American Land Terminology
Grants Royal, colonial, federal, state land grants a grant consisted of a land
warrant which authorized 1) lands to be laid out and surveyed; 2) a plat showing the location; 3) a patent
or title to the property.
Deeds Land transactions between two parties. They include sales of land, gifts of lands
to relatives (or others) and settlements following disputes.
Mortgages Temporary transferals of title to property for the purpose of paying debts.
Relatives of parties to mortgages are often mentioned in these records.
Power of Attorney The appointment of individuals as attorneys for persons who have usually
moved away, but who become involved in business transactions in places of former residence. These include:
sales of land and other properties, collections of legacies left to those who have removed and settling
All county records are usually located in the office of the
clerk of the county where the transaction occurred. Deeds, leases and mortgages are usually indexed, and
many of the indexes and actual records have been filmed by the
Family History Library. Also, subscribers to
Heritage Quest can borrow rolls of microfilm to read deed indexes and transcripts.
Other Related Terms and Records
Articles of Agreement Made between property owners and their heirs or assignees concerning
how property is to be settled after events or conditions transpire, such as decease of the owner, after
heirs reach a certain age, or after services rendered.
Bills of Sale Papers showing transfer of ownership of slaves, cattle, livestock, furniture
Contracts Sales of property on contract and other agreements based on the terms of a contract
between individuals or parties.
Leases on Property Made to individuals or companies for farming, mining, logging, etc.
Tax Records Real and personal property assignments and collections, describing land holdings,
slaves, livestock, carriages, and sometimes show inheritances, assessments for children in school, for
eligible voters, etc. During colonial period may include tithables payable to church wardens of a state
for church expenses, such as caring for the poor.
Legal and Additional Land-Related Terms
Administrator/administratrix A person appointed by the court to settle the estate of someone
who died intestate .
- Alien To transfer (lands, title) to another.
- Alienation A transfer of title or property
- Assigns Anyone acting on behalf of or in
place of the nominal owner. Example: The owner may have transferred his rights to someone else or appointed
an attorney to act on his behalf.
- Bargain Mutual agreement among two or more
people to exchange or purchase goods.
- Bargain and Sale Deed A type of deed in
which title is transferred but in which there is usually no guarantee as to the validity of title.
- Cadastral Map Land ownership map. Generally
used for tax purposes.
- Chattel A tangible, movable article of
personal property, as opposed to real property .
- Collateral Property put up by someone getting
a loan. If they fail to repay the loan, the property goes to the person granting the loan.
- Condemn The taking of privately owned land
for public use by eminent domain. In the U.S. just compensation must be provided for any lands thus taken.
- Consideration The money (or other property)
used to purchase land.
- Deed A document giving the holder the title
to property. More generally, any document sealing an agreement, contract, etc. The most common types of
deeds Bargain and Sale , Quitclaim , and Warranty .
- Deed of trust A transfer of property to
someone to be held in trust for another. See trust . More specifically, however, deeds of trust
are used in a number of states instead of a mortgage to secure a loan. The deed of trust names
the trustees in whom title is placed as security against failure to meet the terms of the loan.
- Deed poll A deed not indented; deed made
by one party only.
- Dower A wife's interest in her husband's
property, inheritable at his death. English probate law set this at one-third. In the U.S. it was common
for a woman to formally relinquish her dower claim on land sold by the husband. This further guaranteed
that the property was clear of all obligations.
- Entry Filing of the intention to get a
land grant or patent. This was the first step of a multi-step process of getting land, the other steps
generally being Survey, and Grant.
- Escheat Land ownership reverting to the
Crown, government, or estate owner because of a lack of heirs.
- Estate A property right held by someone.
There can be many estates held on a single piece of property, for example, relating to specific uses of
the property. Mineral rights, water rights, and so on are examples.
- Executor/executrix The person named in
a will to carry out the terms of the will. See administrator .
- Fee simple Ownership of land that can be
inherited by any heirs. To hold in fee means to possess.
- Fee tail Ownership of land restricted to
a specified class of heirs, generally direct descendants.
- Feoffment Transfer of inheritable real
- Grant Transfer of title from the government
to the first titleholder of a piece of property. This term is generally used by states and the federal
- Grantee The person receiving a grant, or
- Grantor The person issuing the grant, or
- Headright A colonial system used in Virginia
of land patents, in which immigrants, including minor children, were entitled to 50 acres of land apiece.
It was customary for the person paying passage to claim the headright. Headrights could be sold or assigned
to others and also used in other states.
- Improve To make land more valuable by clearing
and planting. Land that was not improved by the owner might revert to the government.
- Indenture A written agreement. (Originally,
the document was written in duplicate, and the two copies placed side by side and 'indented', or cut,
with a wavy line so they fit together perfectly.)
- Intestate Without a will. If someone dies
intestate, the court appoints an administrator to settle the estate.
- Instrument Legal document.
- Messuage A dwelling house with its adjacent
buildings and lands appropriated to the use of the household.
- Moiety One-half. One of two equal parts.
A share or portion.
- Patent Transfer of title from the government
to the first titleholder of a piece of property.
- Planting and Seating See improve
. In Virginia colonial law a patentee was required to cultivate an acre of land and build a small house
on the property, otherwise the patent would revert to the government.
- Probate The process of proving a decedent's
will and settling the estate.
- Quitclaim Deed A common type of deed in
which the seller relinquishes claim to whatever rights were held on the property, but does not guarantee
that that the property is actually free of claims by others.
- Real property Land.
- Remainder Transfer of ownership to someone
on the death of another. For example, land may be sold to person A for use during their lifetime, but
then remaindered to person B at the death of A.
- Revert Return of ownership to a former
owner (or heirs).
- Title Legal ownership as evidenced by a
deed or other instrument.
- Trust Confidence placed in someone by giving
them property to be held or used for another's benefit.
- Trustee An individual to whom another's
property is entrusted.
- Warrant A governmental order authorizing
some action. A land warrant instructs a state to issue land to someone.
- Warranty Deed A deed in which the seller
warrants having a valid title and that the property is clear of any liens.
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