When you know that an ancestor lived in a particular county, search the land records of that county. Look also at the land records of the parent county from which that county was formed. Check Everton's Handy Book for Genealogists, Ancestry's Red Book, or Bentley's County Courthouse Book to determine the origins of the county in which your ancestor lived.
Local land records are usually kept at the county level by an officer who maybe known as the County Recorder, Recorder of Deeds, Register of Deeds, or County Clerk. In a number of New England states land records are kept at a town level.
Remember that probate records are often preserved in two forms: in their original form, filed in packets, and as recorded copies in will books or ledgers. This is not the case with local land records. Virtually all the records you find are recorded copies of the original deeds that were returned to the individuals holding title to the land. Therefore, signatures of the grantors and witnesses are not original signatures.
Sometimes, the various types of land records, such as deeds, mortgages, and leases, were recorded in separate volumes. In other instances all land records were recorded in a single series of books.
In searching land records you should try to find a grantor deed for every grantee deed and vice versa. In other words, when you find your ancestor conveying a tract of land, you should search for the deed by which he acquired title to that tract. Your search will not always be successful because deeds were sometimes not recorded for years after they were executed, and some were simply never recorded.
When you cannot find a grantee deed, you should examine probate records for a will or an administration that may have transferred title to the land. There may be no deed reflecting the descent of property by will because the will or decree of distribution was considered legal evidence of the transfer. Use land and probate records together. Deeds were sometimes recorded in will books. A proceeding by which land was partitioned among the heirs in an intestate probate proceeding may be filed with land records.
Remember that a thorough search of land probate records may require not only a search of the records of the county in which the land is now located but also of the records of the parent county or counties.
Failure to find the origin of title to land in either land or probate records could indicate that the land was acquired by grant from a colony, a state, or the federal government. If you are working in a public-land state, look for an original land entry map. I your ancestor received the original title to the tract, follow the procedures for obtaining land entry papers from the National Archives.
(Next week: Indexes of Local Land Records).
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