We must first ask questions about the document: Who else’s name is on this document? Pursue most other names as a possible familial or neighborly connection. But remember, if the person was a public or appointed official, there name would have been on many documents. If neighbors’ names are on the deed as adjacent landholders, then pursue land records for their deeds, as you may find more information about your ancestor. What is the legal description of the land. Plot it, then find a map and find where the land was located. look for any natural landmarks like streams or rivers or lakes on or adjacent to the land. These can be a clue as to the person’s occupation. If they lived adjacent to a large river in Escambia County, Florida, then they might have been involved in the logging business. What type of deed is it? A sheriff’s deed means the property was seized for taxes or judgement from your ancestor. Seek out law suits and tax rolls. A quitclaim deed means someone else may have had an interest in the property. A deed of trust means a debt was involved. Seek out tax rolls to see if the debt was paid. Is there a wife’s dower or wifery dower release? If so, then the colony or state required one and this leads you to checking out the laws of the place at the time and when the release was made, sometimes months or years later. How much time elapsed between the drafting of the document and its filing? Is slave property involved? Sometimes these can be important for tracking inheritances—who owned which slaves at which time.
Eastern United States----metes and bounds system. GENERALLY Western United States—rectangular survey method. GENERALLY Why is this? Because the eastern U.S. was settled before the rectangular system of surveying was designed. RECTANGULAR SURVEY METHOD 1. All surveys based on a north-south meridian. Some land in some areas are based on more than one meridian. 2. Townships are 6 miles long on each side, east-west. 3. Ranges are 6 miles long on each side, north-south. Look at the example below: 4. A section is 160 acres and each township has 4 sections. 5. A quarter-section is 50 acres and each section has 4 quarter-sections. Look at the example below to see sections and quarter-sections in a township: 6. Quarter-sections can be further split up to make for smaller acreages, which is called a sub-division. The term sub-division refers not to the houses or plots of land in the area, but to the boundary lines drawn to indicate divisions subsequent to the quarter-section. Normally, land descriptions will be written like this: SE1/4 of the SE1/4 of the SE section of T1N R6S which means the southeast quarter of the southeast quarter of the southeast section of township 1 north range 6 south. But if a description is like SE1/4NE1/4 that means the southeast quarter and the northeast quarter of . . . making this an eighty acre plot. One final note: because of the curvature of the earth, not all sections are 160 acres. Surveyors had to make adjustments and the convention was to do so at the northern and western ends of a section of a township. This is usually indicated by: Section 31: Lot 1 (38.06), S1/2NE1/4 .METES AND BOUNDS SYSTEM Irregularly shaped parcels of land are described by Metes and Bounds. This is actually an easy system if you can determine where the starting point is. Usually Metes and Bounds starts at a particular point and then calls off directions and distances, following the boundaries of the land until it returns to the point of beginning (abbreviated pob). There are times when you cannot locate the point of beginning, but you can locate some other point. In that case you can just work backwards to find your point of beginning. In any case, you usually need a piece of paper to draw your description out. Here is a typical description: Beginning at a stake in the ground, which is the northwesterly corner of said parcel of land; thence North 89 degrees East a distance of 650 feet, thence South 45 degrees West a distance of 500 feet; thence North 2 degrees West 250 feet to a point which is the center of the intersection of Highway 69 and Highway 45; thence Northwesterly to the point of beginning. The picture below describes this tract of land. Great you say! This is wonderful, but how do I actually read this description? Easy! Let's take it in pieces: Piece #1: "Beginning at a stake in the ground, which is the northwesterly corner of said parcel of land; thence North 89 degrees East a distance of 650 feet," Stand at your point of beginning, facing North. Then turn 89 degrees East (which is almost due East) and travel a distance of 650 feet. Piece #2: "thence South 45 degrees West a distance of 500 feet," Stand at this second point and face South (because the description says "thence South"). Then turn 45 degrees to the West (which would be halfway between South and West) and travel 500 feet. Piece #3: "thence North 2 degrees West 250 feet to a point which is the center of the intersection of Highway 69 and Highway 45," Stand at this 3rd point facing North (because it says "thence North"). Then turn 2 degrees towards the West which is not very much! And travel 250 feet. You should be at the center of the highway intersection. Lookout!
GRANTS & PATENTS: This is the "First Title Deed" to a piece of property. Usually granted by the government (either federal or state) or in the 13 original colonies a Propertier. All property in the US can be traced back to the First Title Deed. and claims document titles for land originally owned by France or Spain. If your ancestor lived in an area that changed flags, you may find up to 6 generations of genealogy in the case files. BOUNTY LAND: Veterans in many military engagements, not just formal wars, were eligible for land grants in lieu of pay for services. And many soldiers claimed but promptly sold their land, so don't conclude there was a move unless other records support such a hypothesis. SOUTHERN LAND GRANTS/"TOMAHAWK GRANT": So called because the buckskin clad squatter cut blazes on trees and then went off to "file his claim". Most of the early southern states used legal descriptions called "meters" and "bounds" (named for "measuring" and "naming). Distance was measured by FOUR STEPS TO ACQUIRING LAND: 1) PETITION. A request to take up land. The petitioner may go before the appropriate officials, the colony's council or the land office clerk and present a satisfactory reason for getting land. Such as paying the purchase price, being promised land for military service, bringing an immigrant into the colony and thus becoming eligible for the headright land bounty (especially used in the South), or being able to produce a government order for a specified amount of land. 2) WARRANT: A Warrant was then issued which certified the right to a specific acreage and authorized an official surveyor to survey it, assuming no prior and conflicting claims. Warrants could be used in any county or state, not just areas opened by the government for settlement. Warrants were used in the place of cash to purchase land in many settled areas. 3) SURVEY/PLAT: Once a Warrant was received the next step was to get the land surveyed. A Survey/Plat is the surveyor's drawing of the legal description so the land is identifiable, his certification that everything is in order so far as the warrant's approved acreage and legal description is concerned. The Eastern Division of the BLM has along with surveys for the states under their jurisdiction the field notes by state in 1,745 volumes. 4) PATENT/GRANT Once the survey was complete a Patent/Grant was issued. This is the government's or proprietor's passing of title to the patentee/grantee. This is the first-title deed and the true beginning of private ownership of the land. For public domain states these patents/grants are well documented and found in the appropriate BLM (Bureau of Land Management) Office. For the original 13 colonies, Texas and Hawaii their land patents/grants are usually found in their State Archives or State Land Office. I have listed each state and the location of their patents/grants. Surveying Units and Terms Units of Measure Acre - The (English) acre is a unit of area equal to 43560 square feet, or 10 square chains, or 160 square poles. A square mile is 640 acres. The Scottish acre is 1.27 English acres. Arpent - Unit of length and area used in France, Louisiana, and Canada. As a unit of length, approximately 191.8 feet. The (square) arpent is a unit of area, approximately .85 acres. Chain - Unit of length usually understood to be Gunter's chain, but possibly variant by locale. Chains equal to one half the standard length are found in Virginia. The name comes from the heavy metal chain of 100 links that was used by surveyors to measure property bounds. Gunter's Chain - Unit of length equal to 66 feet, or 4 poles. A mile is 80 chains. Hectare - Metric unit of area equal to 10,000 square meters, or 2.471 acres. Hide - Old English unit of area usually equal to 120 acres. Labor - The labor is a unit of area used in Mexico and Texas. In Texas it equals 177.14 acres (or 1 million square varas). League (legua) - Unit of area used in the southwest U.S., equal to 25 labors, or 4428 acres (Texas), or 4439 acres (California). Link - Unit of length equal to 1/100 chain (7.92 inches). Perch - See pole Pole - Unit of length and area. Also known as a perch or rod. As a unit of length, equal to 16.5 feet. As a unit of area, equal to a square with sides one pole long. An acre is 160 square poles. It was common to see an area referred to as "87 acres, 112 poles", meaning 87 and 112/160 acres. Rod - See pole Rood - Unit of area usually equal to 1/4 acre. Vara - Unit of length (the "Spanish yard") used in the southwest. The vara is used throughout the Spanish speaking world and has values around 33 inches, depending on locale. The legal value in Texas was set to 33 1/3 inches early this century. Surveying Terms Call - Any feature, landmark, or measurement called out in a survey. For example, "two white oaks next to the creek" is a call. Chain carrier - An assistant to the surveyor, the chain carriers moved the surveying chain from one location to another under the direction of the surveyor. This was a position of some responsibility, and the chain carriers took an oath as "sworn chain carriers" that they would do their job properly. Condition - See Conditional line. Conditional line - An agreed line between neighbors that has not been surveyed. Corner - The beginning or end point of any survey line. The term corner does not imply the property was in any way square. Declination - The difference between magnetic north and geographic (true) north. Surveyors used a compass to determine the direction of survey lines. Compasses point to magnetic north, rather than true north. This declination error is measured in degrees, and can range from a few degrees to ten degrees or more. Surveyors may have been instructed to correct their surveys by a particular declination value. The value of declination at any point on the earth is constantly changing because the location of geographic north is drifting. First station - See Point of Beginning Gore - A thin triangular piece of land, the boundaries of which are defined by surveys of adjacent properties. Loosely, an overlap or gap between properties. Meander - "with the meanders of the stream" means the survey line follows the twists and turns of the stream. Out - An 'out' was ten chains. When counting out long lines, the chain carriers would put a stake at the end of a chain, move the chain and put a stake at the end, and so on until they ran "out" of ten stakes. Point of Beginning - The starting point of the survey Plat - A drawing of a parcel of land.