When abstracts are not available a title examiner must work with the documents inside the courthouse directly. This is also called a "stand up" examination since the examiner spends all day standing in the country clerk's office sifting through records.
County records are indexed in a few ways. Most indexing is done using the names involved in transactions or the legal description of the land. The legal description tends to be the most useful but not all survey systems are created equal making this type of indexing inconvenient.
The traditional tract index system utilizes volumes of indexes pertaining to the section, township, and range in which the land under search falls. A listing and description of each instrument pertaining to the land. The examiner uses this information to compile the book and page of every instrument to review from the index. Using an index the examiner creates their own "abstract" to build the title chain.
This index is alphabetical under the names of the grantor and grantee without reference to the legal description. This can be problematic when a grantor or grantee owns multiple sections of land cannot differentiate between them when searching.