"Give me land, lots of land . . ." dreamed our ancestors. Land was a primary motivator for immigration to America, and it is in the land records of this nation that you will learn a great deal about your families.
What can land records reveal about your ancestors? A surprising amount of genealogical information lies buried in these records. Land records are complex, and the quest for them will make you a researcher.
The average couple bought land six times, thus generating many documents that may reveal family relationships. The most commonly known land record is the deed, and this is where your search should begin--in the deed records, located in the county seat's courthouse of the county where your family lived.
These records are arranged by grantors (sellers) and grantees (buyers) and are indexed by the surname, usually with a cross-index. You can write to the custodian of these records, usually called recorder of deeds, at the appropriate county courthouse for a check of the indexes. Always include a self-addressed, stamped envelope with your request.
However, if you live near a branch of the LDS (Mormon) Family History Libraries, use the locality microfiche to obtain the appropriate film number, then order first the index to grantors/grantees for the county's deeds. Many county land indexes, as well as the actual records, are on microfilm, and available from Salt Lake City's collection on interlibrary loan to these branch libraries. Cost is about $2.50 per roll of film.
Once you learn your ancestor appears in the index, order the film of the actual deeds and abstract the information. Note the names of all individuals who sign on the deeds. Therein usually is a clue to the wife's maiden name. This is especially true for deeds in Colonial and early Federal periods. Often there will be four signatures of witnesses. The first two usually will be members of the husband's family and the last two from the wife's.
After the Civil War people began to move rapidly across the country and away from their families, so witnesses on these later deeds may not be related.
Always examine the first deed to property your ancestor (grantee) purchased because usually in this instrument will be mention of the county in which he previously resided.
If you can't find your ancestor in probate records, look at grantor deed indexes to determine whether he "deeded away" property during his lifetime. Many individuals conveyed their real and personal estate to one of their children in return for lifelong care and maintenance, thus making probate unnecessary.
Homestead Entry File records are of great value to the genealogist. The Homestead Act of 1862 gave American citizens, or those who intended to become citizens, 160 acres of land from the federal government for only a small filing fee.
This land was located mostly in the Midwestern and Western states. Reference to homestead grants often are found in the courthouse of the county where the land is located. Use this clue to get a legal description of the property. This can be obtained from the recorder of deeds or from tax receipts, old historical atlases or plat books.
To locate the actual homestead application, which is in the custody of the National Archives, you need the land entry number. Once you have the legal description of the land, write to Bureau of Land Management, Eastern States Land Office, 350 S. Pickett St., Alexandria, Va. 22304. for the land entry number.
Then write, giving all pertinent information, to Washington National Records Center, 8th and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20408, for a copy of the actual application, which may be loaded with genealogical data.
Want to learn how to begin tracing your family tree? Send $4 for Myra's beginner's how-to kit (includes charts), Box 64316, Tacoma, Wash. 98464.