A Bakers’ Dozen of Details Found in Land Deeds

There are various types of land records, ranging from real estate sales to mortgages to sales of enslaved persons to court-ordered sheriff’s sales, often due to financial insolvency.

Today, let’s look at all the details that can be learned from a simple sale of real estate, completed between two parties, the grantor (seller sometimes called the vendor) and the grantee (buyer.)

What information can be learned from a recorded land deed? Way more than you might expect!

First, how are land deeds accessed? Well, if they are 20th century sales, not easily in most places. A researcher will probably have to hire a title search company and pay beaucoup bucks because most county clerk offices won’t search modern records.

However, if you are looking for deeds recorded in the 19th century and earlier, you are in luck because many of those volumes have been at least filmed and are available on FamilySearch and a good number of them are free online in digital format.

If you have never searched for ancestral land records, you might be overlooking a genealogical gold mine!

Here are details which I’ve found in land records through the years:

  1. Name of seller
  2. Name of buyer
  3. Price paid for the land
  4. Location of land (town, county, state)
  5. Legal description of land, either in metes and bounds (e.g. from the old oak tree. . . .) or in Public Land Survey System (township, range, section)
  6. Names of heirs selling land
  7. Residences of heirs, especially those who lived elsewhere
  8. Names of witnesses [Note: Witnesses were often men, but women were legally allowed to serve as witnesses, too. In many areas of the country, witnesses might be relatives of legal age, neighbors, church members, or business associates. Generally, there was at least one witness for the buyer and one for the seller. HOWEVER, I have not found this to be true in New England land sales. In Massachusetts, for example, I have found witnesses were more likely to be men who worked in or near the courthouse who had no relationship whatsoever to the buyer/seller, which eliminates part of the FAN (Friends,Associates,Neighbors) Club.]
  9. Family relationships identified, e.g. for love and affection of my daughter and her husband. . .
  10. New residence, e.g. I, John Smith, formerly of Surry County, North Carolina and now living in Fayette County, Kentucky
  11. Proof of marriage, where no marriage record can be found
  12. Proof of death, where no death or probate record can be found
  13. Occupation of the buyer and/or seller

No one land deed will contain every single one of the tidbits on this list, but, yes, I have personally found all of these details in various land deeds I’ve located through the years.

If you’ve never searched out original land deeds, now is the time to begin. Many deed volumes have a general index, spanning many years, while other volumes have an individual self contained index.

Remember, too, that in most states, land records are filed at the county level. That is also true for some New England land records, but in those states, early land deeds are often filed with the town clerk.

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