Friday, March 2, 2012

Collection Highlight : Land Records Date Back to Earliest History - Part 1

Michigan resources for family & local history research abound, but land records belong to an elite group of pre-vital records (1867) possibilities, along with probate, tax, court, county marriage, and census records.  Depending upon the county, land records may date back as far as 1830 in Southwest Michigan. 

Usually, land research is low on the list of priorities for the family historian, sometimes so low that it drops out of site.  Deeds and mortgages typically don't offer the juicy facts we seek such as birth dates, parents' names, etc., so why should we research our ancestral land history?  Some items that we might expect to find:
  1. Names & name variations - If there is some question or inconsistency with the spelling of a name, the mere frequency of land documents may help sort this out.  Also, those signing the deed tended to sign their actual legal names rather than the Americanized or nickname version of it.
  2. Spouse's name - Because of dower rights laws, married women had to "sign off" on any land sale.  During this process, they were privately interviewed to insure that they weren't being coerced into giving up their right in a given property.
  3. Residence - Just because a purchase was made in a specific area, doesn't necessarily mean that this is where the owners lived, a misconception that often trips up the genealogist.  Exciting is the possibility of the listing of a prior residence, giving great clues as to migration or origin.
  4. Geographic location -  Examination of all land transactions allows you to "diagram" a person's life, discover where they may have attended school & church, and learn who their neighbors were.
  5. Witnesses - Pay special attention to any signatures on the documents.  Witnesses were very often family members or close friends.
  6. Economic status - The consideration amount of purchase or sale of property gives insight as to the wealth (of lack of) of a particular family.
  7. Occupation - The type & location of property may give unique insight as to the owner's trade.  If the purchase is a parcel of hilly property in the fruit belt, one might deduce that the it would be used for raising apples, peaches, or cherries.
  8. Education - Could your ancestor read & write?  Oftentimes these documents will be signed with an "X" with "his mark" written next to it, hinting at a lack of education.
There have been countless instances where land records have been responsible for solving genealogical problems.  In my own experience, one of my Revolutionary war lines was resolved using a grouping of land & tax records which studied in context established a relationship between father & son.  There are cases where an extended history of the property is included, or reference to family members is made.

For those of us who just plain want to learn everything possible about our families, land records should definitely be on our research checklist. 

Next time, we will introduce you to the array of Southwest Michigan land & related records in the Local History Collection of the Van Buren District Library...

Nameless Picture of the Day
unknown woman
 friend of Maurice Adams, Keeler
circa 1925

Can you identify the woman in this photograph?   Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.