From relationships to relocations, land deeds have the dirt on your family. Discover how to use property records to solve 10 genealogy puzzles.
Got a family mystery on your hands? Or just want to learn more about your ancestors? Then deeds are what you need. County recorders, clerks of court, town clerks and other similarly titled officials (depending on the state) have been recording local land transfers in deed books from the county formation up to today. These are among the earliest and the most complete court records you’ll find. In the foreword to E. Wade Hone’s classic reference Land and Property Research In the United States, William Dollarhide notes that “In America, land and property records apply to more people than any other written record.” Your ancestors are likely among those people.
When you dive into deed books, you might find a number of different types of transactions involving your relatives: Someone may have bought or sold land (but remember that original purchases from the federal or state government are generally recorded in land patents, not deeds). When your ancestors inherited property, a deed often would record the transfer of inherited interest. When taxes or debts were owed, your ancestor might have bought land the county seized—or he or she might be the one who lost the land.
These deeds contain a vast amount of genealogical data just waiting to be discovered—some of which might catapult your family research over a brick wall. Here’s how to dig up your ancestors’ deed records and use them to answer 10 common genealogical questions.