Why is it called a deed?

By Matthew Vitart

Deeds Defined

Have you ever wondered why the document used to convey title to real estate is called a “deed”? The word’s meaning derives from what I consider to be one of the coolest legal ceremonies in our tradition – the “Turf & Twig Ceremony” earlier known as “Livery of the Seisin”. In that ceremony, which dates back to medieval Europe but was also used in Colonial America, the buyer and seller accompanied by witnesses would meet at the property. The seller would dig up a clump of turf and then break a twig off a nearby tree and stick it in the turf.  The buyer would deposit the purchase money in the hole left by the excavated turf. The seller would then tickle the buyer’s hand with the twig (for blind buyer’s) and pass the turf and twig to the buyer while stating his intent to convey the property.  This was the “deed” that conveyed the property.  I once considered implementing this into my real estate closings, but abandoned the idea after negative feedback from realtors.

Click below to watch a reenactment of the ceremony:

Matthew Vitart



Paul Randall practices in the areas of real property and business transactions, real estate finance, closings and title insurance, business entity formation, foreclosures and collections and wills and probate.

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