Message #238:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: How to Use Land Records
Date: Fri, 20 Jun 1997 14:07:22 -0700

Land and Property Research in the United States is a sometimes useful
reference book for genealogists. It not only contains information about
land records and where to find them, it tells how to use them and how to
get the greatest genealogical value out of them. In his foreword to the
book, William Dollarhide, one of genealogy's leading authorities on land
records, says: "Researchers often overlook the importance of land records
as a source for genealogical research -- probably because land records are
often tedious and boring to use and the records do not always give quick
gratification to a genealogist seeking the names and relationships of
ancestors."  But land records are sometimes extremely valuable genealogical
tools. They may delineate kinship as well as property. They also place
individuals at a specific place at a specific time. This helps genealogists
sort people into families and neighborhoods.  Sometimes land records are
the only tool we have for distinguishing between two people of the same
name. If so many Morgan County, Ky., land records hadn't been burned in
courthouse fires, I probably wouldn't still be trying to sort out all of
the John Days living there in the first half of the 19th century. It is
with precisely such problems that land records shine. American land records
predate the formation of the United States by more than a century. British,
French, Spanish and Mexican governments each had their own system for
distributing land and keeping records prior to the American Revolution.
The information contained in these records varies significantly in time and
place, but often they are veritable gold mines of data.  Hone walks his
readers through each of these "possessions" and then takes them on a hike
through federal and state land records since the birth of our nation.
Thirty states contain federal lands -- those originally controlled and
dispersed by the U.S. government. These include Utah and all of the
Northwest states. The chapter, "Strategies for State Land Records" is
especially valuable for genealogists who need to learn about plats. A plat
is the surveyor's drawing of the legal description of a piece of land. Here
you will learn about chains, furlongs, rods, leagues, labors and arpents,
among other surveying terms used to determine the ``metes and bounds'' of
property. The terms translate to "measurements and markers."  Although
surveys sound very scientific and include lots of mathematical
calculations, they often fail to provide a truly accurate description of
property. But we are stuck with them, for they are the best measures we
have and they are so well-mired in tradition that our great-grandchildren
also will be stuck with them. Twenty states have state lands -- those
originally controlled and dispersed by the states and subsequently
considered "individual" or "private" lands. All of these states are east of
the Mississippi River, except Hawaii and Texas. In Chapter 11, "Records
Generated by Individual Lands," you will learn about quit claim deeds, fee
simple, dower rights, escheat, primogeniture, etc. About half of the book
consists of valuable reference material in the Tract Book and Township Plat
Map Guide to federal-land states, and land office boundary maps for all
federal land states. The latter tells you graphically where to look for
land-state land offices. For instance, three maps for Utah show that all of
Utah was served by the Salt Lake City land office when it opened in 1868,
that the state was served by two land offices from 1876-1877 and then
reconsolidated into one office through 1905. Throughout, Land and Property
Research in the United States is lavishly illustrated with maps, drawings,
tables and photocopies of documents that help the novice and expert
genealogist alike. The book was written by E. Wade Hone with Heritage
Consulting and Services. It was published by Ancestry Inc. You can order it
through local book stores or directly from Ancestry at P.O. Box 476, Salt
Lake City, UT 84110-0476. It costs $44.95 plus $5.50 for shipping. It may
be billed to a credit card by calling (800) 262-3787. 

Terence L. Day, journalist and genealogist, is on the Washington State
University faculty. He welcomes e-mail at, or
regular mail in care of this paper. 

Friday, June 20, 1997