Standing on the land that my ancestors once owned creates feelings within me that words simply cannot express. The landscape may have changed over the years, but the actual “spot” is still there just as it was a hundred, two hundred years ago. Determining the exact locations of old land deeds can be troublesome, but the rewards are priceless. Join me as I share my techniques on locating these old properties of long ago.
How Land Grants Appear in a Deed Book During the 18th & early 19th centuries
First step is finding the deed
Second step is understanding it
Finding the original land grant for your ancestor from the 1700s and the 1800s is a great accomplishment. The legal document not only proves that your ancestor owned land, but it also proves your ancestor’s legal name and location at that particular time. Now that you’ve found the deed, you have to read it, understand it and add the data to your family tree. For the most part, the penmanship of these entries were not always perfect. At times, I think the writer was in such haste, he failed to notice the errors he was creating or he lacked the knowledge. Regardless of this, the interpretation must be completed in order for the details of your ancestor’s property to emerge.
Cursive writing is a given to me. I still write in cursive to this day and over the years, I’ve developed my own style which is a combination of both. Handwriting during the 18th century is a bit different. The actual letters seem to run together and the sentences are formatted to their language at the time, not ours. In other words, the way they put their sentences together and speak vocally equals to the way they placed their words on paper. Regardless of the material; personal letters, wills, court documents and deeds all fall into this colonial vocabulary. There are many useful online tools that exist today that enable you to have a better understanding of handwriting techniques of the 18th century. I have several of these posted on the United States Genealogy Links page as well as the North Carolina Genealogy Links page.
While reading the deed, I’m looking for clues and hints. Such as names of creeks, streams, rivers and adjacent neighboring lines with surnames mentioned. I’m also looking for any other details that may reveal to me the exact location of the property. It would be wonderful to actually locate the “large chestnut” then measure 50 chain links to the “oak tree”. But this is only wishful thinking, I’m afraid.
If I am lucky enough to find a creek name and an adjacent neighbor with first and last name, I apply my research skills to early maps of the time period. With this information, I know I have an 80% chance in locating the original site of the property. I further research the ancestor in question and I also research all maps containing the waterway mentioned in the deed and I research the neighbor as well. After obtaining as much data as possible, I then use the overlay method with my maps. Careful to note the exact positioning of waterways and aligning them to boundaries of the county, etc. Using the overlay method, I now can see the past in present day form on the map. Now, I record the gps coordinates and visit the exact location whenever it fits into my schedule.
I know I’ve made this all sound easy to you and at times, it is. But as you research you will find some cases that are much more difficult than others. The overlay tool can be found as a link on the pages I’ve listed above. I suggest getting familiar with the tool prior to using it with your research. Once you’ve accomplished all of the features, you will be amazed at the new discoveries you’ll find.
Finding your ancestor’s land deeds are great, but locating the actual property is priceless. I’ve stood many times on the properties of my family and as I walked I looked up at the sky and pictured them doing the same. The landscapes will change, this is true. Cities are built, bridges are linked to major highways and huge skyscrapers try to touch the sky. But the sky is the last remaining feature that has been totally untouched. And as I stand on the spot of long ago, I can still look up and see the stars. If you have any questions about Genealogy #OffTheGrid, just let me know. Our ancestors left an amazing trail to follow.
Enjoy Your Journey To The Past !!
Sources for the photos:
- Personal Collection of Carol, Piedmont Trails
- Alamy.com CWB7X4
- Robertson’s Gallery & Antiques
- Georgia State Archives Map 1749