Primacy of the Grantor/Grantee Index
Though there are several different ways you can begin your title record search of real property, you'll find that it won't be complete until you have searched through the Recorder's grantor/grantee name index. Thus the practical value of an address, or the assessor's parcel number, or the legal description, etc. is to lead you to the owner's name.
The County Recorder's name index is the most thorough way to check for almost all liens (both voluntary and involuntary) that are against the title to real property because names appear on just about every document found in the Official Record. The same can not be said for alternate indexes by address, parcel number or legal description. Those items just aren't universally included on every recorded document like the owners' names are.
The object of checking the Recorder's title record therefore is to discover what liens were created against the property by preceeding owners and whether or not they are still unpaid. Since liens can be carried forward, from owner to owner, the "search" often involves checking the title record in the names of several past owners simultaneously-until you reach a point in time where you know, with a good deal of certainty, that the property was "free and clear".
A confusing concept to the novice searcher is that liens are always identified (and referred to in subsequent documents) in the names of their original creators, even though such "creators" may have long since sold their interest in the property to someone else. That means that when you're trying to determine the status of any lien you should check, right up to the present, for any subsequent recording of a reconveyance (or satisfaction or release) in the name of the original creator.
Also, it's quite easy to get bogged down in your search if you look at all documents without regard to their relevance. You must learn to focus primarily on documents that either create, subordinate, or extinguish liens on just the property you are researching. And you should track all ownership changes too, for each new owner can further encumber the property while it's in their name.
Finally, you should be extra cautious in situations where title to the property transfered without the benefit of a title report. In such instances the buyers would not have been pre-screened by a title company searching for any involuntary liens the buyers might be subject to. The significance is that such liens automatically attach to the title of the new purchase and are senior in priority to any liens recording concurrently. (But such situations wouldn't surprise you if you always compared the purported title record against the grantor/grantee index).
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