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Are Wills Replacing the Deeds?

My relative purchased a farm in the late 1860s. It still owned by a descendant today. The last deed to the property recorded in the local recorder’s office is that deed of purchase in the 1860s. There are no other deeds.

That’s because every transfer after that time has been through a bequest in a will when the current owner died–in 1877, 1939, and 1969. The wills served to transfer title. There’s no missing deeds, it’s just that at the time the will served as the “deed” because it transferred title.

(This tip is partially due to a reader’s comment on an earlier tip. Thanks!).

Deeds May Not Be Recorded Promptly

Land records do not always get recorded promptly and are usually recorded in the record books in the order in which they are brought to the courthouse. Generally most land deeds are recorded relatively promptly. There are always exceptions and the oversight is usually noticed when the property is eventually sold.

As a result a deed from the 1820s could be recorded in the 1850s, perhaps when the purchaser died. Sometimes the buyer forgets to record the deed initially only to find it stuck in a safe place decades later.

Land and No Will and No Probate

If your landowning ancestor has no probate, consider the following:

  • the land was sold before the death–check land records
  • the land was transferred after the death by the family without court action–check land records
  • there was a partition suit–check non-probate court land records
  • nothing was done until the surviving spouse died–check land records
  • there was no land–check property tax records to confirm this

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Nicknames Versus Diminutives

There’s a difference between nicknames and diminutives. Diminutives are variations on a name that are based upon the sounds in that name. Bill, Billy, Will, etc. are diminutives for William. Calling the same person “Red” because his hair is read is using a nickname. Calling him “hotheaded Bill” is technically both

Using the name Kate, Kat, or Kathy in reference to someone named Katherine is also using a diminutive. Referring to my low-German ancestor Trientje by the name Katherine is not using a nickname or a diminutive. In this case it is a anglicization (translation into English) of the name Trientje. Your non-English speaking ancestors “new names” may not have been nicknames or diminutives at all–they could have been translations of their actual name.


Leases And Rental Agreements Are Not Usually Recorded

While practices can vary, property leases are typically not recorded. Copies of the lease are kept by all parties involved, but usually the only time a lease could be “recorded” if there is an issue with the lease itself, some disagreement involving the lease, or if the terms of the lease are unexpired at the death of one of the parties involved.

One ancestor was renting property when he died in Illinois in 1877 and that agreement was included as evidence in his estate settlement. In another case there was a disagreement over the terms and the lease was recorded as evidence.

Usually if there are no “issues” with a lease, there’s no reason to have it recorded. And…in these cases the agreement was not really “recorded” like a land deed would be recorded. It was evidence in a court proceeding.


That Mark In the Will Book

Someone who “made their mark” on a document” may or may not have been illiterate. There was a time where “making your mark” was equivalent to signing (as long as there were witnesses) and others may have been in a physical state where they could not actually sign. In older record books the “signature” (mark or not) is actually the clerk’s handwritten transcription of that signature or mark. Sometimes if the mark was not an “x” the clerk would try to replicate it as best he could.
In the illustration, it appears that the clerk is trying to reproduce an “R” made by Peter Rucker of Orange County, Virginia.

The Miscellaneous Record

Most US county recorder’s offices have a “miscellaneous” record where a variety of documents have been officially recorded. Usually what is in those volumes can vary, but I’ve seen copies of out-of-state divorce decrees, out-of-county death certificates, medical licenses, etc. It may be worth a look to see what is available.

And while you are there don’t forget to ask about soldier’s discharge records. Many counties made official record copies of soldier’s discharge paperwork in case the soldier ever lost his papers.

An 1803 Plot from Amherst County, Virginia

We will be discussing this in a future post, but I could not resist sharing this 1803 plot of a parcel of property surveyed for Thomas Sledd in Amherst County, Virginia. It was surveyed a few years before he left for Kentucky.

These old drawings are wonderful. They are land records, but sometimes these survey plots are recorded in a separate series of books.

Read the Abbreviations List in City Directories

City directories may contain list of abbreviations in the prefatory material. Do not just look for your relative’s name and quit.Those lists may include name of local employers that were easier to abbreviate than print over and over.

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Land Warrant Applications?

If your ancestor obtained a United States military warrant which was used to acquire property in the federal domain, consider obtaining a copy of the application for the warrant. These applications are housed at the National Archives and should contain documentation of a soldier’s service. If the widow applied for a warrant after the soldier’s death she would have needed to prove her marriage also.  Copies of the warrant applications can be requested through the National Archives. They are not online.