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.

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.