The following article was written by my good friend, William Dollarhide. Enjoy…
Dollarhide’s Genealogy Rule No. 14: Always interview brothers and sisters together in the same room. Since they can’t agree on anything about the family tree, it makes for great fun to see who throws the first punch.
The use of deed records in genealogical research can help locate an ancestor and the success rate is very high. There is always a good chance of finding a deed for a person who bought or sold land, and that information may contribute to a genealogist’s understanding of the exact time and place when a person lived in a particular county. Since the use of deeds is nearly a universal resource for genealogists, they provide basic place-finding information. Although the regular deed records may not reveal much more than a name and place of residence for a person, success in using deeds as a place-finder is not rare — it is very common.
Uncommon Deed Records
There are less common occasions when certain special types of deeds will provide detailed genealogical information not available from any other source. Usually, the real genealogical treasures will be in deeds that are related to the disposition of land and property after a person has died. These are the deeds in which it is possible for the heirs of the deceased to be mentioned by name. Although deeds in general are great place-finders for an ancestor, occasionally, you will find a Quit Claim Deed or Deed Release that will cause you to jump for joy!
One of the remarkable sources for genealogical information is in the use of a Quit-Claim Deed. This type of conveyance is used for transferring property when an issue of ownership might not be clear. Essentially, a quit-claim deed says, “…I hereby relinquish (quit) any interest or claim I may have in this property….”
You can sell or relinquish claim to anything through the use of a Quit Claim deed (including the Brooklyn Bridge, if you could find a buyer). When recorded as part of the other deeds in a courthouse, a Quit-Claim deed is a legal document, but all it says is that a person is releasing his interest in a piece of land or property. A Quit-Claim deed does not prove that a person actually owned the property. Nevertheless, in recorded land records, a Quit-Claim deed is often where surprising genealogical information is revealed. These types of conveyances are often suggested by lawyers who are attempting to clear title on a piece of property and to avoid the possibility of a claim against it.
A common use of Quit Claim deeds in the nineteenth century was when a person with property died intestate (without a will) and the probate court needed to establish the legal heirs of the deceased land owner. Quit-Claim deeds might be recorded for any person suspected of having an interest in the property. Here is where you may learn of a grandson, niece, or nephew of a deceased person. Some of the relatives may have filed a Quit-Claim deed relinquishing their interest in the property of the deceased, and these statements will be recorded and filed along with other types of deeds. The names of the affected parties will all be included in the grantee-grantor index, either as a single person, or as one of a group of persons.
Quit Claim vs Deed Release
A similar record to a Quit Claim Deed is called a Deed Release, which is used in about the same way as a Quit-Claim deed. The difference is usually determined by whether a deceased property owner died testate or intestate. It was common for a Deed Release to be filed as part of the testate papers by an heir who was relinquishing his claim to a parcel of property devised to him by the deceased in a will undergoing probate. A probate judge would accept a deed release from one or more of the heirs, if by agreement, the heirs decided to have the property divided differently than the will specified. Each deed release was then recorded the same as a transfer of property in the deed records of the county, and the names of the persons involved were included in the grantee-grantor index.
Both the Quit Claim deeds and the Deed Releases are normally indicated in the “Type of Conveyance” column in the Grantee/Grantor index. Genealogists will find these two special types of deeds particularly interesting because they very often provide you with relationships. From experience, I have learned to spot a potential list of heirs, either from Quit Clams or Deed Releases by the phrase “et al” (in Latin, “and others”). If an entry is for Quit Claim or Deed Release conveyances, and one name is in the Grantee/Grantor Index with “et al” after the name, I go to that deed first – this is how a list of heirs is indexed. A release of claim to property between brothers and sisters, for example, is an uncommon occurrence in land records – but when you find these types of deeds, you will be given new confirmation for the existence of God (because they are often gifts from the blue).
Examples of Quit Claim Deeds
In doing research on my Rumbaugh family of Fulton County, Indiana, the Grantee/Grantor index had a very simple line that read, “William Rumbaugh, et al”. Going to the book and page in the deed transcripts led me to eight (8) Quit-Claim Deeds, all for the same date in 1856, all in the same hand, and all starting with this type of phrase:
“…William Rumbaugh, heir of David Rumbaugh, Deceased, and Susan Holton (formerly Rumbaugh), of this County, does Quit any Claim to the land described as….”
“…Nancy Wiles, intermarried with William Wiles, and an heir of David Rumbaugh, Deceased, and Susan Holton (formerly Rumbaugh), of Union County, Iowa, does Quit any Claim to the land described as….”
. . . and another similar entry for each of the six remaining brothers and sisters…
The use of Quit-Claim deeds, in this case, was a convenient way for the heirs of David Rumbaugh to transfer their share of the inheritance to just one of the brothers. Even though David Rumbaugh’s will had devised the property to each of the heirs equally, most of the siblings had left the area, so the heirs decided to combine the property back again for a home for one family, in this case, William Rumbaugh, the oldest son, who was living on his father’s farm with his own family at the time of David Rumbaugh’s death. Note that each Rumbaugh heir’s quit-claim entry established a name and place of residence. The entries also gave maiden/married names, and even the surname of a remarried widow. This is genealogical evidence at its best – a written proof of names and relationships.
Because of this land-swapping, a complete list of the heirs of David Rumbaugh was found – not in the probate office, and not even in the family Bible. This list of children was taken from the Deed Books of Fulton County, Indiana!
Dollarhide’s Genealogy Rule No. 1: Treat the brothers and sisters of your ancestor as equals…even if some of them were in jail.
After Finding a Deed
With a deed in hand, you always have a property description. That means that a map showing the exact location of that property could be found next. With a map as a guide, locate and mark the spot for the land. Now look for the nearest cemetery on the map. How about the nearest church? Now find the records for that cemetery or church. A map can also give clues about the location of the land in relation to the nearest courthouse. Was the courthouse for an adjoining county closer to the family farm? If the family members could travel more easily to a different courthouse (for a marriage license, perhaps), you may have some more research options. See my archived article, Find a Place – Find an Ancestor for details on the best maps for genealogical research.
Why Not Look at Deeds First?
I used to check land records only after going through every published source for a county. I have discovered that deed records can provide the most important information we need in genealogical research: the place where a person lived. And, in some cases, genealogical treasures may be revealed in special deeds, such as Quit Claims or Deed Releases. Because of this, I now do deed research first, not last.
Here are five reasons why deeds are so valuable to genealogists:
1. Deeds are indexed in cumulative form, sometimes spanning over decades. They may be listed in only a few large volumes, while marriages and other county records may be spread across many, many volumes. Going through the grantee-grantor indexes does not take as long as going through other county records.
2. For early periods, deed indexes act as a list of residents in a county to give you a good review of who lived there, including neighbors you have noted from censuses or tax lists. It is a way of getting a “yes” or “no” answer to the question of the right county where a person lived. It is an excellent way to retrace the trail your ancestor followed. This is based on a ninety percent chance that your ancestor owned land. If a man is not listed in a deed index, the chances are great that he did not live in that county.
3. Deeds sometimes make reference to a “case number” for some civil action regarding property or a probate court action. Probate and civil court case files are excellent sources of genealogical information — but poorly indexed. Therefore, going through the deeds first may present the only clue that other records exist in another part of the courthouse.
4. Deeds often give the name of a man’s wife. Because of the English common law of Dower Rights for a widow, a man’s wife may not have been able to own land in her own name, but she did have veto power over the sale of the land due to her dower rights. For that reason, a wife’s name is often included in a deed transcript.
5. Deeds are more complete and go back further in time than other type of records for genealogists. Land ownership evidence was so important that they were the first records reconstructed after a courthouse fire or other natural disaster.
Finally, to get more information about using deed records in your genealogical pursuits, go to the GenealogyBlog archives for “Dollarhide Columns” and click on any of the following titles: