Thursday, August 7, 2008

Using Land Records, Part II

The Step Children of Genealogy? Not according to the experts. . .

The following quotes from various well known and respected professional genealogists present a picture of the importance of land records for genealogical research. These statements support my firm conviction that land records for early American research is a must. Every genealogist, especially those working before 1850, should take time to learn how to use these records.

North Carolina Research by Leary and Stilwalt: “Land records provide two types of important evidence for the genealogist. First they often state kinship ties, especially when a group of heirs jointly sell some inherited land. Second, they place individuals in a specific time and place, allowing the researcher to sort people into families into neighborhoods and closely related groups. By locating persons with reference to creeks and other natural features, the deeds, land grants, and land tax lists help distinguish one John, son of Mark, from another John Anderson in the same county. Prior to the Civil War, most free adult males owned land, so if the land records of an area survive and do not mention our ancestor you should reevaluate the assumption that he lived in the area. Most beginning genealogists underestimate the importance of using land records to pin persons to specific locales.”

Patricia Law Hatcher in Locating Your Roots: Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records: “Why Use Land Records? This statement is too often overheard in libraries and archives. ‘One of these days I'll check the deeds.’ ‘I know I should learn more about land records but -- I need to find the headstone or birth certificate or will for William FIRST then I'll think about land records. I just want to find out who the father of my John is; I don't want to read microfilmed deeds. That is too hard.’ And so it goes.” “The saddest thing about these statements is that the speakers may have been denying themselves access to the very information about their ancestors that they were seeking. One of the strongest motivators for American immigration was land.”

Anne Budd: "Land was part of the American dream, everyone wanted to own a little but men looked to the ownership of land to provide him personal independence & economic security. Most of our immigrant ancestor had not been able to own land in their Mother country & in their eyes ownership meant power. Furthermore one could not vote or hold office unless they owned land. To put it mildly the early American was land minded. Land was readily available & inexpensive or free. The following excerpt was found in the leading Catholic newspaper in the Pilot in 1859. "If we could sit by the side of every emigrant at home, this is what we would say ‘America has room and work and wages for every soul of the starving poor of Europe the emigrant who comes with a spirit of active industry & enterprise may soon gain an independence for himself & for his children. But it is not by lingering in the crowded haunts of men that he will do this. The cities are overrun, thronged with candidates for labor. But there is a resource which is always open, the land.'"

Thomas Jefferson to John Adams: “It is none too early for every American male to own his own piece of land”.

Donald Lines Jacobus: “The most important town records in genealogy are the land records and in the south, which has far fewer vital records than New England, the land records are even more crucial to genealogical research.”

This is part two of a five part series on using land records in genealogy contributed by Alex Baird, Genealogy Assistant.


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