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  • Writer's pictureDevon Noel Lee

12 Essential Genealogy Clues in Land Records

Sunset view of farmhouse

When you discover your ancestors in land records, you can learn many details about their lives. Are you catching all the relevant details that real estate records reveal?

One of the most common land records in genealogy research include is deeds. Deeds record transactions between two or more persons and/or government or business entities. The most important details you'll find in land records to further your genealogy research include:

Name of Buyers and Sellers

It's no surprise that deeds record the sellers' names (the grantors) and the buyers (the grantees). But pay attention to those names.

  • The name can appear with multiple variations in the deed books. W J Townley, Wm J Townley, William J Townly, W James Tonley (All have been found to reference the same person in on the deed.)

  • Not every name in the deed is listed in the grantor and grantee index.

  • The buyer or sell can be religious groups, businesses, or various government groups.

  • Doesn't be surprised to find female ancestors in land records. They did appear to buy and sell land on their own or with their family members.

Residence of Buyers and Sellers

In an 1834 deed for George Townley selling to Edward Townley, three locations appear. The seller lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, the purchaser lived in New York, and the property was in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

You can trace where the parties involved migrated from and moved to with the help of the residence information in land records. It's also important to note that people don't always live in places where they own land.

Description of the Land

Regardless of if you have a township-lot descriptor or metes and bound parcel, the property description informs you of your ancestor's real estate location. Additionally, that description will be helpful when trying to trace the ownership history and possibly in tax record research.

Again, it will take a careful reading of the deed, but you’ll be able to tell exactly what is being transferred.

Location of the Property

Knowing the location of the property helps you identify several factors. If you're doing a One-Name genealogy research project, knowing that 6 Woodhouses lived in Arlington, Calhoun County, Georgia, and 15 lived in Morgan, Calhoun, Georgia is relevant information. You may discover that your Woodhouse in Arlington, GA is related to the other 5

Type of Land Record

The six most common types of deeds are quitclaim deed, deed of trust, warranty deed, grant deed, bargain and sale deed, and mortgage deed. By recognizing the deed type, you can better understand your ancestor's financial transactions and possibly find clues for other record sets to research (such as court records).

Sale Price

How much your ancestor sold their property for (also known as the consideration) can give you clues to family relationships at best and economic status at the worst.

Consideration of a few dollars, but indicate a parent-child or other close family relationship. Simultaneously, the increase or decrease of the consideration between the purchase and sale of the land could indicate expanded or constricted financial wealth.

Names of the Witnesses

If you're lucky, the witnesses on your deeds will be close kin or at least neighbors of your ancestors. Deeds were typically signed by individuals who knew the seller. Unfortunately, often a courthouse employee served as a witness. Be sure you compare your ancestor's deed to several others in the deed back to rule out the 'office clerk' witness theory.)

Release of Dower

Women had a dower right to the property owned by their husbands. If the husband sold the property, the wife typically had to sign a release of dower giving up her claim to the land. A release of dower confirms a woman's relationship with her husband as valid as a marriage license.

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It's not uncommon in deeds to include the relationship between the various buyers or sellers. These relationships' keywords include wife, widow child, son, daughter, heir, father, mother, brother, sister, and more.

Chain of Title

Some deeds record the original owner of the property. This chain of previous owners can have more than one owner. The previous owners could be relatives if you are lucky.

Identity of Neighbors

Frequently, the metes and bound descriptions identify the names of neighboring landowners. Knowing the names of neighbors is particularly useful when you attempt to separate same-named and common named individuals.

Quantity of Transactions

One overlooked detail is the volume of transactions connected with an individual or couple. The more land transactions connected you discover, the more you can infer how your ancestor acquired their wealth or divided their estate.

Continue Learning About Land Records

Continue your education about US land records via the following blog posts and videos.

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