Land records such as property tax lists, deeds and deed indexes go back further in time that any other type of genealogical research record. Deeds can help you discover your heritage. Deeds can often provide evidence of family history relationships, names of neighbors, how long an ancestor was living in an area, given name of the female spouse, approximate dates of death and many other useful clues. The Homestead Act of 1862 enabled approximately 800,000 citizens or intended citizen to become landowners. Many states had their own land lotteries starting in the 1700’s to bring people to new territory and help establish communities.
Why Land Records?
Tracing males is easier than females. This is due in large part to many extra available records for males, such as railroad, military, voters, tax, and deed records. It is estimated that 90% of the adult white male population owned land.
Land records such as property tax lists, deeds, and real estate transactions go back further in time than any other record used for genealogical research. Certain Scandinavian land records date back to 950 A.D. In this country, land ownership has always been important. If a courthouse was destroyed, the deed records were reconstructed by local authorities soon after.
Prior to 1860, census records only list head of household. If you find a land record, it might have more than one family member listed, which can help in filling out missing family information. If you can find any type of land record for your ancestors, it will provide evidence of where an ancestor lived and for how long.
A Warrant -Is the first document in the land grant process. Warrants were issued to soldiers for service in various wars, including the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The warrant could be assigned or sold to someone other than the person granted the warrant before the land was surveyed.
A Survey – Defines the exact location and boundaries of the land grant authorized in the warrant. The land had to be marked on the ground before the land grant could be possessed. The survey might include the names of the surveyor’s assistants, who were often chosen because they lived next door to the property being surveyed, giving insight to tracing your family history.
A Patent – Is the title certificate issued by the governmental agency that originally owned the land.
Subsequent Exchanges of Land
After a patent had been issued to a landowner, he had the right to sell the land to someone else in the form of a deed, but the recording of such land sales became a local responsibility. Unlike the warrant, surveys, or patents, which were recorded at the state or federal level, exchanges of land subsequent to the land grant process are recorded at the county level making it easier to trace your family genealogy. This is true for all states except three New England States, where the deeds are recorded at the town level (Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont), and Alaska, the only state with no counties and where land exchanges are recorded at the Judicial District level. In Louisiana, deeds are recorded at the parish level, which is the same as a county in other states.
Some definitions related to land exchanges at the county or town level are as follows:
Deed… the private document which records that the ownership of a parcel of land was transferred from one party to another. A copy of a deed is recorded in the county or town the land is located, even though the sale of the land may have taken place somewhere else. Family history traced by the deed certificate then acts as the title to property in the possession of the buyer. There are several types of deeds, such as Warranty, Trust, or Quit Claim Deeds, all of which may be used to transfer or relinquish a claim to property.
Grantor… the party selling or relinquishing land.
Grantee… the party buying or being granted land.
Grantor/Grantee Index… the index to private land exchanges. In some counties it may be called the Direct (Grantor) Index and the Indirect (Grantee) Index. Or, it may be called the Index to Real Estate Conveyances. This index can be found in all US counties kept by the county recorder or register of deeds.
Land was surveyed and divided into sections from the point of the base (which runs east and west) and meridian (running north and south). A survey will sometimes tell you a lot more than just about the physical description of the land. The surveyor might include additional details about the neighbors and your relatives. A land description will have the following information:
Township – Is identified by its relationship to a base line and a principal meridian. For example, “township 5 South, Range 11 West, 5th Principal Meridian” identifies a township that is 5 tiers south from the base line of the 5th Principal Meridian.
Range – Is used in conjunction with the township data field identifies a row or tier of townships lying east or west of the principal meridian and numbered successively to the east or west from the principal meridian. In the above example, the number 12 represents the Range Number that is used to identify the township that is 12 tiers to the west of the principal meridian.
Section – This number identifies a tract of land, usually 1 mile square, within a township. Most townships contain 36 sections. Standard sections contain 640 acres. A section number identifies each section within a township. A half section contains 320 acres. A quarter section contains 160 acres. Half a quarter contains 80 acres. A quarter of a quarter contains 40 acres.
Aliquot Parts – were used to represent the exact subdivision of the section of land. Halves of a Section (or subdivision thereof) are represented as N, S, E, and W (such as “the north half of section 5”). Quarters of a Section (or subdivision thereof) are represented as NW, SW, NE, and SE (such as “the northwest quarter of section 5”). Sometimes, several Aliquot Parts are required to accurately describe a parcel of land. For example, “ESW” denotes the east half of the southwest quarter containing 80 acres and “SWNENE” denotes the southwest quarter of the northeast quarter of the northeast quarter containing 10 acres.
Tips for Finding Deeds
You need to know the county to look in. If you have a time frame and approximate county, go to county formation maps to look at the surrounding counties to narrow down your search. The transformation of land into county formations progressed slowly over time. In some cases there was a lapse of a few years between the creation date and the organization date of counties. Knowing when a county was formed or changed, can make a difference in finding the right information or no information at all.
If you are successful with finding a deed, check the neighbors deeds, they could be related or offer further clues. You might use a map to find the closest cemetery to see if you have relatives buried in the county they were living in. Other county documents like taxation lists or wills might help you with tracing your family genealogy.
Where to Trace Deeds
Look through the Indexes, to get deed book and page information. The indexes usually span several decades, making it easy to locate possible family history.
Research at the courthouse. You can try to locate a local genealogical society or RAOGK to see if someone would do the research for you.
Research by mail. A county’s register of deed records may look in a deed index for you if your request is concise. Ask for someone to check the Grantor/Grantee Index for evidence of your ancestor’s name during a period of about twenty years should help with tracing your family history. The index will indicate the book and page number for a deed transcript. You can then ask for copies of the deeds themselves.
Research by microfilm. Go online and look up the Library Catalog through FamilySearch.org to see what they have on microfilm for deed and property taxes. Note the film information and film number, and then visit your local Family History Center to order the correct film.
Research the BLM records. Bureau of Land Management has many online records for tracing family genealogy Information on land patents and land surveys for Public Land States.
Research the local historical society. The local historical society that is in the county your ancestor lived in might be able to help locate old maps or land information.
Filed under: Family Genealogy