Saturday, October 27, 2012

Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records

Genealogical skill building is a big part of successful family history research, so it's a good idea to make time to read up on some form of research methodology that may be as yet unfamiliar to you.  Last month I had just such an opportunity while out of town for a week.  There was going to be significant "down time" during my trip and there are only so many things you fit into two carry-on bags for the airplane.  So, I decided to take along a book from the genealogy general reference and "how-to" section of the Local History collection.

I chose and read Locating Your Roots : Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records, by Patricia Law Hatcher.  Land records research is rather complex compared to other types of records, a source that many historians often overlook or avoid.  Betterway Books, the publisher of this and several other family history titles, uses a format that is appealing...a non-academic, non-textbook style that allows you to breeze through and yet the content is very useful.

Rather than write a review of this book, I thought it would be more helpful if I listed some things that I learned or reinforced that may be of use to others:
  1. Tip - Identify wives' given names through the sale of property [Although the wife did not need to be identified on the purchase of property, the dower right laws dictated that she must be identified on the sale, accompanied by a Release of Dower rights that she signed with no coercion from her husband - this might be the only way to determine the first name of "Mrs. John Smith."]
  2. Creating a timeline is an effective brick wall research tool
  3. If your ancestor was a frequent purchaser/seller of property, create a land chart [described on page 16] to assist in creating a checklist of all documents relating to that property
  4. List of ways that land can be acquired or disposed of [page 17]; have you ever heard of Silent Inheritance, for example?
  5. Five different ways to record information from a land record index, page 66 [I actually created a #6, inspired by this list]
  6. King Philip's War (1675-1676) was the first American campaign whereby land was used to reward military service, a practice that ended in 1855, before the Civil War
  7. Michigan was once a bounty land state, but soon was withdrawn as the land was considered undesirable
  8. The Ordinance of 1785 defined the federal land system, including that four of 16 townships in a section were to be reserved for the federal government and that Section 16 was reserved for schools
  9. Only 40 percent of homestead applicants actually completed the process [This might explain why parts of your family were found in the west for a few years and then came back to Michigan]
  10. 362 Land Offices were created [see pps. 159-183 for lists by state]
  11. The recording of a deed, if recorded at all, could have been done decades after the fact
  12. In the Public Land States [including Michigan], tax lists are usually organized by township & range, therefore you can learn where your ancestor and his neighbors resided, even if they didn't own land
  13. In addition to documents recording the purchase, sale or mortgage of property, seek out those records of ownership such as tax records and plat maps
  14. For an in-depth study of the Public Land system read The Public Lands : Studies in the History of the Public Domain, by Vernon Carstensen [VBDL doesn't have this title yet, but will be seeking it out]
  15. Don't discount the importance of reading state-specific books and articles relating to land records, to best learn what is available and how to access them
  16. "Calls" is a general term for metes-and-bounds descriptions in a deed or survey [page 142 has a nice example of a "calls" abstraction form]
At some point in your family history research, you will reach a family where the traditional records don't yield the answers you seek.  Learning about other less common sources, can only enhance your chances of finding answers.

Locating Your Roots can be checked out from the Local History Collection with a valid VBDL card, or request a copy by inter-library loan through your local library.  This was definitely a useful learning experience for me.  Maybe later this winter I'll get brave enough to read about naturalization records...

Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown family group
Photographer - H. E. Bradley, Buchanan

Can you identify the family members in this carte-de-visite?  Do you have knowledge of the photographer?  Please contact us if you have any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.

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