Seated L to R: Grace Owens, junior at UVA-Wise Chelsie Mullins; last year at Virginia Highlands Community College Olivia Owens, junior at UVA-Wise Standing L to R: Colby Farmer, Project Manager & freshman at Mountain Empire Community College Tanner Lawson, junior at UVA-Wise Courtesy of Jack Kennedy.

A third group of student interns have begun work on a project in the Wise County clerk’s office to modernize land record using blockchain techology. (See background story.)

Historically in decades past, land records have been managed with paper indices, but “we have modernized over the past quarter of a century to evolve to remote access to land records, electronic filing of land records,” said Jack Kennedy, Clerk of Court in a statement. “This is just a continuation of the evolution, using more modern technology (e.g., blockchain) to create secure title opinions that can be ultimately utilized by local constituents, the banking industry, realtors and others to rapidly certify ownership of real property.”

Previously, it would sometimes take April Huff, the county’s master deputy clerk of court, all day and trips to the courthouse to prepare an abstract of title, which is a report that summarizes a property’s history, including past owners, money owed on it and liens, Kennedy said.

“You would have to search the grantor/grantee indexes by hand. Those are huge books – thick and heavy – and then you would go to each individual book that a document was in, and you would pull that and search that,” Huff said in a statement. “Going digital changed everything. I could stay at the office and do most of the work.”

Ultimately, the system, built on Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) Amazon Quantum Ledge Database (QLDB), will use machine learning and artificial intelligence to enable automatic generation of title abstractions, providing “the opportunity to push a button to get a 40-year title opinion, as opposed to hiring people to verify it,” Kennedy said. “Even if it is required to be verified by a human, it can be done much more rapidly,” he added.

The project has three parts. The first, which Bloqable delivered in June 2021, is a database of smart land records for Wise County and the city of Norton that make 40 years’ worth of data available in seconds. To date, more than 500 validated smart land records sit on the blockchain, according to David FitzGerald, the company’s founder and chief executive officer. To create the records, which is the second part of the effort, the county is working land records employees and cohorts of about six interns at a time from local Southwest Virginia colleges who have been trained in abstracting with help from an e-learning curriculum developed at Old Dominion University.

The biggest benefit of all is locally building a more engaged and educated workforce, Kennedy said in a statement, noting that the University of Virginia’s College at Wise has an accredited software engineering school that he’d like to tap for additional future interns. ‘Blockchain is going to be utilized in so many more aspects of daily life going forward into this decade,” he said. “Society is going to see more widespread use of blockchain, QR codes and NFTs, (NonFungible Tokens), in not only records, but across various fields ranging from art, agriculture, so-called smart contracts to confirm security, originality, trademarks, copywriters, and supply chains,” Kennedy noted referring to the near-term future.  

The interns in this cohort are Grace Owens, junior at UVA Wise; Chelsie Mullins; last year at Virginia Highlands Community College; Olivia Owens, junior at UVA Wise; Colby Farmer, Project Manager & freshman at Mountain Empire Community College, and Tanner Lawson, junior at UVA Wise. A fourth group of interns will be selected in May.