United States, Land Transactions Person to PersonEdit This Page
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Deeds are records of land ownership in the United States and exist from the early 1600s. Land records apply to more people than any other record type in America because most men were able to obtain land. They locate a person in a certain place for a longer span of time than any other record type and give an idea of how well off financially the person was.
Land records are indexed by grantor (seller) and grantee (buyer) indexes. Grantor and grantee indexes are the most complete lists of residents in a county before 1850.
Most deeds were recorded in county courthouses. There has been less loss of land and property records than any other record type. When court houses did burn, the land records were usually reconstructed from the personal records of land owners.
What You Are Looking For
The information you find varies from record to record. Land records include:
- Name of seller (grantor).
- Name of the buyer (grantee).
- Date and place of the land transaction.
- Size and description of the piece of land.
- Price of the piece of land.
- Names of neighbors living next to the land.
- Names of persons who had previously owned the land.
Land records may also include:
- First name of the wife of the seller (grantor).
- Where the grantee (buyer) came from.
- Where the grantor (seller) has moved.
- Name of the deceased spouse of a widow.
- Heirs of the land, including the names of married daughters.
These 7 steps may help you find information in land records.
Step 1. Determine the county where your ancestor lived.
Check the following to find the county where your ancestor lived:
- Family records (histories, pedigree charts, family group sheets, etc.).
- Published family histories.
For additional ways to find where your ancestor lived, see How To Locate Your Ancestor in the United States.
Step 2. Search for a county index for land records in the Family History Library Catalog.
Since an index may be found with the record or separately, look for indexes under both:
- LAND AND PROPERTY
- LAND AND PROPERTY - INDEXES.
Look for the following kinds of indexes:
- Grantor (seller) index, sometimes called a direct index.
- Grantee (buyer) index, sometimes called an indirect index.
For descriptions of records available through Family History Centers or the Family History Library, click on Family History Library Catalog in the window to the left.
State records will be shown automatically. To find county records, click on the County tab, and select the county of your ancestor.
Printing the catalog entry is usually helpful.
For more information about land records indexes, see Tip 1.
If you do not find an index, you may want to look for your ancestor's name in the record itself during the approximate dates when your ancestor lived in that area. Skip to step 4.
If you do not find county land records, see Tip 2.
Step 3. Search the grantor and grantee indexes for your ancestor's name, and copy the information.
Find your ancestor's name in the index.
Copy everything about your ancestor from the index. This information is necessary for you to find him or her in the land records. Check both the grantor and grantee indexes. Copy down all the times your ancestor's name appears in the index. Be sure to also copy down the volume (sometimes called liber) and page number of the record.
If you cannot find your ancestor's name, check for variations of the spelling. For suggestions, see Name Variations.
Step 4. Find the land records.
Find the catalog entries for the records. If the catalog entry you printed showed both the index and the records, you won't need to return to the catalog to find the film numbers for the appropriate records.
Obtain the book or film with the records.
For information on where to obtain copies of records, see Where to Find It.
Step 5. Search the land record for information about your ancestor.
Using what you found in the index, find your ancestor in the record.
For a list of Internet sites with land records or more information about these records, see Tip 3.
Step 6. Copy the information from the record.
Make a photocopy of the page(s) with the information about your ancestor. By copying the entire page(s), you can study the record in depth and save it for future reference. You can analyze the handwriting and note other details you may have missed when you first looked at the record. You may find other relatives of your ancestor.
Be sure to document the source of the information by writing the title, author, book or film number, and page number on the copy, or photocopy the title page at the front of the book or film. Also write the name of the library, archive, etc., where you found the record.
Step 7. Analyze the information you found.
Study the document. Compare the information to what you already knew about your ancestor:
- What does it tell you about your ancestor and about the people who were with him or her?
- Does the record give clues about your ancestor which could guide you to other records?
- Watch for dates, locations, relationships, etc.
- What new information did I find about my ancestors or their in-laws? *Notice the names of witnesses and bondsmen, since they were often relatives or close friends.
- Does the information fit with what I already know about the family?
- Would using a Timeline help me compare what I already knew about my ancestor with the information I found?
For more help on comparing new information with what you already knew about your ancestor, see How To Recognize Your United States Ancestor.
Tip 1 . What are the various kinds of land records indexes?
Indexes are very useful but can also be disappointing and frustrating to search. Knowing the kinds of indexes and how they are arranged will help you to use them.
There are three major kinds of indexes:
- Running Indexes: Entries are arranged in alphabetical order by the first letter of the surname only.
- Cumulative Indexes: Cumulative indexes cover a series of years, such as 1782 to 1787, 1787 to 1792, and so on.
- Cott System Indexes: Cott system indexes are the most common commercial indexing systems among land records. This system organizes entries by the first three letters of the surname.
For additional information, including examples of land records indexes, see E. Wade Hone, Land & Property Research in the United States, p. 188-191.
Tip 2. What can I do if I cannot find county land records for the area where my ancestor lived?
If you cannot find county land records, check:
- Town or state records in the Family History Library Catalog. For records recommended for your ancestor's state, see the chart below.
- Other types of records, such as church, probate, etc., listed on the Search Strategy.
- Another place where your ancestor lived.
- PERSI, which is an index of magazines. Information which is too short for a book may be found in a magazine article. For information about PERSI, see Tip 4.
To see recommended land records for your ancestor's state, search the FamilySearch Wiki for the name of the state and the words "land records."
Tip 3. What Internet sites may help me?
Check the following websites, which have land records or information about land records:
- Land Record Reference.
- Cyndi's List of Land Record Sites.
- Geographic Names Information System. Use this site to find where a map feature in the U.S. is located.
The following are some additional sites with useful information:
- Four basic lessons on land records.
- History and use of land records.
- Deeds donated by users.
Tip 4. What is PERSI, and where can I find it?
PERSI is an index of about 5,000 historical and genealogical magazines. These magazines have articles with:
- Family histories.
- Abstracts of church, town, and other records.
- Histories of towns.
- Many other records and topics.
PERSI may be found at:
- Family History Centers on microfiche.
- The Family History Library on compact disc, microfiche, and book format.
- Many public and college libraries.
- Ancestry.com on the Internet. There is a fee.
Tip 5. How can I use interlibrary loan?
Many public and college libraries can borrow books from other libraries and archives. Only public and college libraries with microfilm readers can borrow microfilms.
- Go to your public or college library.
- Ask the librarian to check out a book or microfilm for you through interlibrary loan. You need to give the librarian the title of the book and the name of the author. For a microfilm, give the name and address of the archive that has the microfilm and their microfilm number. The librarian may be able to find this for you.
- The library staff will help you with their procedures. There may be a small fee.
Where to Find It
Family History Centers and the Family History Library
For information about contacting or visiting a Family History Center or the Family History Library, see Family History Library and Family History Centers: Library Services and Resources.Family History Centers Family History Centers can borrow microfilms from the Family History Library.
For the address and phone number of the center nearest you, see Family History Centers.Family History Library
For descriptions of records available through the Family History Library, click on Family History Library Catalog in the window to the left.
In the window to the left, click on Family History Library Catalog. State records will automatically appear. To find county records, click on the County tab, and choose a county. To find town or city records, click on the City tab, and choose a town or city.
Archives and Libraries
Records are available in many archives and libraries.
Some major archives and libraries in the United States are:
- The Newberry Library (Chicago, IL).
- The Library of Congress.
- The New England Historic and Genealogical Society Library (Boston, MA).
- The National Archives.
- The Allen County Public Library (Ft. Wayne, IN).
Many college and larger public libraries have information such as maps, particularly for their own areas. Smaller public libraries may be able to obtain the records through interlibrary loan. For information about interlibrary loan, see Tip 5.
You can find addresses and phone numbers for town, county, and college libraries in the American Library Directory. The American Library Directory is available at most public and college libraries. Most state archives have old deeds, plat maps, and other land information. The "Archives and Libraries" Wiki article of a state lists Internet and mailing addresses for several state archives, libraries, and historical societies. Internet sites may also list their records.
To see the "Archives and Libraries" Wiki article for your state, search the FamilySearch Wiki for the state.
Genealogical and Historical Societies
Some records may be available at genealogical and historical societies.
You may find the names and addresses of societies in the following sources, which are available at many public and college libraries:
- The Genealogist's Address Book, by Elizabeth Petty Bentley.
- Directory of Genealogical and Historical Society Libraries, Archives and Collections in the US and Canada, edited by Dina C. Carson.
- Directory of Genealogical Societies in the U.S.A. and Canada, by Mary Meyer.
- Directory of Historical Organizations in the United States and Canada, edited by Mary Bray Wheeler.
- The Encyclopedia of Associations, published by Gale Research Co.
You can also check Internet sites such as this one for information about societies:
- CyndisList, which has links to thousands of sites that contain genealogy information of all kinds.
Genealogical Search Services
Many genealogical search services will search land records for a fee. These sources can help you find a genealogical search service:
CyndisList gives many companies and individuals who do research and lists publications that explain how to hire a professional genealogist. Advertisements in major genealogical journals may help you find a researcher.
For more information, see Hiring a Professional Genealogist.