Real Estate Home History

Cape May County Clerk Rita Fulginiti and her staff help people search for property history through public records. She has a PowerPoint tutorial on the research she presents to community groups on request.

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Nearly every day, the curious roam the aisles of the Cape May County Clerk’s Office looking for a story.

They are home buyers or renters here for a summer at the Jersey Shore, eager to learn about the places where they rest their heads each night.

“People come in because they want to find out the history of their house,” County Clerk Rita Fulginiti said.

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And in her office — among the deeds and thousands of maps — they often find what they were looking for.

“The people will spend a few hours in here or sometimes all day,” she said as she stood near shelves lined with the hundreds of bound volumes that contain deeds dating to 1692.

She and Dawn Sheeks, principal clerk, estimated someone is in the office at least once a day researching a house’s history.

A presentation on how to do just that — “Researching Your House History” — is a frequent topic when Fulginiti, the county’s 26th clerk, visits local community groups.

“People want to know how to do this,” she said of the interest in the subject. “It is the most popular (topic).”

The interest only adds to Fulginiti’s focus on accuracy and efficiency. A photo of A.C. Hildreth, clerk in 1914, reminds her of her role, she said.

“The documents he filed and researched are still here,” she said, noting that documents filed today will help the researchers of tomorrow.

Sheeks said a house search starts with the most recent deed and moves backward in time.

“We’re going to go back to a time when it was a vacant property,” Fulginiti said.

The searches lead owners or renters through the names of former owners, prices paid and other particulars, such as deed restrictions, subdivisions and business names.

“They get crazy excited,” Sheeks said of the reactions searchers have when they learn the stories behind their properties. “It’s amazing to them.”

For example, Fulginiti used sample Ocean City properties to show how searches lead back to the Ocean City Association, which existed before the town was incorporated.

The searches can lead to tales of sheriff’s sales and the wills of those long gone.

Sometimes, Sheeks said, people want to know the history of places they’re renting, “because they think that it’s haunted.”

She’s helped with hundreds of searches. The most interesting details can be the deed restrictions that sometimes specified what ethnicity or race owners could be.

The restrictions banned everything from red doors — signifying a house of ill repute — to bone boiling.

Sheeks said that while the search sounds easy, sometimes it can be complicated, depending on how many transactions and parties were involved.

But in the end, the results usually send searchers home with a good story to tell.

“We welcome them,” Fulginiti said. “Come visit us.”

The Cape May County Clerk’s Office is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Learn more by visiting

Contact Trudi Gilfillian:


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More than 30 years’ experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines in Illinois, Colorado, Texas and New Jersey and 1985 winner of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s John Murphy Award for copy editing.

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