Genealogy Clues Found in Land Records

November 08, 2021 by Mashal Babak

Genealogy Clues Found in Land Records

Anyone who has ever done genealogy research knows it can be like finding a needle in a haystack. A sometimes-overlooked tool — one that can help find that needle quicker — is a county’s historical land records system.

Amateur and professional genealogists search for clues to unlock family histories and even larger ancestry trends. Counties house invaluable amounts of historical information that can be helpful in these searches. If a researcher, for example, knows the county where her ancestors lived, she can access relevant land records that show the history of those ancestors’ land activity, family details, and even who their neighbors were. For those unsure of a starting location, U.S. census records or city directories can be a big help.

Once they’ve identified a starting location, genealogists head to the office of the appropriate county recorder or clerk. Recording offices index records in a way that creates a complete title chain. This not only matters to genealogists, but also to real estate agents, title agencies, would-be homebuyers, attorneys, and others.

In jurisdictions with digitized land records, searchers can have better luck, quicker. Self-service options like those that exist in Peoria, Illinois, and Lyon County, Nevada, allow individuals to research, review, download, and purchase copies of records online, without having to visit a recorder’s office in person and wait for staff to conduct a manual search. This type of secure public access not only enhances service, but it also saves significant time for clerks and their staff.

Without digital records, information can still be found. Researchers in that case must travel in-person to the appropriate county’s office for access. Some of the older books may be in storage and require county staff to handle them to protect the materials. The good news is a growing number of counties are offering online access to historical land records.

Whether found online or in-person, the following types of typically available documents are important for genealogists:

  • Deeds – The purpose of a deed is to transfer the legal ownership of a property or asset from one person or company to another.
  • Warranty Deeds – A warranty deed guarantees a clear title to the buyer of a real property.
  • Quitclaim Deeds – A quitclaim deed is one of the simplest methods of transferring a real property to a new owner. The property owner can offer this type of deed and transfer the entire interest in the property to the recipient. This type of deed is most often used when transferring property between family members.
  • Plat Maps – A plat map is a diagram used to show how a purchased property is divided within a county, city, or neighborhood. These maps can tie entire neighborhoods, churches, schools, etc., with one’s ancestors and their neighbors.

Any of the documents above may contain that needle in the haystack necessary for research success. Counties that leverage modern technology to enhance access to this information are elevating service not just to genealogists, but to all stakeholders who benefit from easy, efficient, and effective self-service.

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