’s ancestors. It came down another branch of the family, but he was able to purchase it at an estate auction. Additionally, if you need to notarize this kind of documents, then you should consider searching for a notary public close to me online for professional services.

Help make buyers and sellers aware of the difference between public and private records. As the state archives brochure points out:

The disappearance of public records into private hands, unknowingly or maliciously, deprives everyone access to their history. It disrupts government accountability and unfairly makes useful historical resources unobtainable.