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Genealogy Gazette

Volume 1, Number 4
Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369
Dec 09


Fourth Edition of the Genealogy Gazette

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If you have any comments or suggestions for future editions, please email me at jimd@mountainpress.com.

Thank you,
James L. Douthat
Mountain Press

Land Records

Our lost ancestors will more than likely show up in early land records, if we know who they were and where they settled. In the very beginning of our nation, all land was owned by the Crown which used land as reward for service or land grants/charters as a way to “buy” loyalty. Once the colonies were formed, the free land was given to the colonies and they gave land as a reward for service by individuals who rendered aid in various kinds to the colonies. The next stage of land transactions was after the American independence from Great Britain and lasted until the United States purchased the Alaskan territory from Russian in 1867. This act created the “Public Lands” found most frequently in the western portion of the states. However, the original thirteen colonies plus Kentucky, Maine, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and later West Virginia retained state lands under their control of un-granted public lands within their boundaries. The next process of land transfer was from the United States Government granting individuals the rights to a certain tract of land. The last process is the one more important for the genealogist and this is the transfer of land from one individual to another individual through their local governmental processes.

Once land transfers from individual to individual, the transfers will be recorded in county records and there are a number of items to look for in a deed. The first thing one wants to see are the names of the buyer and the seller. In many cases, there is also a location of the person[s] involved such as - “John Smith of Blank County from Thomas Stringfellow and wife of Echo County”. The word “wife” is inserted to indicate he is married, but more importantly, the land may have come from her father as a wedding gift, dowery or just as a tract to start the couple off on their own. Be sure and look at the signatures. Hopefully you should be able to find her name, or at least her first name.

Sometimes the phrase “for love and affection” is thrown into the deed which had nothing to do with the land itself. However, it may be a land from the parents to a child. In some cases, it may even be from a grandparent to a grandchild. There is often a connection between the two parties. If you find this phrase in a title, study it carefully.

The next item of real interest is that of the location. At the time of the writing of the deed, there may or may not have been districts, townships or other notations within a county, but there are usually some land mark noted that you need to keep in mind. This could be a river, creek, mountain or some other land mark that will figure into their surroundings. As time goes on, the counties begin to break down into smaller units as the district, township, etc. If you are lucky enough to find some tax lists, these latter units will be very important as you will be able to narrow down the location of the land in question. In fact, in some tax listings, I have found that a tax collectors’ note might state - “John Smith, s/o William or John Smith of Yellow Creek” which tells me that there are more than one John Smith in the county and the tax collector is making sure that we know which one is involved. I have seen “William” having more than one son named John, but I have never seen two Johns found on the same tax listing. Usually when there are more than two children in a family with the same name, one has died earlier and the family wants to honor the name by using it again.

Now comes some of the more interesting parts of the deed - dates, amounts, personal information or a multitude of other information. It is at this point that the reader has to keep in mind - READ THE ORIGINAL DEED. Often the casual researcher will stop with the search when an abstraction is located. Keep in mind that these are just guides to the original. You still need to read the original deed. As a case in point, I was researching my family and found a note in an abstract about one of my great grandfathers. All it told me was that he purchased a tract of land in a county where I knew he had lived. Years later, I finally got around to reading the original deed and the clerk made a note in the margin of the book written in 1803. “He signed his name Matthias Painter in English, but in German it should be Mathias Bender.” We had known him for years as Matthias Painter, but there was no record of him before the acquisition of the land. He was out of a different colony of Germans in another state with a different name. We have identified his parents and other family members all from this one side note of the clerk and the abstractor failed to realize its importance. I cannot emphasis the necessity of reading the original court records in every case. There could also be a misreading of many of these records with names like Jehu or John. In script these two are almost impossible to tell apart. I know as I have a Jehu in my family and have read the many records for him.

The early steps for land transfer are as follows:
1] An ENTRY was made to the Colonial Governor. This is simply a request for land as specified.
2] A WARRANT is issued by the Governor or Official. This is a directive to the surveyor to lay out the land as per the request.
3] Once these preliminary steps are taken, a survey is made and a PLAT is constructed showing the land with the boundaries shown.
4] Now a Patent is issued that allows the land owner to take possession of the land itself.

One word gives most people a lot of trouble - GRANT. This does not indicate a “Gift” from anyone. If anything can be said of it, it means the buyer is granted the right to buy the land. The word grant really indicates a process by which the buyer takes possession.

In your search for deed records there are two words you have to know - “Grantee” and “Grantor”. These are often confused, but are very different. In most of the court houses, these two terms are used for the various books of deed indices. You will want to examine both of them before you proceed with your search. “Grantee” means ‘one to whom a grant is made’ or the buyer of a tract of land. In the court house, there should be an index to those who buy land or to whom land is granted. “Grantor” means ‘one who make a grant to another’ or the seller of a tract of land. There should be a second index for those who sell land.

Keep in mind that you will need to check out the “grantee” and “grantor” indices. First, you want to know when your ancestor purchased their land. Secondly, you want to know what happen to that land later on. Just make sure that you read the original deeds for each transaction. If possible, transcribe each deed into your records. There may be subtle hints that will be very important as your research progresses. Like the name change in the signature, make sure you write down the signatures as given. Don’t forget the “his X mark” which means the person in question cannot read or at least cannot write his name. If you find documents where he has signed his name or is in his hand, you may want to question which is correct. This may be a clue that you have two different people.

Stay tuned - we will have more on land records in a later newsletter. Good luck with your research!

Land Grants in Fincastle County, VA 1772-1776

70 Pages, Soft Cover, 2008, VA-0713, $15.00

Fincastle County, in western Virginia, was in existence for only four years and at the time of the creation it contained all of the lands west of the Shenandoah Valley to the Mississippi River and contained all of the States of West Virginia and Kentucky and part of the southwestern portion of Virginia and at the same time a portion of upper east Tennessee. The information is found in the court house in Christiansburg, Montgomery County, VA today in Plott Book A. The contents are primarily land grants through the Loyal Company who were given 800,000 acres west of the Shenandoah Valley. In addition there are Royal land grants given for service in the French and Indian Wars. The county seat of Fincastle Co. was Lead Mines. These are the first granting of the land in this area of the state for the most part.

Click here for examples and surnames.


John McClellan's Survey Book - 4th Survey District of TN 1808-1810

99 Pages, Soft Cover, Full Name Index, TN-0288, $18.50

Contains the surveys of early land entries for Anderson, Bledsoe, Rhea, Roane, Campbell and Overton counties. Each survey includes the plat map, names of owners, location and number of acres and in many cases, the neighbors.

Click here for examples and surnames.


Fifth Survey District of Tennessee: Grants 1601-1823, 1816-1823 - Volume "C"

128 Pages, 8.5" x 11", Maps, Full Name Index, Soft Cover

This volume ("C") covers land sales and tracts from 1806 through 1823 in Anderson, Campbell, Claibourne, Grainger, Jefferson, Knox, and Sevier Counties. Each grant is listed numerically and reflects the name of owner, number of acres, location of land and in many cases, neighbors. Also included are the dates of the Warrants and/or grants and a map of early northeast Tennessee.

Click here for examples and surnames.



Robert Armstrong's Survey Book of Cherokee Lands

Plat Book of Those Indians Given Reservations after the 1817 Treaty

Over 100 plats of the reservee's land in North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama.

Click here for examples and surnames.


If you have any questions or suggestions for future editions, please email us at jimd@mountainpress.com.


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