Why Deed Records are So Important

By Jeannette Holland Austin

As our ancestors wrote their last wills and testaments, they also designated where the farm lands would go. The eldest son would inherit the family seat, with younger sons getting other tracts of land. As one reads the document carefully, noting the number of acres and location, it is possible to zero in on specific areas. The inherited land could easily lay in another county, state, or country. If we know where that is, that is where we will search next. Although the early deeds listed no adjoining neighbors or tracts, one can examine subsequent deeds and tax digests. The tax digests will list all persons with the same surname, the county and specific acreage. So, if you did not find a deed, the tax digest is helpful in narrowing it down by adjoining neighbors, waterways, and dates of ownership.

Deed records also contain Marriage Contracts. The reason is that the husband possessed legal ownership of land inherited by his wife. When he married a widow woman, her land was legally his land. The ownership was clarified with a Marriage Contract which stated such preferences as the specifics of the widow’s land, where she got it, and who she wished to have it after her death. The names of tracts listed in the deeds should be respected. Example: Mary Jones was the widow of Abraham Jones. Her second husband was John Brown. John Brown mentions in his last will and testament his “Jones Place.” (This is a clue that he either purchased the land from Jones, or married his widow). This is another reason why the names of witnesses of documents should always be written down for later reference. Imagine, if you will, a community of small farms. A neighborhood of people purchasing, trading and marrying. These are the names of witnesses. These same people will be discovered in church records and local cemeteries and on burial grounds of your own relatives! The above photo is a plat. Plats are also found at the county court house. (The adjoining neighbors are also possible suspects for undiscovered names of brides and grooms within the family.)