ENID, Okla. —
Garfield County and the surrounding counties account for more than their share of the state’s 262,000-plus mineral rights owners who can’t be located.
A thick binder in the Garfield County registrar of deeds office contains the names of more than 2,000 people who, or whose heirs, have claim to mineral rights proceeds rapidly accumulating in funds managed by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission and the Office of the State Treasurer.
Trish Newberry, a deputy Garfield County clerk, said the state treasurer’s office sends out an updated list each year to be kept in public record.
“Everything in our office is public record, and anyone who wants to can come in and check the list,” Newberry said.
But, she said, few people ever check the list to see if they or their family are missing out on unclaimed royalty payments.
According to state treasurer’s records compiled by Oklahoma Watch, Garfield County currently accounts for 2,182 unclaimed royalty funds whose rightful owners listed their last known address in the county.
Some north-central Oklahoma counties, such as Major County, have proportionately higher numbers of unlocated royalty owners, while other counties, such as Alflalfa and Grant counties, have comparatively few.
The numbers of unlocated mineral rights owners for Garfield and surrounding counties are: Major, 5,064; Woods, 5,299; Alfalfa, 214; Grant, 62; Kay, 11,783; Noble, 19,251; Garfield, 2,182; Payne, 3,057; Logan, 8,402; Kingfisher, 1,285; Blaine, 1,366.
Sandie Martens, a deputy Major County clerk, said the growing number of unlocated royalty owners could be attributed to the way mineral rights have been divided and passed down over the years.
“In the early warranty deeds, the minerals always transferred with the land,” Martens said. “But, over the years, if a family had six kids, the mineral rights would be divided between all six, and over time it’s just gotten split so many ways that on a quarter of land there could quite a few mineral rights owners.
“Someone might only have one-thirty-second of the mineral rights on a piece of land, and it just gets so fragmented as it gets passed down through the generations, they might not even know they own those rights.”
Many people don’t know they own mineral rights until an oil company calls asking to buy or lease the rights, Martens said.
“A lot of people will call and say an oil company wants to lease their minerals, and they didn’t even know they had mineral rights,” Martens said. “Usually, we can go back in the records and show documentation of it being passed down through the family, but a lot of people don’t even know they have that small interest in that five acres of land that got parceled out and passed down over the years.”
The process of locating mineral rights owners has become a booming industry of its own.
“We have a room full of landmen in here almost every day, starting at patent (the first title deed) and just going through the books, accounting for every acre of mineral interest of whatever piece of land they’re working on,” Martens said. “They’ll spend days just going through one section of land, trying to account for all the mineral interests.”
People interested in researching their own possible claim to long-forgotten mineral royalties need not go to such lengths.