Are you ready to take the genealogy research training wheels off and dive into US land records? FamilySearch makes the process somewhat simple.
Basic Facts about US Deeds Records
In the US, deeds are the land transactions that take place AFTER the “first” transfer of land from a government entity to an individual. Deeds are legal documents that record the transfer of property ownership from one person to another.
With the exception of Connecticut, Vermont, and Rhode Island, counties across the US recorded deeds. Connecticut, Vermont, and Rhode Island however record their deeds a the town level.
In the US, deeds are public records and were kept from the date a county formed. Owning land was so important that when a courthouse burned, people returned to the courthouse to re-record their deeds.
Watch this video to see how to access the land records on FamilySearch.
How to Access Land Records on FamilySearch
On FamilySearch, you’re generally not going to access the land records through the search forms. Often, you will have to browse the images. To access land records, start by going to the FamilySearch CARD CATALOG.
Once on the card catalog page, follow these steps:
Key in the county you're researching in the PLACE search box.
On the catalog index, search for an entry that includes the phrase "Land and Property"
Click on the drop-down arrow to expand to view the catalog's collections.
Find a collection that includes the title word "Deed."
In the video above, I searched for:
Essex County, New Jersey
I found the collection "Deeds, 1688-1901; index 1688-1909[ Essex County, New Jersey]"
Does the Collection Cover the Relevant Time?
I needed to review the collection to ensure that the record collection contains the dates I need. In my example, I was searching for John Townley born in 1801, which
means his father should be in Essex County in the late 1700s through the early to mid-1800s.
The deed collection that I found covers that range, so I can continue searching.
Find the Land Record Index
On the catalog collection page, look for any entry that has "INDEX" in the title. Pay little attention to whether the index is for a grantor (buyer) or grantee (seller) because I highly recommend searching both indexes.
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Create a Land Records to Search Table
Since we're going to switching between various digitized record books, I would highly recommend creating a table of the land records you want to search.
Put such a table into your genealogy research plan for small projects. For larger projects, use Google Sheets, Excel, or other spreadsheet programs.
My Land Records to Search Table includes the following column headings:
Name of Buyer (grantor)
Name of Seller (grantee)
Index book consulted*
Tips for Recording Names in the Land Records to Search Table
For the names of the buyers and sellers, you have several options. You can create two columns for the grantor name so that you have a first name and surname column. You can repeat this for the seller.
After trying the two-column method, I found it unnecessary work. Instead, I would make one column for the buyer and one column for the seller.
When you key in the names, type the surname first, then use a comma, and type the given names.
I can now sort by surname and then use spreadsheet filters (if I create a digital spreadsheet) to only show, Townley, Effinghams, and hide the remaining land record possibilities.
Genealogy Hack: As I research, I hyperlink the names of individuals relevant to my research to their FamilySearch profile. For instance, if I find a record for my John Townley ancestor. I insert a hyperlink of the relevant John Townley name in my spreadsheet to his profile. If I'm using an alternative online family tree, I could hyperlink John's name to that weblink.
Tips for the "Index Books Consulted" Column
Invariably I want to revisit the deed index book. Perhaps I wrote the wrong page number or volume in the respective columns. Perhaps I want to search the index for additional spelling variations.
No matter the reason, I have found it imperative that I record a link to the index in my digital spreadsheet.
However, I will admit that I turn the volume number into a hyperlink rather than create a separate column.
Searching For Your Ancestors in Deed Indexes on FamilySearch
As I said above, you will want to search both the grantor and grantee indexes. With your blank Land Records to Search Table prepared, it's time to find your deeds.
If you are new to searching unindexed records (known as browse-only records), I highly recommend you watch the video above to see the process in action.
The basics of searching in the deed indexes are to navigate to the first page that has your ancestor's surname.
Depending on the arrangement of your deed index, you can navigate the pages for your ancestor's first name. Or, you have to review each page that contains your ancestor's surname as the first names are jumbled together or grouped by time blocks.
Be sure you scroll through the book looking for all the relevant spelling variations for your ancestor's surname.
Include all entries for your target ancestor and then other potential relatives and neighbors (depending upon the depth of your research).
When you have found all the potential deeds to explore, then you can go to the Deed books.
Access Your Ancestor's Deed Records on FamilySearch
Return to the Catalog Page for Deeds in your ancestor's county. Now search for entries that include specific deed books.
Repeat the process to navigate browse only images. This time, you're searching for a specific page number. When you reach the specific page, then scroll the entire page looking for where the deed begins.
Many deed books will end one deed and start another on the same page. Many deed books have a quick 'reference' before the deed begins. It will read something like this "Townley, Richard to Meeker, David."
Save Your Ancestor's Land Records
When you find an entry that pertains to your ancestor, do a few things.
Copy the web URL in the browser web address bar.
Hyperlink the volume in your records to the search table or insert the link in the "Index Reference Book" column
Attach the deed to your ancestor(s) profile on the FamilySearch Family Tree
If I can't identify everyone in the deed, or the people are more distantly related, then I save this source to the FamilySearch Sourcebox.
Transcribe land record notes into your research plan.
One monitor trick for transcribing deeds on FamilySearch
When transcribing deeds, I open the Notepad app on my windows computer.
I minimize the Notepad and place it over the window with my deed. I continue adjusting the size of my Notepad program until I can see the deed and a place to transcribe the deed at the same.
I then type all the details into the notepad. I then copy and paste the information into my research plan or into the notes field as I attach the records to the FamilySearch Family Tree.
You'll want to watch the video for recommendations to follow while attaching the deeds to your ancestors in the online family tree.
Record Ancestor's Land Records Details Into Your Research Plan
There are several ways you can include details about your ancestor's deeds in your genealogy research plan.
The first option is to copy the transcription of the deed and paste it into the research notes. You can then add paragraphs explaining the purchase or sale of each property.
Or, you can reformat your "Land Records to Search Table" or create an "Ancestor's Deed Table."
The Ancestor's Deed table will likely include the following columns:
Name of Buyer (grantor)
Residence of Buyer
Name of Seller (grantee)
Residence of Seller
Town of Property
You can use fewer columns if you choose, but these are the most common columns to help you compare your ancestor's land transactions.
After you create this table, you can then write the conclusions you develop following this research.
Land records contain a wealth of information. FamilySearch makes it possible to research land records from the comfort of your home. Good luck making discoveries about your ancestor's property ownership.
More About Land Record Research
Continue learning about city directories and other resources for your genealogy quest through the following blog posts and videos.
US Land Record Handout from FamilySearch
More About FamilySearch Research
Clues from land records (you are here)
Clues from newspapers (Available 10 Dec)
Clues from Same Name Research Methodology (Available 11 Dec)
Writing Conclusions After Busting a Genealogy Brick Wall (Available 12 Dec)