Land records compared to other records, such as census, military and immigration, are not making a big entry as yet on Internet. What is there proves to be valuable.
Consider how your ancestor obtained the land. Did he obtain the land from the crown, the federal government, the state government, another person or institution (such as a railroad)? Was it military bounty land? The best way to delve into land records is to prepare a timeline and location information on your ancestor. Where was he living at what intervals of time and where would he have purchased land?
Begin looking for land records in the county where you believe he owned land. Keep in mind that he may have never moved from that property, but it may have changed in name from the forming of one county to another. Your research may involve more than one county. One of the best ways to start looking for land records in a county is to check the Family History Library Catalog (LDS) online at FamilySearch International. Select the county and state, then land records or land record indexes. From that you can order microfilm and locate your ancestor's land records. Of course, you can also visit the courthouse.
Some of the land record books have indexes at the beginning of the book and others do not. If there is a separate index, it is a good idea to check that first. If you ancestor purchased and land he or she will be the grantee. The seller of the land is the grantor.
And now for the gold! Look at census first. Does this show your ancestor was a farmer in the county? Does it show his personal and real values? They are good clues to extend your research into land records. Sometimes land records will contain information on former places of residence or another location within the county. The grantee may be shown as John Doe of Berks Co., Pennsylvania and he's purchasing land in Buckingham Co., Virginia.
Look for names of other people within the deed. If a man is selling his land and he is married, his wife will exercise her dower rights. This assures that she agreed to the sale of the land. If this is not done, you can assume he was not married, perhaps divorced or widowed or merely single. Sometimes he will be shown as a single person. If a man is purchasing the land and married, he does not need to show his wife's name.
There will be dates on the land records. Check the date of the actual land record in comparison to when it was filed or recorded. A large lapse of time may indicate that the land had remained in the family all those years without any need for changing the title to the land. The land descends in the family through generations.
The terms of consideration or selling price of the land is important. A small amount may indicate a token amount, such as "in consideration of one dollar." You may also see " for love and affection." The person receiving the property is most likely a relative. This is an added bonus when you do not know a woman's maiden name and it is being deeded to a female.
A person's status is often reflected in land records. If a man served in a local militia or war, he may continue throughout his life carrying a title, such as Colonel (Col.) or Captain (Capt.). These may show up in land records, giving you another bonus ... start looking at military records. His occupation may be shown, such as yeoman.
It is a good idea to look at the neighbors where your ancestor lived. Did they purchase land at approximately the same time? Do you know their previous locations? Were they friends or maybe relatives before they arrived in the county? A closer look at their records may supply valuable clues in your own personal research.
Land records open the door to other records, such as census (migrations), vital records, probates, church records, and tax records. They also allow you to understand exactly where your ancestor lived, not just in a state, such as Pennsylvania. There is definitely gold in land records ... start mining for it!
Source Information: Tracing Lines, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.
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