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From the Green Valley News, Wednesday December 8 2005, page B5

Genealogy Today, by Betty Malesky

Land Records—an Underused Resource

Since the start of American settlement land ownership has been a primary factor influencing immigration. The first settlers arrived on our shores because inexpensive land was available. In Europe land was expensive and controlled by rigid inheritance laws. Easy land ownership not only attracted colonists but raised money for the old world governments and land companies.

As pioneers moved away from the colonial coastal settlements, they sought better farm land and cheaper acreage. Territorial expansion, bounty lands, homestead lands, and dreams of a better life motivated later internal migrants westward

Too many genealogists avoid or put off searching ancestors’ land records. Some are intimidated by the courthouse and the mechanics of finding the records. Others feel it’s too much work searching out deeds, mortgages, etc. In truth, deeds contain much valuable information beyond details of the land transaction.

Deeds record land transfers from one party to another. The person selling or divesting himself of the land is the grantor. The person purchasing or acquiring ownership of the land is the grantee. To formalize the land transaction the grantor prepared a deed, signed it and presented it to the grantee in exchange for a previously agreed upon amount.

The grantee had to take the deed to the courthouse to record the change of ownership. The deed you see in the deed book is a copy of the original written by the court clerk. If the purchase was mortgaged, the grantor might record the encumbrance but would likely not relinquish the deed until receipt of final payment.

Recording may not have been required by law and may have required payment of a nominal fee. Sometimes the grantee just didn’t make it to the courthouse for months or even years or maybe ever. The deed might be lost and never thought of until the owner wanted to sell the property. If the owner died, his family might continue living on the land for years before finally recording the deed. Extend your land search several years beyond the date you expect to find land records.

A deed normally states the name and dwelling place of both the grantor and grantee. A deed may indicate the grantee’s previous or current residence by designating him, "of oldtown name," or may state the grantor is, "of newtown name." Both designations are particularly useful for tracking families who moved frequently.

Relationship problems may be solved by land descriptions including a name and label such as: "my brother’s land;" "my father in law’s property line;" or "formerly owned by my father, now deceased." A deed selling land to settle an estate must be signed by all legal heirs, normally the spouse, children and if married, their spouses or their legally appointed agent.

Deeds are a good indication of economic status and often name the occupation of the parties to the deed. Deeds may be filed as a result of litigation, particularly if the defendant has few assets except his land. The resultant deed will lead you to the court case, and you may find interesting details about your ancestors’ lives that will spice up their stories.

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