Welcome

Welcome, fellow genealogists! My blog will teach you about U.S. land records and United Kingdom research. My family has roots in Niagara County, New York; Norfolk, England; and northeast Germany.
Showing posts with label Deeds. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Deeds. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wisdom Wednesday: The Government Land Survey II

Last week’s blog covered the concepts of meridians and base lines plus how a deed will designate townships formed by intersecting lines that run north/south and east/west six miles apart. Generally, the small map at the top right below was explained. The township highlighted is T2S, R3W or township 2 south in range 3 west.

Let’s remember the Montana deed that is our example:
The northeast quarter of the northwest quarter (NE ¼, NW 1/4) the northwest quarter of the northeast quarter (NW ¼, NE ¼) of Section eighteen (18), Township nineteen (19) north of range seven (7) west containing eighty (80) acres more or less, according to the United States Government Survey thereof.
                 Lewis and Clark County, MT, October 24, 1919, Mettler to J.B. Long and Co.

In the deed, the eighty acres purchased is in Section 18 of T19N, R7W (township 19 north in range 7 west). A township is six miles square so it is divided into 36 one-mile by one-mile sections, numbered as you see in the middle grid below. Section one is in the north east corner. Section 18 is at the western end of row 3.
Diagram showing the breakout of a township grid subdivided into township and range which is divided into sections.














Source: www.nationalatlas.gov

Each section has 640 acres. In legal descriptions in deeds, the section is halved both north/south and east/west into "quarters" or 160 acres. Someone could buy a whole or half section, but often purchased smaller amounts where the "quarters" were important to understanding where the land was located. Let’s look at the first sentence of the Montana deed: The northeast quarter of the northwest quarter (NE ¼, NW 1/4) the northwest quarter of the northeast quarter (NW ¼, NE ¼) of Section eighteen (18). The buyer purchased the two light green squares. On my graph, the areas are not looking very square, and I don't seem to be able to correct them.

                                   N


















                                                                                                             


                            

                               S                                                                                         
                                                                                                                       
When reading the description, pay attention to the second half first. For example, “the northeast quarter of the northwest quarter” is easy to locate, if you go to the northwest quarter of the section and find the northeast area which contains 40 acres. (160 acres divided by 4 = 40 acres.) This buyer also purchases the NW ¼ , NE 1/4 so locate the Northeast quarter and then the Northwest quarter of it, another 40 acre piece abutting the first parcel for a total of 80 acres as the deed states.

It is always easier for me to use a diagram so I draw a box and divide it into quarters, labeling one SE, SW, NE, and NW. The parcels can take many configurations as you see on the third, leftmost map above.

Note 1. For a long article explaining the Public Land Survey System, go to www.nationalatlas.gov/articles/boundaries/a_plss.html

Note 2. As I was finishing this blog post, my September 2012 Family Tree Magazine (U.S) arrived. Beginning on page 42, Chris Staats has a good article titled, Doing the Deeds. It is primarily information about why to search land records; what kinds of family mysteries it can solve. Unfortunately, in a glossary box on page 45, there is a big TYPO in the last definition, Rectangular Survey System. Townships have 36 square miles (6 x 6). (See Diagram above.)
Staats is from Ohio which has one of the most complicated Survey Systems with many meridians and base lines. Maybe townships there have different dimensions.
©2012, Susan Lewis Well

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Wisdom Wednesday: Government Land Survey, Part I

Thirty states in the U.S. use the Government Survey System, also known as the Rectangular Survey System or the Public Lands Survey System, to describe land. They are mostly in the West, land purchased or ceded to us by other countries. By 1785, a land ordinance was passed to allow settlement of the public domain lands of the original thirteen colonies and to establish the mapping method. The country was ready for the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 when President Jefferson bought 800,000+ acres of unsurveyed land that would become all or part of 15 states and two Canadian provinces.

The western land is divided into six-mile by six-mile squares, called townships, and then further subdivided into 36 sections, one mile by one mile. So they are not just floating in space, a township is described in relation to meridians and base lines. Some definitions, charts and examples follow:
   

            Meridians – north-south lines used as reference in mapping public land.
            Prime or Principal Meridians – thirty six north/south lines designated to be major reference points. Every twenty four miles east and west of the prime meridians are ‘guide meridians’ use to correct for the curvature of the earth. 

            Base line – thirty six east- west latitude lines chosen as references in the Public Lands Survey system; every twenty four miles north and south of these lines are correction lines or parallels to account for the curvature of the earth.

            Township – a six-mile by six-mile square formed by the intersection of lines parallel to the meridian and base lines; not to be confused with political areas with the same name.

            Section – Each township is divided into 36 one-mile by one-mile areas of 640 acres each.

Let’s work on deciphering a legal description from a Montana deed:

The northeast quarter of the northwest quarter (NE ¼, NW 1/4), the northwest quarter of the northeast quarter (NW ¼, NE ¼) of Section eighteen (18), Township nineteen (19) north of range seven (7) west containing eighty (80) acres more or less, according to the United States Government Survey thereof.
              Lewis and Clark County, MT, October 24, 1919, Mettler to J.B. Long and Co.

Working backwards, we will find the township using the base line and meridian information given above. While this deed does not give the meridian name, all Montana land is measured from one baseline and meridian.

Township Designation:  

“Every six miles east and west of each principal meridian, parallel imaginary lines are drawn. The resulting 6-mile-wide columns are called ranges and are numbered east and west of the principal meridian. For example, the first range west is called Range 1 West and abbreviated R1W. The next range west in R2W and so forth. The fourth range east is R4E.
Every six miles north and south of a base line, township lines are drawn. They intersect with range lines and produce 6 by 6-mile imaginary squares called townships…(those) lying in the first row or tier north of the baseline all carry the designation Township 1 North, abbreviated T1N, and in the second tier south, T2S.”
                                                                                                                    Harwood, pp. 20-22

A township on a deed will be designated by two groups of numbers and letters. For example, T2N, R2E, which is read ‘township 2 north, range 2 east’, is a township two tiers north of a base line and three ranges east of a meridian. The meridian may be named in the deed.

On the chart below, the horizontal green line is a base line, and the vertical green line is a meridian.
The town dicussed in the last paragraph is highlighted on the chart below.


T3N
R3W
T3N
R2W
T3N
R1W
T3N
R1E
T3N
R2E
T3N
R3E
T2N
R3W
T2N
R2W
T2N
R1W
T2N
R1E
T2N
R2E
T2N
R3E
T1N
R3W
T1N
R2W
T1N
R1W
T1N
R1E
T1N
R2E
T1N
R3E
T1S
R3W
T1S
R2W
T1S
R1W
T1S
R1E
T1S
R2E
T1S
R3E
T2S
R3W
T2S
R2W
T2S
R1W
T2S
R1E
T2S
R2E
T2S
R3E
T3S
R3W
T3S
R2W
T3S
R1W
T3S
R1E
T3S
R2E
T3S
R3E


T3S, R3W is a township three south of a baseline and in the third range west of a prime meridian. On the chart above, it is in the lower left corner. (Not all of the townships are so close to the meridian and base line to be visible on my convenient little chart. T13N, R51W is thirteen towns north of the base line and fifty one ranges west of the meridian.

In the Montana deed above, the township information is not abbreviated and reads “Township nineteen (19) north of range seven (7) west.” It could be written T19N, R7W. In other words the township is nineteen tiers north of the baseline and seven ranges west.

We still have a ways to go to find the land in the Montana deed, but it is filed in Lewis and Clark County so the land is there. Helena, Montana’s state capital, is located in this county.

Sources: Harwood, Bruce. Real Estate Principles. Reston, VA: Reston Publishing Company, Inc. 1977
Lewis and Clark County Records, Helena, MT, Deed, 1919, Mettler to Long and Co.
Next Week: Numbering and Subdividing a Section.
                                                                                                        ©2012, Susan Lewis Well

Monday, December 19, 2011

Dower and Curtesy Rights

You may have run into a phrase in a deed such as, ‘and I, Mary Jones, in consideration aforesaid do hereby relinquish my right of dower in the above mentioned property.’ What are dower rights? The concept came to North America with the colonists from English common law. At marriage, a woman’s legal existence was combined with her husband’s. In practice, it meant that real estate purchased during the marriage belonged to the husband. To create balance for this concept, a wife was granted dower rights which prevented a husband from selling property without the wife’s permission. Thus the clause above or one similar would appear in deeds.

Dower rights also granted women legal ownership of a portion of the real estate for the rest of her life, if the husband died first. While the dower portion was governed by each state's statute, it usually ranged from 33 to 50 percent. A woman was also protected from being left out of her husband’s will.  He could increase the share beyond one-third in his will, and some state laws limited the rights of a husband to bequeath less than a one-third share to his widow except in prescribed circumstances.  When the widow died, the real estate was then inherited as designated in her deceased husband's will; she had no rights to sell or bequeath the property independently. She did have rights to income from the dower during her lifetime, including rents and income from crops.

In most states, one-third of a husband's estate is awarded to a widow automatically if he dies without a will (intestate). In many jurisdictions, dower has been replaced by the 'elective share'. In others, statutes expressly provide that a spouse choose among the elective share, the dower, or the provisions of the will.  Thus most modern deeds have no dower clause.

A husband's corresponding right of inheritance was called curtesy. In England and early America, a widower could use 100 percent of his deceased wife's property (real estate which she acquired and held in her own name) until his own death, but could not sell or transfer it to anyone but children of his wife. Today in the United States, instead of using curtesy rights, most jurisdictions explicitly require that one-third to one-half of a wife's property be given outright to her husband at her death, if she dies without a will.

Today married couples hold land in some form of joint ownership that specifies how property is divided or inherited at the death of one partner.
©2011, Susan Lewis Well

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Glossary of Land Records

Land records are kept in county recorders’ offices, sometimes called county records offices, county registrars’ offices, registries of deeds or bureaus of conveyances. Any changes in rights, estates or interests in land are recorded. Below in ‘almost’ alphabetical order are the main documents that you can find, with a note or two about their usefulness to genealogists.

            Deed – a written document that transfers ownership of real property from one entity to another. Real property or real estate is land and its improvements. Without this piece of paper, the rest of the documents at the recorder’s office are useless and unnecessary. Deeds have the most genealogical information while facts in all the other documents only add to your family story.
            Declarations of Homestead – documents that under state laws protect real estate from forced sale by creditors and in some cases, provide a home for a surviving spouse for life. Each state’s law is slightly different. (This meaning of homestead has nothing to do with acquiring state or federally-owned land by filing and establishing residence.)

            Easements – the right of a party to use land that belongs to someone else for a special purpose not inconsistent with the owner’s use of the land – commonly, a driveway easement which lets someone pass over a property to get to another property or a utility easement which allows gas lines, telephone and electrical wires to pass over or under the surface of a property.

            Lien – a claim that an entity (government or person) has on property that belongs to another to secure payment of a debt or obligation. The two most common are ‘municipal liens’ for non-payment of taxes and ‘mechanic’s liens’ for non-payment of bills from tradesmen whose work or materials have improved the property. 
            Mortgage – a pledge of property to secure a debt; Mortgagor – the people who pledge their property, the borrowers, the property owners; Mortgagee – the lender; Mortgage Release – a document issued by mortgagee (lender) to state that the debt has been paid. Before banks became almost the only mortgage lenders in the country, people paid cash or borrowed money from rich people or relatives so check who both the mortgagor and mortgagee are.
  
            Other documents can be recorded such as leases, especially, long-term commercial leases. Government bodies have the right to take private property for public purposes, such as schools, providing that fair market value is paid to the owner. This process is called eminent domain, and the paperwork is filed. In some case, the owner simply issues a deed to the government body, however. Bills of sale for slaves can be found in old records both in the North and South.

©Susan Lewis Well, 2011

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Metes and Bounds

If you were a Boy Scout or Girl Scout, you have no reason to fear a deed’s land description expressed in metes and bounds, a system of mapping land using distance and compass headings.  Generally, land in the original thirteen colonies, plus Maine, Vermont, West Virginia,Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, Hawaii, and parts of Ohio were surveyed with this system.* Let’s define the terms:

            Metes are distances, usually measured in feet. Older deeds will use poles, rods, chains and links. One rod or one pole is 16.5 feet.

           Bounds are direction, measured in degrees, minutes and seconds. There are 360 degrees in a circle, 60 minutes (‘) in a degree, and 60 seconds (“) in a minute. The bound noted as N. 4° 11’ 18” E. is read ‘north 4 degrees, 11 minutes and 18 seconds east.’ On a map or survey with north at the top of the page, this line would appear almost straight up and down, with its north end leaning a little to the right.

The point of beginning is the place where the description starts, and it is almost always on the road or street. In a modern description, one travels clockwise around the parcel with the street frontage being the last mete and bound given. If a line is curved, such as the frontage on a cul-de-sac, the length of the arc is given along with the radius of the circle that produced that arc.
In the following example and many other times, the metes and bounds method is supplemented by referring to owners or former owners of abutting land. If land is in a surveyed subdivision, the description might refer to lot numbers of the abutting parcels.

Here is the legal description from a 1975 Amherst, MA deed. It is a four-sided corner lot, almost rectangular.
“Beginning at the southwest corner of the tract at the highway monument numbered five, thence running due north along said Lincoln avenue one hundred and twenty-six and six-tenths (126.6) feet to an iron stake set at the corner of land of one Welles; thence N. 88° E., ninety-six and seven-tenths (96.7) feet to an iron stake set at the land on one Parkhurst; thence S. 1° 30’ E. along said Parkhurst land one hundred and twenty-six and seven-tenths (126.7) feet to Amity Street; thence S. 88° 30’ W., along said Amity Street one hundred and nine-tenths (100.9) feet to the point of beginning. “

                                    Hampshire County, MA Registry of Deeds, Book 1847, Page 61

If you wonder why I picked this example, it’s because all the angles are about 90°, (90°, 88°, 1° 30’, and 88° 30’) and the lot is almost squarely oriented north and south. The orientation is quite rare in the eastern United States. 
Let’s walk around this Amherst lot, compass in hand. From the corner marker, walk 126.6 feet straight north. Next consult your compass to find 88 ° east of north – so almost due east, walk 96.7 feet. For the third side to be parallel to the first side, you would need to walk due south. However the description states that the line is 126.7 feet long 1° 30 minutes east of south or slant a little to the left as you walk this line. Now walk to the point of beginning along Amity Street, the angle should be 88° 30 minutes west of south and the length 100.9 feet.  The deed states “The above description is according to survey made April, 1925 by F.C. Moore.”
*Parts of upstate New York were owned by the Holland Land Company. Its system to locate and describe land used squares and distances from preset, imaginary lines. It was modified and used in the West. Today we call the new version the Government Survey or Public Land Survey System.

©2011 by Susan Lewis Well

Friday, September 30, 2011

Deed Wording Changes with Time and Place

The content of deeds follows state statute and local custom. My 21 September 2011 post introduced you to the seven “Elements of a Deed,” but their exact wording can and will vary especially the ‘words of granting’.

Here is a modern example of a change to deeds in one location. In the past twenty five years, the first line of deeds in Hampshire County, Massachusetts has changed by local usage, not state statute. For centuries, the opening line was “Know all men by these presents.” At first, the modification used by some in the legal community was “Know all men and women by these presents.”  The next attempt to be gender neutral was “Know all persons by these presents,” and finally, for now the most used phrase is “Know all by these presents.” In this example, no meaning has changed, but the wording has.
Of the seven “Elements of a Deed,” it is the ‘words of conveyance’ that have changed the most over time. Generally, the older a deed, the longer the list of verbs used to grant the property to another. Where a modern deed is likely to say “John and Jane Smith grant to James and Judith Jones,” an older deed might say “grant, bargain, sell, convey, warrant and confirm…” This last quote is from a 1913 Montana deed.

However, just to keep you on your toes, let me quote the words of conveyance from a 2000 Florida deed – “grants, bargains, sells, aliens, remises, releases, conveys and confirms…” Local custom, state law and time affect the wording of a deed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Deeds Have Essential Elements

There are seven elements that must be present in each and every deed. Without them, the document would not legally transfer real property ownership from one party to another. The specific language of a deed varies by state statute and local custom, but these elements represent the baseline or least amount of information a genealogist can expect from a deed.

1.    Name of  the Grantor
2.    Name of the Grantee
3.    Words of conveyance
4.    Consideration ($$$)
5.    Legal Description
6.    Signature of the Grantor
7.    Delivery and acceptance

The first four items are found in the first paragraph, if not the first sentence of a deed.
The grantors and grantees names should stand out in the first sentence.  The Grantor or the seller conveys the property to the Grantee or buyer. Because one way to search for a deed is to use the Grantor/Grantee index, it’s good to keep these terms in mind.

Third, there must be ‘words of granting’ such as “do hereby grant, convey and transfer to the grantee, his heirs and assigns forever...”
The fourth element is the consideration – the good and valuable items exchanged for the property. Today, it is usually money. Some states require that the consideration be expressed in monetary terms, so modern deeds often give the true sale price of the property. The older the deed, the more likely you are to find the phrases “for love and affection” or “for one dollar and other valuable consideration.”

A legal description of the land is the fifth element. In this portion of the document, there is a carefully and technically worded paragraph describing the boundaries of the plot or the location on a survey. There’s only a general reference to buildings, never a description of the style or size of a house or barn. 

The Grantor must sign the deed. At deeds repositories, older deeds are handwritten copies of originals and do not have your ancestors’ original signatures.

The seventh element is delivery and acceptance, something not written into the document. Because the document is recorded at a deeds repository, you can be certain that this element is completed

By recognizing this basic information, you can quickly see extra clauses that might contain a goldmine of genealogical information. Long lists of Grantors may mean a group of heirs selling the homestead, for example. More than one legal description indicates two or more parcels of land being sold on the same day to the same buyer. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Why the Twin Specialties

I have decided to blog about genealogy with emphasis on U.S. land records and English research. Many of you are wondering why the widely separate specialties so here is the inside scoop.

Before I was a genealogist, I was a real estate broker and appraiser. Both careers required knowledge of deeds, especially retrieving them, understanding their clauses and comparing the land description with a map or survey. I did not learn about these records from a genealogical prospective. I came to genealogy knowing about land records and have a slant that I hope you will find helpful.

My great grandmother, Eliza BRETT, was born in Norfolk, England, in the medium sized parish of Swaffham. Her line was easy to trace using my local LDS Family History Center in Massachusetts. Their web site, www.familysearch.org, now has Norfolk parish records online to help with new inquiries.

I joined the very helpful Norfolk Family History Society in 1995 and recommmend that all English researchers join their county society as soon as possible.  A list of societies can be found at www.genuki.org.uk. (Click 'Societies' from the list on the right side of the home screen and then the first choice on the next list.)