Land records are a transfer of real (not personal) property. There are two types of land records: State Land (Metes & Bounds) and Public Land (Township & Range). Two formats: Patents or Grants and Deeds. There should be 2 records of each land transaction—Acquisition and Disposal.
What Can Be Learned In Land Records?
• Dates of residence.
• Lay of land—names of creeks, roads, etc.
• Approximate age of individuals.
• Wife or wives first names.
• Earlier or later places of residence.
• Approximate dates of death.
• Relationships and heirs.
• Neighbors and Communities.
Where are Land Records Found?
• Counties, State Archives, State Land Offices (entries, surveys, and patent or grants)
• County Court (Deed books and often separate books for Mortgages, Leases, Agreements, etc.)
• Probate Court (Will books and/or administration & settlement books for Intestate deaths)
• Chancery or Equity Court (Land Partition Suits)
• Bureau of Land Management online or NARA.
• (Printed Books, Family History Library Microfilm, and PERSI in periodicals)
Here is some vocabulary to be familiar with when reviewing land records:
• Grantor (Direct, 1st part)—Seller.
• Grantee (Indirect, 2nd part)—Buyer.
• Dower—Widow’s guaranteed third of land in husband’s estate.
• Fee Simple—Owner owns the land and can dispose of it as he likes.
• Equity—Cases between individuals in Chancery Court.
Metes & Bounds Land (State-Land)
• Original 13 Colonies plus Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Texas, and Hawaii (=21 total).
• Descriptions dependent on physical features–
“From a red oak, north XX degrees, east XX poles to name’s line, thence, ….”
• Examples online:
Library of Virginia http://www.lva.lib.va.us/whatwehave/land/index.htm
Secretary of State Office Kentucky:
How was Land Acquired?
• Grant or Patent from Crown, Colony, Proprietor, State, or Federal Governments.
• Headrights, Land Lottery--any settler had right to X# Acres.
• Bounty Land for military Service, both State & Federal.
• Assignment or purchase of another’s right.
• Preemption (Private Settlement prior to establishing Land Office).
• Sheriff’s sale of unpaid tax land.
• Deed of transfer from another person.
Steps to Grants or Patents
• ENTRY--register claim to particular tract at Court House or Capital of Colony or State.
• WARRANT--paper received when “entered”, allowing for survey.
• SURVEY--at persons own cost, but usually done by County surveyor.
• GRANT/PATENT--ownership paper received on return to Court House or Capital of Colony/State to register survey.
• Distinction in Virginia: Patent = Colonial period;
Grant = By State in Federal period.
Parts of a Land Deed
• Parties (Names)
• Locations (county and state of residence of each)
• Payment (in dollars or pounds)
• Property Description (township/range or metes/bounds)
• Chain of Title (mainly in metes and bounds States; rarely in Public Land States.)
• Guarantees (“to Have and to Hold Forever”)
• “Signatures” (the clerks’ writing, not actual signatures)
• Witnesses (may be neighbors or relatives)
• Dower Release (wife’s name)
• Acknowledgement, Receipts, and Recording Info.
• Ordinance of 1785 established Townships and Ranges.
• For 29 States from Ohio, Michigan, and Alabama to the west and including Florida.
• First sale = 1787; most sales were after 1796 due to length of time required to get process going.
o Settle Indian Claims.
o Announce Land opening.
o Settle preemption claims (persons previously settled there).
o Open Federal Land Office locally.
o Local Federal Land Office sells land.
• Descriptions--“640 acres in the southwest quarter of Section 4, Township 14, Range 7, X County, Y State.”