Plotting “Metes and Bounds” Property

After a somewhat choppy start to my blog writing, I think I am getting into a routine. I’ve told the stories of some of my ancestors and how I solved mysteries or opened some brick walls, but I haven’t gone into great detail about strategies that I’ve used.

Today, I want to tell you about DeedMapper. I try to stick to free software posted in my Favorites section. DeedMapper isn’t free, but when I first discovered it, it was a unique type of software.

Here was my problem:

Martin Miller married Catherine Whitmer in 1808 in Botetourt County, Virginia. Martin was born in 1785 in Pennsylvania, but I had no idea who his parents were. I knew Catherine was the daughter of Johannes/John Whitmer.

Martin and Catherine migrated with her family to Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, but a search of probate, land records, and marriages showed no apparent ties with any other Miller families there.

I then turned to Virginia records. There were several Miller families in Botetourt County at that time. Some appeared to be English speaking, while others were more likely to have been Germans. The Whitmers were definitely German speaking and Martin Miller appeared to also be German speaking.

Martin and Catherine’s sons, in birth order, were John, Jacob, Michael, David and Martin. The girls, in birth order, were Sarah, Rebecca and Catherine. That meant they didn’t follow traditional naming patterns since the first daughter would have been named Catherine for Catherine’s mother; John might have been the name of Martin’s father, but since it was Catherine’s father, too, I couldn’t tell if John was named for his maternal grandfather or if he might have been named for both grandfathers.

I also had no luck finding any clues or documents about a Martin Miller, born about 1785, somewhere in Pennsylvania, except for the 1850 census listing “my” Martin Miller.

During several visits to the library, I collected copies of land deeds for any Millers buying or selling land in Botetourt County between 1785 and 1820. Unless Martin traveled directly from Pennsylvania to marry Catherine in Virginia, which I sincerely hoped he hadn’t done, then he lived in Virginia for at least a while before he married. I hoped that he lived with his parents.

Back in the pre-internet days, when I was researching this problem, I needed a good, detailed map showing creeks, etc. so I could try to figure out where these different families lived. I bought a USGS survey map and used a map that came with DeedMapper.

I hand outlined areas that were mentioned in deeds. This can all be done in the software today, but remember, this was pre-internet.

I also remembered the old adage that, in the “olden” days, a young man usually courted a young lady who lived no further than five miles away because that was the maximum distance he could travel in a day and then return home.

I also obtained copies of land deeds for John Whitmer and was able to figure out the exact area he lived in, which today is downtown Roanoke, in Roanoke County.

For the multiple Miller transactions, I could sort of figure out where they were, but wanted a way to check my findings.

DeedMapper was the solution. Using the software, I entered the land descriptions. . . starting at a black sapling, 20 rods east, etc. The software plotted out the shape of the land and I was able to place the land “at the mouth of “X” River. I had a very good idea of where each property was in relation to John Whitmer’s home.

It turned out that the apparent English speakers lived in a different section of the county – closer to Fincastle and northwards and were living there earlier than this German group – and too far away from John Whitmer – sometimes 20 miles away – so it was unlikely that Martin was a child of any of those landowners.

However, there were two very likely candidates to be his father, both named Jacob Miller and both appeared to be German speaking.  The first Jacob was married to Margaret; this couple was elderly because Margaret was unable to travel to the courthouse to release her dower rights. This couple lived closer to John Whitmer than the English speaking Millers, but was  still some distance away. The second Jacob Miller had a wife named Sarah in 1797, but was remarried to an Elizabeth by the early 1800’s. The land descriptions make it clear that 1797 Jacob and 1813 Jacob are the same person. They lived very close to John Whitmer and no record of this Jacob was found in Botetourt County after an 1813 land deed.

Kentucky tax records prove that the Whitmers and Millers were in Kentucky by about 1812. This Jacob Miller is gone from Botetourt County records after this 1813 deed. It is possible that he died or he may have moved on.

Martin and Catherine named their second son Jacob and their third daughter was Sarah. They didn’t strictly follow their cultural naming patterns, but Jacob and Sarah were names they used and Jacob and Sarah Miller who lived so close to John Whitmer could possibly be Martin’s parents. Jacob and Margaret weren’t totally ruled out as possibilities, especially as I knew that they were older, but unless an unknown daughter died young, no daughter of Martin’s was named Margaret.

DeedMapper helped me visualize and plot out their properties and were they were located in relation to each other. If you are delving into a community where there are many with the same surnames in the same time period or you are using the FAN (Friends and Neighbors) technique to learn more about your family AND their property is described not in the Public Land Survey System (township, range and section), but in metes and bounds, then DeedMapper might be a resource that you consider. It is only available for Windows, though, which is a drawback for Mac users.

I learned a lot about land surveys using DeedMapper. First, those random sounding descriptions formed a very definitive pattern and, if the scribe made a mistake in writing out the description, it was immediately apparent on DeedMapper because the beginning and ending of the property didn’t close, that is, the ending point didn’t arrive back at the beginning point. I was surprised as how often that happened, but even with the error, it was possible to get a very good idea of the land shape and place it in the correct neighborhood.

Although I have a much more recent version of DeedMapper, I have not had the chance to delve back into analyzing metes and bounds deeds. I understand that it is now possible to integrate it into GPS coordinates and export it to KML (Google Earth). I am looking forward to trying out these capabilities.

After the land analysis, I still had no proof of Martin’s parents, but I had two possibilities – Jacob and Sarah or, possible but I thought less likely, Jacob and Margaret. I used the first version of DeedMapper, which came out in 1994. A number of years went by before I found another clue to Martin Miller’s parents.

That is tomorrow’s story. I hope you will come back to read the next chapter!


2 thoughts on “Plotting “Metes and Bounds” Property”

  1. Thanks for the Deed Mapper recommendation, Linda. I was googling their website and came across this blog post, which was a helpful example of how platting has served another genealogist.

    Your note about the frequency of mistakes by the scribe struck a chord with me. I have mapped several other plots of land that I didn’t include or link to Joseph Kirk’s land because the lines weren’t matching up. I immediately assumed it was an error on my part and a reflection of my poor geometry skills (and that’s certainly still a possibility!), but maybe not given the errors you’ve encountered, too. Relief!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.