Land records are one of the most underutilized document sets available to the modern genealogist. They often provide a wealth of data outside their more commonly known function of describing and detailing transactions of real property.
A case in point is the indenture between Jasper Hopper and the heirs of Samuel Hopper, deceased, made in Rabun County, Georgia, which reads: This indenture [...] entered unto this ninth day of April eighteen hundred and fifty-eight between Jasper Hoper of the county & state aforesaid of the one part & Charles Hoper, Henry Hopper, the children of Caroline Himphill formerly Caroline Hopper, Jasper Hopper, Zachariah Hopper, Thomas Hopper, John A. Hopper, Joseph Hopper, Florian Norton formerly Floriann Hoper, & Sarah Adline Gillaspi formerly Sarah Adaline Hopper of the other part [...] the above named parties being the heirs and representations of Samuel Hopper late of said county deceased [...]
Most wills aren’t that clear cut. In fact, I’ve seen several last wills and testaments which named the daughters by their maiden names, even though said daughters were married at the time the will was written.
Land records such as this are especially helpful when the owner died intestate (without a will), as Samuel Hopper did. While there are probate records associated with the settlement of his estate, none clearly spelled out who his heirs were. I knew to look for this deed because the probate records did include mention of the administrator applying for leave to sell Samuel’s land, as allowed by law.
The bonus in this case is that two of Samuel’s three daughters had married before 1850, and so this indenture provided direct proof that they were related to Samuel Hopper. Further, it provides clues which, when used with other records, would lead to the discovery of these women’s husbands. Caroline Hopper’s marriage to Joseph Hemphill was recorded in the earliest marriage book for Rabun County and was easy to find.
Flora Ann Hopper’s marriage was not recorded, however, in either Rabun County or nearby Macon County, North Carolina; I was left to search through other records for her husband’s name. Fortunately, I didn’t have to search long: a closer examination of the probate records associated with Samuel Hopper’s estate revealed that a Barak Norton bought part of Samuel’s personal property. I later found two US census records (in 1850 and 1860) of a Barak Norton and wife, Flora A. Norton. Given that no person bought property from Samuel Hopper’s estate who wasn’t related to the family in some way, and also given that this Flora A. Norton was the right age to be Samuel’s daughter, I knew I had the right family.
Now, to go off on a tangent, as I am wont to do: notice that the indenture says the heirs of Caroline Hemphill. This is a good indication that she was deceased at the time this record was made and, in fact, I later found this to be true. Caroline died between about 1846, when her youngest son, Albert, was born, and December 27, 1847, when her husband, Joseph Hemphill, remarried to Peggy Thomas.
I have found land records to be helpful in breaking brick walls I’ve hit while researching other families, and so I’m fully convinced of their usefulness to genealogists and family historians. If there’s any indication at all that your ancestor owned land, take the time to search through the pertinent deed books or other places where such transactions might have been recorded.
Keep in mind, however, that if a person was deceased at the time their land was sold, then the land might be recorded under the name of the estate’s administrator instead of the name of the deceased. The administrator’s name should be recorded in the appropriate court minutes for the locale in which your ancestor lived. If you don’t know who the administrator was or can’t find his or her name, check the deed index for records made by the surviving spouse, the eldest sons, or the eldest sons-in-law, or if all else fails, look for each child or suspected child. If you find a record of, for instance, Jasper Hopper et al. (Jasper Hopper and others), then you may have hit pay dirt, but check the other records anyway, just in case.
Have land records helped you make connections? Leave a comment! I’d love to hear your research stories.