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.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Map for UK Research

Happy Boxing Day to our blog readers in Canada and the UK.

Before 1837, when you find a person’s marriage and death in a parish but no baptism, what is the next step? The advice hasn’t changed in years – look at records in abutting parishes and if you don’t find them there, keep enlarging the ring outward until you find them. How you carry out this advice has changed dramatically in recent years.
A handy online tool is the map of ‘English Jurisdictions in 1851’ at the site – www.maps.familysearch.org.  On a basic map of England (not Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland) you can select boundary lines for parishes, counties, Civil Registration Districts, Poor Law Unions, diocese, rural deanery, province, hundred, division and probate. When I introduced this site to my UK Special Interest Group last month, one man asked how I would use it. I have to admit that I think it is pretty slick in and of itself and thought it was fun to show that the Poor Law Unions followed the boundaries of the old ‘hundreds’ to a great extent.

Here is an attempt at a more practical use. When you have an ancestor whose BMD records are not all in one parish, this map is helpful by showing the contiguous parishes and by showing the relative distances between parishes. Lists of contiguous parishes have been in print for hundreds of years, but the computer makes this search quick and easy.
For example, Clement Laws was married in Necton, Norfolk in 1851 and buried there on 31 Jul 1772. His age at death was given as ‘about 40’. He was not baptized in the parish.

By a name search on www.familysearch.org, I found a baptism for Clement Laws, son of Clement and Mary Laws 2 Apr 1730 in Wendling, Norfolk. I had no idea where Wendling is, but found it two towns away from Necton using the familysearch.org map. I think I’m onto something here. Although I cannot find a marriage for the parents, Clement and Mary Laws, in Wendling, I did find baptisms for two more children. This is the first time I found the given name, Clement, in Norfolk but in Wendling, there is at least one family with the surname, Clements, so maybe that is how father and son received their unusual first names.
©2011, 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

Monday, December 12, 2011

Liber, Folio et al

Genealogy is a great way to introduce you to or to review Latin vocabulary. When searching land records, you are likely to come across few terms. Here are translations for the most often used.

Every document that comes to a registry for recording is copied and placed more or less chronologically into a book, often referred to by its Latin name, liber. The pages of the book may be called folios. This blog will refer to book and page numbers to identify deeds, not liber and folio numbers.

Et al is an abbreviated form of the phrase ‘et alia,’ Latin for “and others.” If more than one person owned a piece of property, the registry clerks might index all the names on the document, but in some circumstances, only use the name of the first person listed on the deed, followed by ‘et al’ or ‘et alia.’

Et uxor is Latin for “and wife.” The grantors and grantees might be written as “John Doe et uxor” on deeds in certain times and places. You may find it shortened to ‘John Doe et ux.’ Today wives are identified by their full name, since they take a more central part in the transactions legally.

Latin phrases will appear in other genealogical documents, and you can use www.translate.google.com to help you. Familysearch.org and about.com have Latin word lists for genealogists. To find these sites quickly, just google ‘Latin for genealogists’.  If you have no Latin background, you may want to take the time and effort to study the twelve tutorials for beginners at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/latin/beginners. The examples in the lessons are from genealogical documents and are interesting themselves. Fair warning, with four years of high school Latin, I found the first three lessons more challenging than I would have predicted.

The web sites listed in the last paragraph will take you way beyond a simple deed which usually only used the terms I defined above. Now you will know where to look for definitions of church related terms used in baptism, marriage and death records in early England.

©2011, Susan Lewis Well

Monday, November 28, 2011

One-Name Studies

Did you notice an unfamiliar phrase in my post about the Federation of Family History Societies? I consider a one-name study or a one-name society a thoroughly British invention, although some of us are essentially studying one name in an area during a specific time frame as we do our everyday research .

According to the Guild of One-Name Studies in London, this research involves the study of the genealogy and family history of all people with the same surname and its variants. You can find more information at their website
www.one-name.org .

Most of us start with ourselves and go back in time creating what is called an ancestor chart of our direct ancestors, or we look for all the descendants of an ancient relative of ours. Many of us also record any instance of a surname in an area hoping to later connect them to our tree. For example, when reading parish records in Norfolk, I write down people with the names BRETT or HAYLETT. I assume someday I will figure out how they are related to me. One-name studies build on these informal notes, but are much more.

The Guild site gives you guidelines about what names are appropriate for a one-name study, obviously not ‘Smith.’  Frequency, both too few and too many occurrences, is the chief criteria, it seems. The site also has a very good section about the origin of surnames – occupations, place names, etc. 
Perhaps most useful is their list of surnames that already have studies started on them.  Almost 8000 names have been registered by 2500 researchers. I struck out with six of my Norfolk names, but I found that DALGLIESH, the fictional detective, is being studied. By clicking on the name, I found a page detailing the progress of Steven Daglish.

This society has meetings and produces journals, all described on the site. In this electronics age, surprisingly, there is an 800 number for use by North Americans 1-800-647-4100. The email is guild@one-name.org.
One of these 2500 researchers may have information on your branch of the family so check it out.

©2011, Susan Lewis Well

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Foods Past

This off-topic post honors this week’s great American holiday. Happy Thanksgiving to all  my readers.

Thanksgiving in my mother’s family was always celebrated at our house on the Sunday after the holiday.  I could tell you why the Sunday celebration, how holidays rotated among my aunts and grandmother, or about the food in this German-American upstate New York family.  I choose the food.
Food in the 1950s was different than today. I spend time before Thanksgiving looking for recipes that put a new twist on traditional foods.  As I think back, I realize I have gone quite far from the childhood menu, especially in the variety of dishes served.  My mother provided what I now consider a whole meal before the aunts contributed their side dishes. She and my father prepared the turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, two vegetables and cranberry sauce. 

My father made me think all men helped in the kitchen on big holidays, although none of my uncles or grandfather did. He was especially proud of his dressing. While others might use apples or chestnuts, his dressing was not complete without pineapple and raisins soaked in brandy.
Dessert was always pie baked by one of my aunts. Others brought their specialties; German rice, stewed prunes, cole slaw, and molded gelatin salad. There was an appetizer too. I recall fruit cocktail, fruit juice with sherbet, frozen fruit cup, or tomato juice on a rotating schedule.  I remember relish trays laden with olives and homemade pickles. A family favorite was celery, ends dipped in salt. Some of the crisp veggie was eaten with the meal, but most it was consumed by the women as they talked after the dishes were washed and dried.  Imagine being able to eat more then.

Of this feast, the German rice may need further explanation. In short, take ¼ cup of white rice, one quart of milk, cinnamon stick and sugar. Simmer in a double boiler for hours, creating a pudding with about 20-25 half-cup servings. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon to finish.  If you can master this dish, you are better than all the women in my generation of this family except my cousin, Nancy. One aunt told me the secret was to use short grain rice. When I told another aunt about this tip, she came over the next day with a bowl made with long grain rice and made it clear that substitutions were not needed for success.  I have stopped trying after a few dismal attempts as a young adult, but I have Nancy’s recipe which is probably Aunt Millie’s formula so I may give it another try sometime.

Monday, November 14, 2011

www.ffhs.org.uk = Useful Website

The Federation of Family History Societies website is a ‘must’ visit for all UK researchers. Known as ‘the Federation,’ this organization has about 160 member groups, including national, state and one-name societies in England, Wales and Ireland. Scotland has a similar group called the Scottish Association of Family History Societies. (www.safhs.org.uk)

The Federation assists and supports its member societies by giving awards for newsletter and websites and by organizing educational opportunities. They sponsor cooperative projects, one of which resulted in the National Burial Index CD-ROM that is for sale on the site.  They also present a unified voice for genealogists to such allied groups as the Society of Archivists.

If you are new to UK research, this site is immediately helpful for two reasons. On the right hand side, you can sign up for their free FFHS ezine and/or FFHS news.  Now you will be in touch with a major force in genealogy on the other side of the Atlantic.
For example, the FFHS News recently reminded me that the least expensive way to obtain a Birth, Marriage or Death certificate is to order from the General Register Office (GRO) at http://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/.  This was really a warning against the high prices charged by commercial sites. Remember civil registration in Britain started in 1837, and that is what is available from the GRO.

On the left side of the FFHS home page, there are many choices, but the most helpful first step is to click on “Find a Society.” I am a huge advocate of joining the family history society in the county where your ancestors lived. A friend whose ancestors lived near the border of two counties looked at the websites for both and chose to join the group that seemed most active and was very happy with the resulting contacts. The FFHS listings give the contact information for their member groups.

I am such a big fan of the county societies because I am thrilled with the Norfolk Family History Society. All the societies have about the same services. I have been a happy, satisfied member for fifteen years or more and have used the Society for all of the following purposes:

-reasonable dues.
             -newsletters and/or small journals with a wealth of information. These often have a section  where you can submit queries about your ancestors.

             -volunteers at their libraries or archives to do free lookups for you.

             -opportunities to give back to the genealogy community by submitting your family tree or write an article for the newsletter.

-a website that may have members only content.
             -your dues support local research such as recording the inscriptions on town monuments, gravestones or plaques on church interiors.

Also on the left side of the FFHS website’s homepage are buttons to click for educational opportunities,   a calendar of events and a list of new books and CDs. The ‘Research Tips’ section has questions and answers for new and experienced UK researchers alike. You cannot help but find useful information here.

©2011, Susan Lewis Well

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tuesday's Tip: Using Tax Stamps to Find Property Sale Price

Buying real estate is a very public event.  Often newspapers print a list of grantors, grantees, addresses and sales prices every week. No wonder people have been trying to hide the true sale price since the beginning of record keeping. When trying for privacy, the phrase used has not changed in some venues in all that time – ‘$1.00 and other valuable consideration’ or the equally unhelpful, ‘for consideration paid.’ There are a few ways to find the sale price.

Another reason to hide the sale price was the excise tax charged for each transaction.  Before 1968, the federal government used tax stamps affixed to deeds to collect revenue from each transaction. They looked like postage stamps. The rate on the sale price was $.55 per $500 or fraction thereof.  A property selling in 1967 for $30,500 would require one of the parties, usually the seller, to pay U.S. taxes of $33.55. After 1 Jan 1968, the U.S. government stopped taxing land sales, but the states decided to tax property transfers themselves. Some states were doing so before that time.  From 19 Jun 1940 to 28 Dec 1967, Massachusetts had its own tax on the $30,500 transaction cited above of $34.00 for a total of $67.55 in taxes on the transaction.
The stamps were bought and attached at the time of recording. (Note that if a mortgage was assumed, the feds only charged taxes on the difference between the mortgage amount and the sale price.) Some jurisdictions let the parties hide the sale price by not putting stamps on deeds where the consideration was $1.00. Other counties put the stamps on for the real amount which allows us to calculate the price with simple math.

If you are at a recorder’s office or find its website, it often has the tax rates through the years because genealogists make them FAQs.  To figure out the rate yourself, read this example:
In a 1975 Massachusetts deed, the sales price was $70,000 and the tax stamp was $159.60. Divide the tax by the number of thousands in the sale price to see that the tax rate was $2.28 per thousand.

$159.60 ÷ 70 = $2.28
Now that you know the tax rate at that time, you may be able to use that rate and the amount of tax stamps to determine the sales price on another deed that tries to conceal it. First find a deed with tax stamps and no sale price. Divide the amount of the tax stamps by the tax rate of $2.28. For example, if the deed indicates $171.00 in taxes, divide it by $2.28/thousand. The answer will be ‘75’ which you translate to $75,000.

©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

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

UK Parish Chests

English parishes were ordered to keep registers of births, marriages and deaths separate from other parish records since the reign of Henry VIII in 1538. The king's vicar general, Thomas Cromwell, also mandated the records be kept in a 'secure coffer.' Many parishes already had a chest made of wood reinforced by iron bars and locks because in 1166, Henry II had mandated that each church have a chest to collect money for the crusades. There were may items to store in the chest, including:

          -Alms for the poor
          -Parish plate or silver (most often communion ware)
          -Robes and vestments
          -Vestry Council minutes
          -Churchwardens' accounts
          -Parish birth, death and marriage registers
          -Poor Law Records (Rate/account books, bastardy bonds, apprenticeships, settlement papers)

                                                       Old Church, Penallt, Photo courtesy of Roy Parkhouse

Oak was the most commonly used wood because of its strength. The oldest of the chest look like hollowed logs with a lid. Feet were added to later refined designs because they kept the chest from touching the damp, cold stone floor.

                                                   Parish Chest, Malpas

It was customary to have three locks. The vicar had one key and the two churchwardens had one each. All three people had to be present to open the chest. In bigger parishes, the number of locks grew to five or seven.  
                                                   Parish Chest, Debenham, Suffolk

                                                   Parish Chest, Prescot, Lancashire, with five locks

Photos for this post came from the websites of the various parishes. To see more examples, google "parish chests."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Calendar Changes in 1752 in England and Colonies

Before 1752, England used the Julian calendar.  A year ran between 25 March and 24 March.  The 25th of March was Lady Day on the church calendar, considered a fitting start to the year because this holy day celebrated the conception of Jesus.

More importantly, the Julian year was eleven+ minutes longer than a solar year. The spring solstice that was used to calculate the date for Easter was moving ever earlier and by 1582 was March 11, a ten day discrepancy with the sun. A new calendar commissioned by Pope Gregory was adopted at various times throughout the world.  Spain, Portugal, France, Poland and most of Italy changed in 1582. Scotland adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1600. 
In England and her colonies the change did not come until 1752. The day after 2 Sep 1752 was 14 Sep 1752 because the discrepancy was by then 11 days. New Year’s Day was moved to 1 January, forever confusing the Latin meanings of September, October, November and December. 

Because the English knew about the calendar used in other European countries, you may find dates in the late 17th and early 18th century in January, February or March designated like this 11 Feb 1721/2. 1721 is the Julian or old style (OS) designation and 1722 is the Gregorian or new style (NS).  One source recommends always using both years for dates Jan-Mar before 1752 so 15 Feb 1654 should be transcribed as 15 Feb 1654/5.
A baby born 15 Feb 1675 is not illegitimate although her parents were married 15 Apr 1675. The child was born ten months after the wedding on a date that is easier to understand if written 15 Feb 1675/6.

Remember no one was born, married or died on 4 Sep 1752 – this date did not exist.

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

Monday, October 3, 2011

UK Genealogical Magazines Available

Staying in touch with what is happening in UK research from the United States or Canada is challenging. In a previous post, I mentioned the UK Family Tree Magazine that I found at Barnes and Noble for $11.99. Now I will tell you about the other magazines I found there.

One was Who Do You Think You Are? which is coordinated and promotes the original BBC version of the U.S. television program. Its website is www.whodoyouthinkyouare.com , and it has background stories about the celebrities that are featured on the show plus tabs for ‘getting started’ and ‘going further.’  The U.S. cost per copy is $9.99 at the bookstore. A thirteen issue subscription can be purchased online for £67.50 (pounds), a savings but still a big investment.
The story is the same for the other magazines I researched. Family History Monthly is $10.99 at the store and a U.S. subscription is £65.00 per year. You can sign up for a free email newsletter at their website, www.familyhistorymonthly.com where you will find tabs for: in this issue, getting started, 100 top tips, Q & A, back issues and surnames.  This magazine bills itself as a family and social history publication.

I finished my search with the most expensive, Your Family History at $15.99. Its subscription price is £60.00 for twelve issues. You can scope out its offerings online at www.your-familyhistory.com. The current issue is only #19. I am not sure if that is meaningful or not.

Several issues on the newsstand now had CDs attached. Generally, they seemed to take an area of the country, such as South Yorkshire, and have parish records from one place, census for one year from another town, and cemetery monument inscriptions from yet another. Certainly, this is an added bonus, but the data rather hit or miss.

Lastly, for comparison, Family Tree Maker (U.S.), Internet Genealogist, and Family Chronicle (Canada) all sell at a bookshop for about $7.00.

Funeral Card Friday - A Cautionary Tale

My family’s prized Victorian memorial card is daintily embossed and edged in black. It probably was not printed at the time of the funeral, however, because the year of the death is wrong. Civil records of Swaffham, Norfolk, England show that Elizabeth Brett died at age 96 years on 24 November 1866, not 1867. The village is small, and no other person of this name and age died in 1867.

Elizabeth Rich married William Brett on 4 Nov 1794. Looking for a birth about 1770 as her age at death suggests, I found a baptism for Elizabeth Rich on 12 Dec 1773. Of course she may not have baptized as an infant, but this christening means her death age may only have been 94 years. However in the 1841 British Census her age is 69 years; in 1851, it’s 78 years and in 1861, it’s 89 years – all indicating a birth in 1772 or 1773. The memorial card is probably wrong on this point too.

There are at least one or two more discrepancies. After seventeen years researching this family, I found only eleven children of William and Elizabeth baptized in the parish church. The births began two years after marriage and continued at regular intervals of 1-3 years until 1818 when until Elizabeth was in her mid-forties. I have found 39 grandchildren with only two children’s offspring unknown at this point.

Perhaps a descendant had the money and respect to print the card and distribute it to family members a few years after the fact, or “1867” is simply a typo.

All challenges aside, I’m happy to have this card because it set guidelines and suggested areas of research. The name of the Norfolk town had come down in oral history, but the only other written reference was in a family bible where it was misspelled, but may suggest the proper Norfolk dialect pronunciation.

The moral to this tale is that a funeral/memorial card is a secondary source so verify everything, even the death date.

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.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Two Family Tree Magazines

I wanted to recommend a magazine article about English research, and in the process, I found an interesting coincidence. There are two Family Tree Magazines.

Family Tree Magazine (U.S.) is published seven times per year by F + W Media, Cincinnati, Ohio. I would be lost without this publication. There are interesting articles about all aspects of research, technologies and websites. They are doing a series about the genealogy resources available in major American cities. The format is colorful and modern.
In the issue dated November 2011 is an article, “Plain English”, with all the basics of English genealogy plus a history timeline; map of English county boundaries in 1870; and lists of websites, books and organizations.

Their website, www.familytreemagazine.com, has free forms among its many offerings.  I cannot say enough good things about this magazine!  However, I will mention that with a subscription also comes a weekly enewsletter and yes, some ads for the company’s other offerings (books and webinars) plus other ads for genealogical products and tours. I’ve been with them so long, I have forgotten whether I ‘subscribed’ to the email or not, but the editorial content is worth any annoyance.
When the November issue arrived, I decided to see if I could find it at a local newsstand before recommending it to you so off I went to Barnes and Noble. Family Tree Magazine was there, but I was in for a shock – most of the genealogy magazines they stocked were from the UK. They were not inexpensive, but they were full of fascinating, yet unfamiliar content.   

Family Tree Magazine (U.K.) dubbed the “world’s bestselling British genealogical publication,” was a surprise find. It is published thirteen times per year by abm publishing, ltd. in Lincolnshire.  Their website is www.family-tree.co.uk. Besides general information about subscriptions and newsstands in the UK, there is a family names section, a list of family blogs, a bookshop and forum. There is an index for all the magazine’s issues for its 25 year history.  
Look for more on the other UK genealogical magazines in other posts.

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.)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Finding James BRETT

When a version of my first post, James BRETT Died at Andersonville, was published in the Norfolk Ancestor, I received several compliments on the vast amount of research that I must have done. As one should, I smiled and emailed my thanks. In reality, I was pretty lucky with James BRETT, and the search was fairly easy and educational.

James’ basic information was found in very traditional ways. The births/baptisms of his family members and himself were found in 1995 on microfilm from the LDS Family History Library. The parish records of St. Peter’s and Paul’s Church, Swaffham, Norfolk, are now available at www.familysearch.org. Ancestry.com was the source for immigration records (New York Passenger Lists 1820-1957) and the U.S. Censuses for 1860, 1870, 1880, and 1900.

I found James’ interesting Civil War history on 24 Jan 2008 while Googling. He appeared at www.itd.nps.gov/cwss/prisoners.htm, the National Park Service site for Civil War Soldiers and Sailors. It provided very basic facts unknown to me at the time. He was in the Civil War, in Company K of the 88 Illinois Infantry, and died 24 July 1864 at Andersonville. There was his capture date and place, as well – 20 Sep 1863 at Chickamauga, GA. What a fabulous find! It is hard to find so much in one record.

On the same day, I found his state record at the excellent site of the Illinois Secretary of State, www.ilsos.gov/genealogy/CivilWarController. There were his personal characteristics; height, complexion, hair and eye color followed by his service record. Now I knew the date he enlisted in the 88th and the day they mustered, all in Chicago. A history of this state’s involvement in the war was found at http://www.illinoiscivilwar.org/.

The Civil War had never been fascinating to me before James entered my life so I had to check whether Andersonville was the infamous prison. That was easily done a few days later at another part of the National Park Service site www.nps.gov/seac/histback.htm. It was probably worse than I remembered from high school history. Next I read Chapter 7, Civil War Prisons: a Study of War Psychology, by William Best Hesseltine, borrowed from the local library. This book was written in 1930 and reprinted in 1998. More general information, especially about enlistment procedures, was found at http://www.civilwarhome.com/. 

I requested the ‘small’, less expensive pension records from NARA and found James' marriage to Marie; the birth of his child, Henrietta; and Marie’s remarriage to James Cloke. Marie and her lawyer did not mince words on her application – the cause of James’ death was ‘starvation by the rebels.’

Friday, April 8, 2011

James BRETT died at Andersonville

Right now we are commemorating the beginning of the Civil War. Little did I know that I would find a soldier with a fascinating story in my family tree. I post the details here in my great, great uncle's memory.

When James BRETT was fourteen-years-old, he came to the United States. When he was twenty-four years old, he died at the Confederate Prison Camp at Andersonville, Georgia. The young man, born in Swaffham, Norfolk, UK, had come a long way to lose his life at a tender age at an infamous site in the Civil War.

James BRETT was born 27 August 1839 to Thomas BRETT and Martha HAYLETT, the youngest of seven children. After his mother died in 1850, James BRETT came to the U.S. arriving at the port of New York on 27 July 1854 with his father, two sisters, his brother and other family members. They joined another sister and her family in Niagara County, New York.  While the three daughters stayed near the famous Falls, the 1860 U.S. census shows that Thomas and his two sons moved to Illinois where they farmed.  James’ brother, Thomas Haylett BRETT married his wife, Mary; and had a son, George H. in Ashkum, Iroquois County, Illinois.  There James BRETT married Marie Antoinette AYRS 3 November 1860, and they had a daughter, Henrietta, born 30 August 1861. 

James joined the 88th Illinois Infantry in the late summer of 1862.  At that time, he was five feet four inches tall with fair skin, light hair and blue eyes.  As a private, his pay would have been about $13.00 per month.  Advanced pay and bonuses enticed people like him to enlist.

On September 4, 1862, the 88th Illinois was ordered to go to Louisville, Kentucky where they organized themselves with similar units from nearby states.  In October, the regiment saw battle in Kentucky and over the New Year holiday, it was fighting in Tennessee.  In September 1863, it was in Georgia and joined the Chickamauga campaign where James BRETT was taken prisoner on 20 September 1863, the second day of the Battle of Chickamauga, the last major Confederate victory.

The Civil War prison at Andersonville did not open until February 1864 so BRETT was held somewhere else before then.  Most Confederate prison camps were near the Confederate capitol, Richmond, Virginia, a location that was becoming less secure as union troops pressed south. In the early months, 400 prisoners a day were sent to Andersonville by train. A stockade fence enclosed about 16.5 acres, thought by the commanding officer to be enough room for 10,000 men.  By June, there were about 20,000 prisoners there, and it was decided to enlarge the space by 10 acres.  Over 33,000 prisoners were held in the bigger 26.5 acre prison camp by August, but James did not live to see this scene.  He died of scurvy on 25 July 1864 and was buried in grave number 3940, one of the 13,000 men who died during the fifteen months it operated. 

Overcrowding was not the only issue that made this camp a symbol for the atrocities visited on prisoners of war.  Lack of food and the means to cook and distribute it were contributing factors.  On the very day, James BRETT died, Andersonville’s commanding officer reported to his superiors that he had 29,400 prisoners, guarded by 2650 troops and 500 negroes and laborers and no rations. He was requesting that a ten day supply of food be on hand at all times, but the regular Confederate troops were rationed only one day in advance at that point so there was not going to happen. The camp did not have a central kitchen, although there was a bakery for a short time. The men were divided into smaller units or messes of about 90 men, and they were expected to cook their own food, but wood needed to do that was in short supply as well. As conditions in the South deteriorated, the grain or cornmeal given the inmates came with the husks still on it and is thought to have contributed to deaths from intestinal complaints such as dysentery and diarrhea.     

Northern General Sherman occupied nearby Atlanta, GA in September so the rebel army began moving prisoners from the camp, and there were some signs of better treatment.  Before Christmas, they began to move some men back, and the prisoners numbered about 5000 until the end of the war in April 1865.

After the war, Thomas BRETT moved back to Niagara County, NY and died at the home of one of his daughters, Rachel BARKER, on 11 March 1875.  His second son, Thomas Haylett BRETT lived in Ingham County, MI from at least 1870 onward.  James’ widow, Marie, remarried James CLOKE on Christmas Day, 1870 and had five more children. 

*The ship’s passengers included: Thomas BRETT; his two sons, Thomas Haylett and James; his daughters, Eliza BRETT and Hannah BRETT PARSONS; Hannah’s husband, John PARSONS; Hannah’s children, John H. PARSONS, Ben PARSONS, and Rosetta PARSONS.

(A version of this post was printed in the Norfolk Ancestor,  Volume 7, Part 2, June 2010.)