Land records are divided into two broad categories: state lands and federal lands. Twenty states at one point owned the land within their boundaries, and the states themselves distributed the property to settlers. In the other 30 states, the federal government controlled and distributed the land.
Federal lands are measured using meridians and base lines so that plats of land came out into neat little rectangular packages. State lands are measured by metes and bounds that usually create a hodge-podge of landscapes that frustrate even the most experienced researchers.
The states that distributed their own land were Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.
The description of a piece of property in one of those states might read something like this: "beginning at an oak tree on John Smith's line, then heading south 45 degrees west for 40 chains to a persimmon tree, then heading south east 47 degrees for 50 chains to a hickory tree on the Horse Creek and then down the meanders of the creek to Henry Stancil's corner. ..."
Researchers untrained in these measures are clueless about what the deed is saying and what to do with it. Classes teach how to plat such a parcel using a ruler, graph paper and a protractor. After platting several pieces of land, it's possible to piece together the parcels, much like assembling a jigsaw puzzle.
Suppose George Wise died and probate records, which probably would have shown the land division among his four sons, burned in a courthouse fire. But in the state archives, the researcher locates original grants showing that George owned a total of 1,010 acres.
By examining land records many years after George's death, the researcher identifies four men with the surname Wise who sold various pieces of land. Using descriptions from all the deeds, the researcher plats out all the pieces. He then can put the pieces together to show four plats of 252.5 acres each, the exact acreage that George originally owned. This work doesn't directly prove the four men were George's sons, but the indirect evidence provides a strong argument for it.
In another scenario, platting the land that two different men owned can show where it joined, determining the farms' proximity when one suspects the daughter of one family married the son of the other.
A few companies have manufactured software into which the land descriptions could be placed; supposedly, the computer would do the work for the researcher. These programs have never won widespread use, and I suspect it's because others had as poor success with them as I did. So, back to the graph paper and protractor.
However, I recently discovered a Web site at www .genealogytools.net that might just change my life.
Go to the site and click on "Plat Your Deeds." It is unbelievably user-friendly, which none of the commercial software ever was. Enter all the directions, bearings, degrees and distances, and the site does the work for you. Enter identifying data such as grantor, grantee, land location and you get a great printout for your files.
So dig your deeds out of storage and start using this site. What fun!
Readers who want to learn more about land research should turn to E. Wade Hone's book, "Land & Property Research in the United States." The book is widely available at libraries or can be ordered new from Barnes & Noble for about $50 - substantially less for used copies.
Another good book is Patricia Law Hatcher's "Locating Your Roots: Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records." Also in most libraries, it sells for $23 from a variety of vendors online.
Paul Enchelmayer will lecture on "The Deceptive Ancestor - Separating Family Fiction from Fact" at Saturday's meeting of the Pasco Genealogical Society. The group will meet at 10 a.m. at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 9016 Fort King Road, Dade City.
Drew Smith, Odessa resident and nationally known lecturer and writer, will speak about "DNA and Genealogy" at the 1:30 p.m. Oct. 11 meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Tampa Bay. The group meets at Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services, 14041 Icot Blvd., Clearwater.
The lecture will include an explanation of how DNA relates to genealogy, the kinds of tests available, and how researchers can share test results in order to determine relationships.
This meeting is open to the public. For information, call Sally Israel at (727) 343-1652.