Taking The Mystery
Out of Land Records

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Introduction

(c) Linda Haas Davenport

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If you are a family historian who is only interested in names and dates, land records can fill in some of the blanks on your family group sheets. But, if you a family historian who wants to know more than names and dates, land records can be a gold mine of information.

In many of the articles I've read on land records the author skips over the bulk of land records and zeros in on warrants and patents. I'll be the first to admit that both have the potential to give you tons of information on your family - but if you ignore the bulk of land records you're apt to miss a piece of information that may well knock down a brick wall. Don't believe me? Then how about an example? Let's say that you've been hunting for years for the parents of Lorenzo Overall with no success. How would you feel if you found this tid-bit? "Lorenzo Overall and wife Spicey to George Little of McLean Co KY 5 acres on Sink Creek. Lorenzo Overall was the natural son of Elizabeth Haas and Jacob Overall. Said Lorenzo was born and raised as Lorenzo Haas but is now known as Lorenzo Overall.". Or maybe you've been searching for years for the name - even a first name - of a wife of one of your ancestors. Or maybe you have an ancestor with two wives and haven't a clue as to which wife was the mother of which children? Did you know that up to the early 1900s before a man could sell his property his wife had to agree, in a private examination, that she was agreeable to the sale? And, that the examination lists her first name and the all important date of when she was that man's wife?

Every beginner's book tells us that after our home sources we need to consult the federal census records and I certainly don't disagree but, we need to keep in mind the censuses were taken every 10 years and lots of things can happen in those intervening 10 years. Babies were born, people died, they married (or remarried), wars happened, people moved, etc.. It's land records have the potential to fill in those blank 10 year stretches and when we hit the 1840 census and are faced with nothing but the name of the head of household we sure need something to help us out. That something is land records - the oldest, largest and most complete record group in the U.S. Even the man who left faint mention in most records probably left his mark in the land records.

I recently read an article by a well known genealogist in which he was saying that the majority of our ancestors didn't own land so we shouldn't expect to find them in land records. I beg to differ with him. Although our ancestors came to the new world for many reasons by far the biggest reason was the opportunity to own their own land. Historical records show that prior to the early/mid 1900s the majority of men in the U.S. were farmers and most of them owned their own farms. Small towns or communities were the norm and many businessmen owned their own property. Even our "never do well" ancestor had to have someplace to live and land records include lease agreements, mortgages and land taken back for unpaid taxes. Even in large cities many people owned their own homes or businesses or leased them. From almost the beginning of the colonies men were spreading out along the east coast and when a gateway was located they spread west in search of a new beginning or new land. After every war many men moved and after the Civil War it seemed as if the whole country was on the move. From 1785 the U.S. government has given away millions and millions of acres of land as new states were opened for settlement. Even a man who didn't own land may well be found in land records as a witness, a heir of a landowner, or the husband of a woman named in her father's estate.

If I've peaked your interest then come on along with me and let's take a look at the wonderfully rich world of land records.

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