Land and property records are rich resources for genealogical information. While official record keeping for births, marriages and deaths is relatively recent, land transactions have been well documented for centuries.
Real estate transfers weren’t limited to the sale of property. Sometimes a parent conveyed land to a child when the child married or reached the age of majority. These transfers may have taken the form of a “deed of gift” or a sale for $1 or some other small sum.
The death of a property owner and the probate of the estate generated deeds transferring ownership of property to an heir, often a family member. In these cases, the deed may contain the exact date of death of the owner, data that may not be otherwise available, especially before death certificates were issued. The name of the heir and relationship to the property owner, if stated, can help connect relatives.
You’ll find deeds and related records housed in the courthouses of counties that had jurisdiction over the properties during your ancestors’ time. Deed book indexes provide quick access to copies of documents. These indexes come in two formats: The grantor index lists alphabetically the names of the property owners conveying ownership to others. A grantee index lists alphabetically those receiving the property.
Deed indexes may include notations under the “kind of assignment” column. This indicates how ownership is being transferred from one person to another. The most common entries under the kinds of assignments are:
- Assignment or asgmt: records a legal assignment of rights to transfer property ownership to someone other than the owner
- Deed: the direct assignment of ownership to a new owner
- Lien: some financial encumbrance is attached to the property to secure a debt, such as back taxes, preventing the property from sale or transfer without satisfaction of the debt
- Lis Pend: indicates a lawsuit is pending against ownership of the property
- Mortgage or Mtg: records a mortgage of the property
- Trust: records transfer of title to a third party to manage for another party, such as a widow or minor children
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