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How Clues in Land Records Helped Me With My Brick Wall Ancestor

Genealogy Brick wall with Title Clues from Land Records

When researching in the United States, some of the oldest and most valuable records for genealogists include deed records. Let’s dive into an investigation of deeds and how they helped me add more evidence to my genealogy brick wall case study.

What am I looking for in the land records?

I have clues from John's death records, from early census records, descendancy research, online trees, city directories, and probate records.

While researching in land records for John Townley and his potential father Effingham, I have hoping to find the following clues:

In Cincinnati land records, I hope to find:

  • connections for John to Elizabeth, New Jersey.

  • when John purchased his first property in Cincinnati, Ohio.

  • additional evidence about John's likely cousins from Elizabeth, New Jersey - George, Major, and Edward Townley.

In Elizabeth land records, I hope to find:

  • property transferred from Effingham Townley to a John Townley of Cincinnati

  • any sale of lands by a John Townley of Cincinnati

  • investigate likely cousins from Elizabeth, New Jersey - George, Major, and Edward Townley for patterns or shared property from a common ancestor.

VIDEO: How to Research Land Records for Genealogy Brick Wall Clues

Watch this research process in action in this video.

Researching in Cincinnati, Ohio Land Records

Since Ohio became part of the Northwest Territory in 1803, Buckeye residents were transferring land. With John’s arrival in Cincinnati in the 1830s, I investigated Townley transactions at the county level using the FamilySearch collections.

While I am looking for clues that can bust through the brick wall of who John's parents are, I'm also ensuring I have exhausted John's records. By so doing, I will know John so well that I would recognize him if I met him at a party. The best way I can do that is to keep my research organized and constantly update my genealogy research plan.

Clues in 1845 Deed for John Townley

The earliest record associated with John Townley in Cincinnati happened in 1845.

Richard Bodley Land Record sale to John Townley

Knowledge Gathered

  • The property is located on the south side of Barr Street between Cutler and Linn Street in the Barris subdivision.

  • The purchase price was $375

  • While the record states that Richard and Myra Bodley are of Cincinnati, John's residence is not stated.

Thie record provides evidence of purchasing the Barr Street property. John willed this property to his daughter Eliza Townley Woodruff and his son Richard Townley. Meanwhile, city directories in the 1840s state that John is living on Van Horn between Linn and Cutter. On maps available between 1846 and 1877, Van Horn street is not indicated. Barr Street is on the map below.

Map of southwest corner of Cincinnati in 1877
Notice Barr Street is to the left of the number 17

In my research plan, I analyzed this property purchase and John's property purchase on Van Horn Street in 1855. The Van Horn property was part of the William Barr lands, which could cause much confusion over the street names.

If you want your own genealogy research plan template, get a copy of my Research Plan Template, print it out, or use it online.

Conclusion of Cincinnati Land Records

While confusion over the exact location of Van Horn Street persists, this question is reserved for future research of John's children. The resolution of this question does not fit into the objectives of my Brick Wall research.

Unfortunately, the Cincinnati land records do not provide clues to John's origin in Elizabeth Town, New Jersey. They leave additional questions about why John didn't purchase land when he arrived in Cincinnati in the early 1830s.

Researching in New Jersey Land Records

Since as early as 1664, New Jersey residents have been transferring land, and those records were kept at the county level. I investigated land records for John and Effingham Townley from in Essex County courthouse available online at FamilySearch.

While searching for John Townley's in the grantor index, demonstrating a sale of his potential inheritance, did not offer any insights, I turned my attention to researching Effingham Townley.

Effingham Townley's will named his sons Richard and John as executors of his estate. I searched for deeds selling any property belonging to Effingham Townley of Elizabeth, Essex County, New Jersey. I found that deed taking place on 5 Dec 1833.

1833 Deed in Essex County New Jersey from Richard Townley to Jacob Geiger

Knowledge Gathered

  • The property is located in Elizabeth Town, New Jersey

  • The property was sold 5 years after the death of Effingham Townley.

  • Richard Townley, of Elizabeth Town, New Jersey is handling the estate.

  • The property sells for $350.

  • John Townley's residence not included was named as an executor but did not sign this deed.

  • Richard Townley sells the property to Jacob Geiger.

This sale of property by Richard, Effingham Townley's executor, in 1833 directly ties this transaction to the will that was dated in 1828.

Unfortunately, without a specified residence for John Townley, the clue that I had hoped for is not directly stated. Thus far, even with the lack of direct evidence, the possibility of John Townley, who moved to Cincinnati, is this Effingham Townley's son.

Analysis of Effingham's Land Records

Following the timeline, Effingham Townley, the potential father of John Townley, died in 1828. His estate goes through probate, but a land transfer does not take place until 1833.

John and his family appear to be in Elizabeth, New Jersey, as recorded by the 1830 Census record. His first appearance in Cincinnati is in the 1834 city directory. City directory employees typically canvased an area the year before a book's publication date. It is suspected that John arrived in Cincinnati in 1833.

Since Effingham's land transfer occurred in December 1833, It's possible that John's residence was still in flux. He worked as a bricklayer in 1834, an occupation he maintains throughout his life. However, he might have inherited enough money to move to a new land of opportunity but not enough to purchase a home. Thus, it's likely that John rented a home until he had the $375 he needed to purchase the Barr Street home.

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Researching George and Major Townley of Cincinnati, Ohio.

When records don't provide the direct clues we seek, we have to cast a wider net to find clues or understand record-keeping patterns.

If city directories were available for 1832 and 1833, I would have known that George W. Townley beat John Townley to Cincinnati. George bought a property in 1831. The following year, he bought a property with his brother Major. Even though Major was a landowner in Cincinnati in 1832, he doesn't begin to appear in city directories until 1839.

It's not uncommon for people to be skipped in City Directories because they are not home during a canvasing. There are additional possibilities for why he was excluded from the city directories. However, it's now possible to state that Major was in Cincinnati earlier than previously suspected.

In 1834, George and Major grant the rights to their Elizabethtown, New Jersey property to Edward Townley to sell and handle any of their outstanding debts. This record specifically states that George and Major are residing in Cincinnati at the time of this deed.

While the record is super fun to read, the key take away is that the county clerk recording this deed did make a habit of identifying where the various parties in the transfer resided at the time of the transfer.

The question then becomes, why John Townley's residence was not recorded in Effingham's land record transfer?

Time to Update the Research Plan

In the end, I do not have direct evidence that links my 4th great-grandfather, John Townley, to his father. However, I have gathered the following clues:

  • when John Townley purchased land in Cincinnati

  • With an unspecific residence, John Townley was named in the sale of land as part of Effingham Townley's estate.

  • The clerks in Essex County, New Jersey, did have a habit of specifying where people lived at the time of the transactions, including out-of-county and out-of-state locations.

The lack of definitive clues connecting my John to the son of Effingham of Elizabeth, New Jersey, warrants further research. Some of that includes researching all of the Townley land transfers in Essex County, New Jersey.

As I discover which Townleys bought and sold land in Elizabethtown, I can continue researching these potential relatives of John in other records, like probate or newspapers. Rarely is the quest to break a brick wall straightforward.

While you gather clues, make a habit of updating your genealogy research plan. I have included these land record clues and others in my research plan. To view what my research plan looks like now, click the link below.

You should be able to view the research plan without requesting access to the file. You can save the PDF to your computer or Google Drive. If you have feedback about the research (both positive and negative), let me know in the comments below or send me an email.

More About Land Records

Continue learning about land records and other resources for your genealogy quest through the following blog posts and videos.

Review the John Townley Brick Wall Series

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