Once I was introduced to the wealth of information located in land records, I started using them regularly in my genealogy research. Usually the husband was buying or selling land which almost always gives his location and sometimes his wife’s name. If he was selling it to one of his children, it may name then as “son” or “daughter,” but usually just gives the name. On rare occasions when land was being sold because the father had died, his will was included along with the deed to prove who he intended the land for inheritance. The jackpot when searching deeds is when the man specifies his daughters and who they married. Anytime you see the mark “et al” in a deed index, be sure to look at that because it can indicate land records where multiple people are mentioned.
So where do you find these wonderful deeds? You can go to the local county courthouse where the originals are kept. But if your ancestors lived states away like mine do, that is not practical. Now Family Search has put many of these original deeds online. The sight is free, but to view records on Family Search, they require everyone to sign in with a name and password.
To find deeds on Family Search, go to the homepage and select catalog from the dropdown menu under search. An open box under “place” appears where you type in the county you are looking for. Do not type in other names as it will confuse the database. When you have typed in the county a dropdown selection will appear which has the country, state and then county. Click on the one you are looking for and hit search. This will bring up a list of all records for that county. Select “land and property.” That will give you another list to choose from. Look for one that has the county name as the author. It will usually say recorder of deeds. This should gain you a list of the deeds available. Click on the little camera icon to the right. If the icon has a key over it, it is locked because of copyright restrictions and you will need to go to a Family History center to view it.
The first step to find a deed is to check the index. They are organized by Grantors (the person selling) and by Grantees (the person buying). Indexes can be a little confusing, and are often alphabetized only by the first initial of the surname and then by the first letter of the given name. So expect to do some hunting. Once you have found your name in the index, write down the volume or book number and page. I always write down the image number as well in case I want to refer back to the index.
Next go to the appropriate volume number. Online, you can go page by page, but I prefer to skip in regular segments of 50 or 100 images until I get close to the page I’m looking for. Image numbers usually do not correspond to page numbers. Be forewarned. When you finally find your deed it will probably be written in old script. Another tip is to look at the deed before and after the one you want. Sometimes a man was deeding land to his children and each child needed a separate deed. Other times members of the same family were selling land at the same time and you might stumble across an unknown parent who was selling at the same time as his son.
Descriptions of your ancestor’s property are important because they often list neighbors bounding his land. These neighbors might be siblings or the parents of your ancestor’s wife. So be sure to note who they are. Your ancestor’s land record might also mention his occupation and it lets you know when he arrived in an area and sometimes when he left. With so much to learn from deeds and land records, be sure to include them in your research.