As Register of Deeds, Bristol served the community well

Published 11:36 pm Friday, August 31, 2018

For the past 41 years, Jodie Bristol has been an ever-present figure in the Carter County Register of Deeds office. Friday, Bristol passed the office responsibilities to Jarred Ellis, who was sworn in as the new Register of Deeds following his election earlier in the month. Bristol, who has served three terms, chose not to seek re-election.

Bristol began her employment at the Carter County Register of Deeds office in October 1977. Prior to that she had worked for two years doing deed searches and mapping counties, spending most of her time in the Johnson County Register of Deeds office.

When she came to work in Carter County, Johnny Holder was Register of Deeds, and Bristol’s job description was “pretty much do whatever needs to be done.” She answered the phone, wrote receipts, scanned deeds, helped visitors and attorneys do deed searches, etc. “It was a fun job. It was new and different every day,” the retiring officeholder said recently as she reflected on her career.

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As Register of Deeds, Bristol has also been a keeper of the county’s history. At the Register of Deeds office, you will find all deeds and mortgage documents from the early 1800s to the present, subdivision plans and historic atlases. Deed records at the Registry can help you find out who originally owned your property, what were the original boundaries of the property, how the property was originally divided and much more. Deeds provide a “chain of ownership” from one owner of a property to the next. Deeds do not always tell you who lived on a property (owners sometimes rent), but they are a very useful starting point for any house research. Deeds can tell us more than just who owned a property. Deeds often contain the selling price of the property.

Bristol said she had always been interested in local history, which has made her work all the more inviting.

To study deeds is not as cumbersome or musty as it sounds, due to the fact that Bristol and her predecessor spearheaded digital innovations, keeping records secure yet publicly and freely available online — transparent and virtually paperless since 1997.

The technological advancements have been the biggest change in the office’s operation that Bristol has witnessed. It was also her biggest challenge. “I was not brought up with computers as kids today are. So, when we went to computers, I thought of quitting, thinking I can’t handle this. But, in the end I was determined to do it. It literally changed how we did business. For example, we no longer type deeds, we can scan them. Our receipts are done on the computer, rather than writing them out. Computers changed everything. It was a big adjustment, but it was a good thing,” said Bristol.

Although deeds are now digitized and are in a searchable database, hard copies are still recorded and kept. “It’s just good business as many people, especially older people, still like to see the hard copy. By law, we don’t have to print the books, but I think it’s good to do so, and is a service to the public,” said Bristol.

Bristol has served three terms as Register of Deeds, having been first elected to the office in 2006, when Holder chose not to seek re-election. She is the only woman to serve as Carter County’s Register of Deeds.

She said business has remained steady. “Our biggest year was in 2006, and as the economy went down, so did the real estate business in the county, and not as many transactions were taking place. Slowly, we are seeing the local market recover and get back to where it was in 2006, so our office has become busier,” she said.

One other change that has come about since Bristol became keeper of the deeds is that military discharges are no longer public record. “Because of the personal information the discharge papers contain, if they are registered, they are kept under lock and key,” she shared.

Also, since she has been in charge, everything is kept in one book — warranty deeds, trust deeds, power of attorneys, liens, lien releases, court judgments. “Most counties have a records committee, and these committees have found that it cuts down on errors. For example, if a warranty deed is registered, usually the deed of trust (if there is one) follows. Formerly, trust deeds were kept in a separate book,” she said.

Over the years, Bristol says the office has been popular with people searching for their roots. “There’s so much history in these books and in the records kept in this office. A lot of history is archived in this office. For instance, some of the records go back to the early 1800s when bills of sales for the purchase of slaves were recorded,” she noted.

She credits her predecessor, Johnny Holder, with the vault space the office now has. “He, working with County Commission, was able to get the vault space extended, so we have plenty of records space as well as working space,” Bristol said.

The Register of Deeds office is an office through which thousands of dollars pass through each year as a fee is charged for the recording of each document. Some of that money goes to the Tenn. Department of Revenue and the rest to the county. “A charge of $5 is made for a document page,” said Bristol.

Over the years, Bristol has enjoyed having a capable staff. One staff member, Jean Carson, who has been working in the office since 2004, is also retiring. The office bookkeeper, Jean worked part time for two years, before becoming a full-time staffer in 2006.

Through her work, Bristol has met numerous people and made many friends, especially in the legal arena. “I’ve made so many friends working at the courthouse,” she shared with a warm smile.

Now, that she is officially retired, Bristol says she plans “to take it one day at a time.” “I’ll miss the office staff and the people at the courthouse, but I won’t miss the responsibilities or the stress of the office. I feel like I am leaving the office in good hands and the new register has a good staff in Brenda Johnson and Brittany King. It’s been a good experience for me and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to both work in the office and to serve as Register of Deeds. The people of this county have been very good to me,” shared Bristol, as the day before she left office, she was working alongside her successor, showing him the ropes.

Bristol said she and husband, Kenneth, also plan to spend more time with their sons, one of whom lives in Seattle, Wash. “We also have a grandson,” she said.

Her parting advice to the new Register of Deeds: Serve the people of this county with the highest level of respect and customer service.