The Association of Title Examiners
History of the ATE


Around 1939, the “country” title clerks (note the word “clerk”) - those working in the Delaware and Montgomery County Court Houses (note that Bucks and Chester Counties were outside the pale of regularity) had the desire to find out WHY they were asked to do what they did. Orders to them were transmitted orally, rarely in writing, and usually without explanation.

In those days, within title departments and title companies, there were the following classifications:

“City title clerks” (worked from company plant records, filling in wills, docket entries in title abstract briefs from City Hall records). They were paid per matter, straight piece work.

“Country title clerks” (based in Delaware and Montgomery counties, who abstracted their own brief of title and made their own searches from the county records were paid per matter, straight piece work. (Assignments in Bucks and Chester counties were viewed with distaste).

“Passers” (later Examiners) who reviewed the title clerks’ work. (salaried personnel).

The title clerks wrote a “settlement certificate” which contained no attachments and only a shorthand description.

Some time in either 1940 or 1941, a group of “Land Title” (The Real Estate Land Title and Trust Company) “country clerks”, namely Andy Sheard, Bill Baldwin, Bill Guertler and Dick Burroughs, met with W. Allen Roney, Manager of the Real Estate Land Title & Trust's 69th Street Branch Office in the McClatchy Building to have him explain what went on during the settlement process.

There was much desire to learn, creating the beginning and main purpose of this yet unnamed, informal group. The next month, after another such meeting, Allen allowed it might be better if the group met somewhere else (pressure from “upstairs”). Thereafter, meetings were held intermittently at a place called “Henri’s” (a sort of Rathskeller), halfway up the hill on 69th Street, until one of our attendees walked through a French door leading to the restaurant bar, without opening it. It was suggested by its management that we meet elsewhere, hence, starting everlasting rumors of outspoken drunkard members.

By this time, “country title clerks” of Commonwealth - Bill Batemnan, Bill Powell, Lou Rudolph, Gil Langacre and Frank Wallace - had joined in the meetings. Usually the meeting consisted of title problems and questions introduced by the attendees for discussion and opinions. For a few years, the meetings, when held, were chaired by Andy Sheard, then Bill Batemnan, with Dick Burroughs as secretary to take minutes. The minutes usually consisted of the date, place, attendees names and subjects discussed. No one recalls any dues.

Charlie Zarrigan came to the yet to be formalized Association as a member, being a “country clerk”. Charlie helped to formalize the group and its name and later put together a constitution and by-laws (in longhand), which, by most recollections, no other member ever saw. Charlie helped to expand the group considerably.

The  Association of Title Examiners had its first official meeting in August of 1942. It was started as a request from “Title Men” who wanted to learn more. Several of these “Title Men”, “Title Clerks”, or “Title Examiners” went to Charles Zarrigan, a well known attorney, who virtually wrote the book for Commonwealth Land Title Insurance Company and one of its predecessors, Land Title and Trust, soon to be referred to as "The Bible."  Charlie Zarrigan agreed to have dinner with these title examiners who expressed a sincere desire to learn. It’s understood there were several dinner meetings of this nature. The word began to spread, and soon other examiners wanted to attend. It wasn’t long before they convinced Charlie to help them form the "Association of Title Examiners."

If a question was ever raised in regard to the governance of the Association, Charlie (by then perennial President) would extract the by-laws from his brief case and read the answer from the affected part.

To his great credit, Charlie did hold the Association together, did control its expansion, did develop its seminars single-handedly and did help lift the title examiner from “clerk” status.

In the early years, the Pennsylvania Land Title Association (P.L.T.A.) was a very exclusive underwriters’ executive club. Many of these executives heard rumors about what was going on and interpreted it as a movement to form a union. Consequently, right or wrong, the Association was shunned by those executives.

In those days, bosses were very close to “gods” in the eyes of the rank and file, because they had so much power.  Hence, many examiners were very careful not to mention the Association.  This naturally fueled the rumors of unionism and an almost “secret organization”.

Charlie Zarrigan did much to allay the fears of unionism with his connections with these executives, but skepticism brewed on both sides for many years. Charlie was elected and re-elected many times. Eventually, Charlie did break down many of the barriers, and in fact spoke before the P.L.T.A. convention during the 50’s.

Several times representatives of the Association of Title Examiners were sent to the P.L.T.A. convention, but the report back to the association was usually negative, since many of these examiners were not comfortable in such settings and among such company. It was also felt, perhaps, they really weren’t welcome because most of the executives were all part of a “clique”.

After WWII and the return of many members, including Dick Burroughs, Dick and Andy Sheard were asked to find a meeting place for the Association, which they did, at 2601 Parkway, Philadelphia, PA, then in its hey-day, and where the Association met for many years.

In the early 60s, Charlie Zarrigan passed away, but his legacy lives on within our Association, as well as the industry. The Association almost disbanded until a few members joined together to save it. They were, namely:

John Gardner, our 6th President, along with the help of Harold Donahue, Paul McCarthy, Earle Andrews, Bill Kassell, Fred Glover, Howard Mattson, Dominic Magavero and a few others who are not mentioned here, all of whom rallied, with John’s leadership, to save the Association.

After a long climb back, mostly through younger new members, the Association grew to number about 100 people. During the early 70s women, for the first time, were admitted to the Association. We are proud to have quite a few female long-time members and a female President, Nancy Takach, who was also re-elected.

During the 70’s, the normal process of change in the organization’s membership took its toll, including members moving into management positions, principally because of the need created by the expansion of the title insurance business, which was the “curse” Dick Burroughs, fell under. Thus members lose contact and the impetus to continue in Association, and they drift away.

In 1985 there was no provision in the Pennsylvania Land Title Association by-laws for membership in the P.L.T.A. for any unincorporated group such as the Association of Title Examiners. Happily, that has been changed in the last few years, and the Association has a seat and vote on matters concerning the P.L.T.A. and the industry.

We have had our ups and downs ever since, including having twenty years worth of our records lost by a member. We have rebuilt the Association again.

Old legends die hard. Many of you probably have heard that the “Examiners Association”, as it's often called, was just a drinking night out for the boys. This simply was not true. (Not all the time anyway!)

Our Association started out as an educational organization and has maintained education as its number one goal for almost 50 years. Consider that we have given approximately 40 annual seminars for the industry. We have had many, many speakers over the years, such as: Judge Ladner, Judge John Fullum, Federal Judge of Philadelphia arid Oscar Beasley, Sr., V.P. of First American Title Insurance Company, a renowned speaker within the industry, who came all the way from California. We have had celebrities such as: Rich Ashburn, to talk about excellence and goals, and Jay Lamont, the controversial real estate commentator and radio host. Just last fall we had mayoral candidate, now Mayor of Philadelphia, Ed Rendell, Esquire, as speaker. We have had as speakers many respected A.T.E. members such as Richard A. Angelo, Esquire, V.P. of Commonwealth Land Title Insurance Co., Earle R. Andrews, Sr. V.P., of National Division of Industrial Valley Title Insurance Company (now retired). The list goes on and on.

We have instituted the first Annual A.T.E. Scholarship Award to deserving students of the Pennsylvania Land Title Institute. A periodic news letter to the membership was created last year, and we have had an average of eight educational speakers during regular meetings for almost 50 years.

Today, there are several sources for education in the title insurance field, especially the Pennsylvania Land Title Institute (P.L.T.I.). With the advent of computerization and information retrieval systems, there is, and will be, an even greater need for the experienced title examiner professional, which ATE contains and continues to create.

[excerpt from the 50th anniversary seminar book published in 1991]

Conveyancers' Association

An indirect predecessor of the ATE was the Conveyancers' Association based in Philadelphia.  The association was founded around 1870 and consisted primarily of Philadelphia-based conveyancers.  In the 19th century, the conveyancer was a combination title searcher, title examiner, real estate salesperson, legal practitioner, and settlement clerk.  Some, but not all conveyancers were also attorneys.  There were several conveyancers operating in Philadelphia thorughout the 19th century although the professional had largely disappeared in the Philadelphia are by the early 20th century with the advent of title insurance and title insurance companies, many of which were owned and operated by former conveyancers.

A list of known Philadlephia conveyancers:

Nathaniel Borradaile Browne (1819-1875), "was a Philadelphia lawyer, businessman, and public servant. Born in Philadelphia in 1819, he lived and worked in the district known as West Philadelphia. He served in both the federal and the Pennsylvania state governments, worked on the Philadelphia Centennial in Fairmount Park, and became the first president of Fidelity Trust Company..." (reference)

Holstein DeHaven (b. 1843) - Member of Conveyancers' Association (1871) and principal of Real Estate Title and Trust Company. (Who's Who in Pennsylvania, 1908).

James G. Francis (b. 1858) - Original Member of the Conveyancers' Association and director of the West Philadelphia Title and Trust Company.  (Who's Who in Pennsylvania, 1908).

W. G. Littleton (fl. 1885-1932) - Attorney and Conveyancer in Philadelphia.

William McLean (fl. 1852-1882) - Conveyancer and Real Estate Broker.

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