Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 8, Number 8 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 May 4, 2016
Publisher's Notes In this article, we discuss Land Records. I have written about them many times because they are so important at placing your ancestors at a particular place in time. In fact, my fourth newsletter article back in 2009 discussed them. They can also help you track their movement from place to place. Here are just a few of my older newsletters on Land Records. Hope you enjoy!
Land Records - Dec 2009
Land Records - August 2011
Public Land Records - November 2011
Virginia Land Records - June 2013
James L. Douthat
LAND RECORDS In the field of genealogy research, I’ve found that many people ignore the land records. I have transcribed dozens of volumes on the subject and have discovered many interesting tidbits of information that would help find your ancestores. When we think of land records, the vast majority think only of the deed records in the court house. However, there are many other land records to be found.
In the very early stages of the development of our nation, land was not just a place to hang one’s hat. Land was a method of exchange especially for soldiers fighting to make this nation what it is today. During the American Revolution, soldiers were paid with tracts of land. This had been done in the earlier wars like the French-Indian Wars. This process lasted up and through the war with Mexico in the 1840s. These service payments were usually recorded on either the Surveyor’s Records or the Deed Records. What most don’t realize is that in these earlier times, the soldiers had to supply their own equipment, horses, guns, food supplies, etc. Even in the Mexican War, many soldiers paid their own passage down to Mexico to fight.
Many of these earlier tracts of land were only vaguely described in the grants. Like many of the early tracts in the French-Indian Wars, you would find that a tract was located on the “western waters if vacant land can be found”. A survey was called for and when a surveyor was available, then the tract was laid out. In this manner, large overlaps did occurred. I know of one tract in Virginia where the purchaser obtained five service warrants in western Virginia. He filed these on Tuesday and in turn sold them on Thursday without a survey. There were hundreds of claims on these 100,000 acres and it was tied up in court from about 1790 until 1910.
When Tennessee first became a state, there were many prior land claims. They established land districts to have all claims surveyed. A surveyor would start at the head of a creek and survey all the lands up and down the creek. These are great to establish communities and gain names that you might not think about. The surveyor had to carry all of his equipment up and down the rough terrain and so he would hire local young men and occasionally a young women to help with the chains. The chain was vital to the survey as it was an established length of sixty-six feet. It took eighty chains per mile or one acre of ground was ten chain square. Sometimes the surveyor would sight across from one ridge to the next, but mostly they ran lines with their compass and the chain. As the surveyor came down the creek, he picked up different families and you find the names of the son and daughters in that family as they went. To find the information on the Land Districts in Tennessee, the State Archives has all of these records in the Archives or on microfilm
When land was taken as the country grew westward, the government would sell off sections and then give the buyer a period in which to pay for the land. Sometimes the payment period extended for up to ten years. During this time, that same section of land could be sold multiple times and if you are lucky, the court records record each sale of the tract. This process can track movement of those involved as they went westward. These survey books give one type of information whereas the deed books give another.
Deed Books are usually kept well in the court houses. Even when there is a fire, the deeds are first thing the county tried to re-constitute due to the fact that if there is no deed, then the person who claims the land cannot prove the ownership. In reading the deeds, most of us are only interested in the buyer and seller or as legally known - grantee and grantor. However, down in the description of the deed is found “...adjoining or corner to or some other note...”. These asides help to piece together the communities around your ancestors. It is not uncommon at all for a son or daughter of the owner to marry someone who is a neighbor. These notes help to find who out the parents of those marriages. In most normal court house index, these asides are not indexed. This is where an abstract is a better index than the court house ones.
Even more frequently overlooked are the tax records. Nearly all counties tax the land. If your ancestor is a land owner, they are on the various tax records found in the county. Sadly, too many counties do not keep their tax records from year to year. They might have a few different ones, but seldom a complete collection. It is a pity because they are a great source of tracking the in and out movement of a family that is moving from one place to another. Use what is available to you in your research.
Remember to look for the surveyor’s books as well as the deeds to gain a fuller knowledge of your ancestor.
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