Elevenses with Lisa Episode 20 Video and Show Notes
Live show air date: August 13, 2020
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history. (Please note: the sound temporarily goes silent at the end when I discuss the cross stitch picture. It is not your computer. See the story below at the end of the show notes.)
How to Find the History of a House
Researching the history of a house takes a special combination of records and we’ll cover them in this case study.
Whether you want to learn the history of your own home, research for a friend, or find out everything you can about your ancestor’s home, this episode is for you.
Home is where the heart is, and each home has a history waiting to be discovered. Watch the video and follow along with these show notes.
My Guest: Kathy Nielsen
Kathy Nielsen is a reference librarian and an educator. She has a masters degree in History and in Library Science. Kathy is currently a popular genealogy speaker on California’s Monterey Peninsula. She incorporates her skills as an historian, a storyteller and a librarian in her search for her family’s history.
Reasons for Researching the History of Houses and Land
Every home where your ancestors lived has a story.
Every home where you lived has a story.
This is where your family lived, loved, laughed, cried, and maybe even died.
These homes left their mark on your family and perhaps on you.
And you and your family left your mark on that house or that land.
Learning about the house and land can give you insights into the daily lives of your ancestors.
What prompted Kathy to research her great grandparents land? “As a child I visited Prunedale and Castroville and the dairy farm of my aunt and uncle frequently. I heard stories of the ranch house down the road…even visited it between renters….played an important role in my mother and aunt’s lives and their story.”
Questions to Ask When Researching Your House
When was the house built?
What is the architectural style of the house?
Who was the architect? The builder?
Who was the original owner?
Who else owned and lived in the house?
How has the house changed over the years?
How does the house fit into the history of the area? Of the time?
Architectural Styles of Houses
Identifying the house style can help you narrow time location and time frame.
A timeline can help you identify the gaps in your knowledge and pinpoint research tasks.
The Prunedale Family Timeline
c1874 Marriage, Helen Georgina Ross and George Kemsley
1891 Trip West
1892 Purchase of Prunedale property
1931 Construction of Highway 101
1931 Death of Great-Grandfather
1941 Death of Great-Grandmother
1967 Death of Grandmother
1960-1980 Accident on Highway 101
1982 Sale of Prunedale property
1986 Division of property into two lots
Click here to download Kathy’s simple yet useful research log for land deeds.
The Prunedale Property History:
Purchased from Hiram C. Tuttle and his wife Rebecca, July 11, 1892
Hiram was an upholsterer and had nine children
Land purchased for $3000 in gold coins
Tuttles originally had 138 acres and they sold 50 acres to the Collins family
Tuttles remained neighbors
The property was part of the original Rancho Bolsa Nueva Y Moro Cojo land grant:
31,00 acre Mexican Land Grant given to Maria Antonia Pico de Castro
Mexican Land Grant extended from Moss Landing to Prunedale and south to Castroville
Finding and Reading House Deeds
The deed that Kathy found described the Metes and Bounds. Learn more about metes and bounds here at the FamilySearch Wiki.
Check the county courthouse website for access information and to see if perhaps they are digitized and available online.
The Prunedale House
The house in Prunedale was a of the Folk House National Style:
Gable-Front-and-Wing Family Home
A shed-roofed porch placed within the L made by the two wings
Small windows in the attic
Common in rural areas
With the development of the railroads…abundant lumber and balloon framing
Kathy used the book Monterey County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary by Donald Thomas Clark. Check www.WorldCat.org, Google Books, or your local library to see if a similar book is available for your county.
Excerpt from 1893: [Carl] Bates grandfather came to Prunedale in 1893 and ‘this place was orchard at that time,’ he says. ‘There was no prominent person to name if after, or any prominent features; so they just called it Prunedale.’
Using Census Records to Research a House
Kathy traced the home through the U.S. Federal Census:
1900 census – no address, but we see the neighbors
1910 census – more neighborhood changes
1920 census – the street name is written in the margin.
1930 census – The family owns their farm and a radio. The street name is written in the margin.
Census research tip: Always look at the page before and after the page of interest.
Record: Voter Registrations
Found at the Monterey County Historical Society:
1900 – John F. Collins
1904 – John F. Collins listed
Record: Telephone Directory
Directories can often be found at the public library or online. Kathy found the 1906 Telephone Directory found at the Monterey Public Library. J F Collins is listed but no address.
Find Photos of the House
Check with your local library reference librarian to see if they have local area photo collections.
Collins family sold the Right of Way, 2 and1/2 acres, to the State of California
Deed of sale Monterey County Recorder’s Office, Salinas
Newspaper Obituary: John F. Collins passed away June 3, 1931
Record: Death Certificate: Helen Collins passed away December 1, 1941. The address is listed: 171 Prunedale Road (Prunedale District.)
The Property was Inherited by Kathy’s Grandmother and Great Uncle
Kathy’s aunt, Helen Lyons, managed the rental property because her grandmother and her brother lived in Tacoma.
In 1950 Helen Lyons married James Lyons. His family had a dairy ranch on Blackie Road. So it was convenient for her to look after the Prunedale Ranch.
Found in the Home During a Return Visit
Many years later upon returning to the house for a visit, Kathy found a book from the Grand Union Tea Company, New York, 1889!
1967: Kathy’s Grandmother Dies
The property then went to Kathy’s aunt, her mother and cousins (the children of her grandmother’s brother, Ray).
They continued to rent out the property until the accident on Highway 101
Find the Property Title
Address listed: 9575 Prunedale Road South, Salinas, CA 93907
Virtually visit locations by searching the addresses you find in Google Earth (free software.) There may also be Street View available. Click and drag the yellow peg man icon in the upper right corner of the screen over to the location on the map. Wait a moment to see if blue “Street View” lines appear. If they do, then Street View is available. Drop the Street View icon on the blue line and you will be able to look at the location from the street level.
Return to the Timeline – 1986: The Property was Divided into two properties: 9575 Prunedale Road South and 9585 Prunedale Road South.
Survey & Tax Rate Area Maps
Check with the County Recorders and Assessors Office. You can also get the history of permits on your own home.
“Facts get recorded. Stories get remembered. So, what’s your home’s story?” Kathy Nielsen
The History that I Discovered About My Old House
From Lisa: This is a cross-stitch I did of an old 1905 home that Bill and I renovated in the 1980s in Tacoma, Washington.
Cross Stitch by Lisa Louise Cooke
To learn more about the house, I went to the public library and asked if they had any resources. They handed me a manilla folder marked “unidentified homes” to go through. In it I found a photo of the house taken soon after it was built!
In the basement of the home was a long wall of very shallow and short bookshelves. We were told by the realtor that it was owned previously by a Col. Andrus and that he had been involved in the Nuremburg trials after World War II. He had taken copious notes in small bound books which he later stored on those shelves in the house.
Now years later, thanks to some quick googling I’ve been able to learn much more. Burton C. Andrus was the Commandant of the Nuremberg Prison which housed the accused during the Nuremberg Trials after World War II. (Source: Wikipedia)
My realtor was taken with the framed cross-stitch, and soon hired me to create them for her to present to her clients as housewarming gifts. I enjoyed creating them for a few years while my children were young.
Free Webinar by Lisa Louise Cooke
How to Use Photo Discoveries, Photo Enhancement and Colorization at MyHeritage by Lisa Louise Cooke. Watch it here on the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel.
Land records are some of the most underutilized, yet most useful, records available in genealogy. Often, they are the only records which state a direct relationship between family members. They can also be used to prove relationships indirectly by studying the land laws in force at the time. Sometimes they can even be used to locate an ancestor’s farm or original house, so that we can walk today where our family walked long ago.
Land records exist in the United States in abundance for most locations. Read on to learn how to find land records and how they can help you scale seemingly impossible brick walls in your genealogy research. Our guest blogger is Jaye Drummond, a researcher for Legacy Tree Genealogists.
The History of Land Records
The search for new land is one of the main themes of American history, so it makes sense that land records would be an important part of researching that history.
The right to own real estate was not universal in most of the countries from which the majority of American immigrants came. And even when it was possible to own land legally, it was often too expensive and thus out of reach for most people.
As a result, the lure of vast expanses of relatively cheap and plentiful land has proved irresistible to millions of immigrants to American shores over the course of the past 400 years.
The land records created throughout those years to document ownership of all that real estate have accumulated in seemingly limitless amounts. Even in the face of catastrophic record loss in some locations, land records are generally plentiful. They usually exist from the date of formation of colonial, state, and county governments, where the records still exist.
Information Contained in Land Records
Due to the paramount importance of land ownership in what would become the United States, land records often are the only records in which you will find your ancestors mentioned in some areas.
And there’s good news! Land records often state relationships or provide other, indirect, evidence of family relationships. This makes them an invaluable resource for genealogists.
Understanding what kinds of land records exist, where to find them, and how to use them is often critical to solving genealogical mysteries.
4 Types of Land Records and How to Use Them
There are four different types of land records that can play a vital role in your family history research. Let’s take a closer look at what they are and how to use them.
1. Land Deeds
The most essential land record is the deed. Deeds document the transfer or sale of title, or ownership, of a piece of land or other property from one party to another.
Deeds usually concern land, or “real” property, but they also often mention moveable or “chattel” property, such as household goods and even enslaved persons.
Example of deed index, courtesy of FamilySearch
They sometimes, but not always, contain explicit, direct statements of relationship between family members. Sometimes this can be a parent-child relationship, but deeds can also include a list of people who are children or heirs of a particular deceased person who owned the land being sold.
Sometimes the language in deeds involving heirs makes it clear that the heirs are children, sometimes not, so some care must be taken not to assume that all heirs are children. Research in other records sets such as probate, census, and church records may make the relationships of the heirs to the deceased land owner clearer.
In the early years of a settlement, and sometimes later, deeds books also often contained other types of transactions, including the sale of enslaved persons and sometimes even wills. These are often records for which no other copies survive. Thus, surviving deed books should always be checked for ancestors and their family members in every jurisdiction in which you do genealogy research.
Also, remember to check published abstracts of deeds if they exist, as witnesses to deeds were not included in most indexes to the original deed books. Witnessing a deed was one of many ways relatives assisted one another, and thus the presence of one of your ancestors as a witness for someone else suggests they had some kind of relationship, which might lead to the discovery of previously unknown ancestors.
Also keep in mind that not all states required the recording of deeds throughout their history, or did not require them to be recorded in a timely fashion.
Pennsylvania is an example of this lackadaisical attitude to record keeping that now seems foreign. When researching land records in Pennsylvania it is important to remember that deeds for an ancestor might have been recorded years, even decades, after the actual transaction took place. Therefore, always remember to check the indexes for deeds and other transactions many years after the person in question died or left the area.
In other states, such as New Jersey, land was sold at the colony and state level for longer than is typical in other areas and thus land records must be sought at the state or colony level up to that time.
In the case of New Jersey, deeds only began to be recorded in the various counties around 1785. Therefore, New Jersey real property research must be done at both the county and state or colonial level.
In the case of colonies and states with massive record loss, such as Virginia, land records recorded on the state level are often the only records that survive for some counties, and thus are critical for success in navigating such “burned” counties.
2. Land Grants and Patents
Land grants and patents issued by the various colonial, state and federal governments are also an important resource, including land lotteries in states like Georgia.
In many states, such as Pennsylvania and North Carolina, the original applications, warrants, surveys, and patents or grants still exist and can be searched at the state archives or online.
While these documents do not often state relationships, they sometimes do. That was the case with one of my ancestors whose father had applied for a land patent in Pennsylvania in 1787. He died before the patent was issued in 1800, and thus it was granted to his son by the same name. However, the land patent spelled out that the original applicant had died and his son was the person actually receiving the patent.
Land patents and grants, as well as deeds in general, can also document the dates in which an ancestor resided or at least owned land in a given location. This can assist the researcher in establishing timelines for ancestors. It can also help when it comes to differentiating between two or more individuals residing in a given area with the same name. Anyone dreading research on their Smith and Jones ancestors might just find the solution they seek in those old, musty deed books!
Other land records that might prove essential in solving genealogy puzzles are mortgages.
In some states like New Jersey, mortgages were recorded locally earlier than deeds and sometimes survive for earlier years than do deeds.
A mortgage is a promise by a borrower to repay a loan using real estate as collateral—in effect deeding title to the real estate to the creditor if the loan is not repaid.
A similar instrument called a deed of trust, or trust deed, performs the same function with the exception that a third-party trustee takes title if the loan is not paid back in full. In the early years, mortgages and trust deeds were usually contracted with private individuals, but as the banking industry grew in the United States over the course of the nineteenth century, they began to be taken out with banks instead of private persons.
The two parties involved in a mortgage are the “mortgagor” and the “mortgagee.” Indexes can often be found for mortgages using those terms.
However, sometimes early mortgages and trust deeds were recorded in the same books as deeds, so keep an eye out for them.
And remember: the mortgagor is the borrower, while the mortgagee is the creditor.
Don’t be put off by their sometimes-confusing terminology. Old mortgages and trust deeds are some of the most underused land records in existence—yet they can sometimes be the key that unlocks the door to that next ancestor. Don’t overlook them!
4. Tax Records
One other land record that could crack the case is land tax records. Everyone who owned land had to pay taxes on it, at least in theory. Sometimes, land tax books include notations about one person inheriting land from another, or more commonly, the change in owner’s name from one year to the next can indicate inheritance of the land. The absence of a deed or will showing the transfer might be explained by checking the land tax books.
“14th Dec. 1786 Received of Mr. James Brooks Six pounds, Eighteen Shillings and four pence in full for the balance of Samuel Wood Estate Land Tax for 1784 & Half tax for 85.” John Rodes L. Ds. Image courtesy of MyHeritage.
The Law of the Land: Primogeniture and Genealogy
In some cases, the inheritance and real estate laws of the time might allow you to make a determination of parentage even without a will or deed stating the suspected relationship.
The legal concept of primogeniture, or inheritance of land by the first-born son, was in force in many parts of the Thirteen Colonies until soon after independence, especially in the southern and middle colonies. Thus, when a land owner died, his first-born son would often inherit all or most of his land if he died intestate, or without a will.
The emergence of one man as the owner of a given piece of land in place of the previous owner, either as the seller, or “grantor,” in a deed or in the land tax records, could indicate that the previous owner died and the land was inherited by his “heir-at-law,” the first-born son. There might not be any record of this transfer, so knowing the “law of the land” can prove to be instrumental in cracking the case.
In these and many other ways, land records can be used to find direct and indirect evidence of family and other types of relationships, often when no other record does—or even survives. It is for this reason that land records research must be part of any reasonably exhaustive genealogical investigation.
Where to Find Land Records
In some areas, land records are the only records that survive which state relationships or can be used to provide indirect evidence of them.
They also are useful in establishing biographical timelines for ancestors, and to learn more about their lives. They can sometimes also be used to identify the location of ancestor’s farms and sometimes even their original homes, so that today’s genealogists can often literally walk in the footsteps of their ancestors. But where are those records now?
It used to be that if you wanted to do genealogy the right way, one of your first stops had to be at the county courthouse where your ancestors lived. This is still a good practice, as many treasures held within the walls of the hundreds of courthouses scattered across this land are not microfilmed, digitized, or abstracted, and likely never will be.
The Recorder of Deeds and the County Clerk are therefore often the genealogist’s best friends. So, planning a trip to the courthouse or archive where land records are held is still a good idea.
Smyth County, VA courthouse records (Image credit: Margaret Linford.)
But many of us live far away from where our ancestors owned land and lived out their lives. How can we access these records if we don’t have the time or budget to travel to the areas in question?
Thankfully, the digital revolution has made researching land records and other types of documents much easier, but often still time consuming and at times overwhelming.
The land records held at the state level for “state land” states (the original thirteen colonies and the states formed from them such as Maine and Kentucky) are usually indexed. They can often be accessed digitally at the website for the state archives, commercial genealogy sites such as Ancestry.com, or can be ordered via correspondence with the archive.
In states that were part of the old Northwest Territory, such as Ohio and Indiana, as well as the other public land states (any state formed under the Constitution that was not carved out of one of the original colonies), grants from the federal government to the first recorded owner of that land can be found at the Government Land Office site created by the Bureau of Land Management. Their website (available here) allows searches for names of individuals who purchased federal land in public land states. You can even view the digital images of the land grants, including the signature of the President of the United States at the time.
Example of a land patent image.
Other types of records associated with federal land, include:
applications for public domain land grants,
Homestead Act applications,
Freedman’s Bureau land records,
and bounty land warrants and applications for veterans.
These are all held at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Many of these records also state relationships and add rich detail about the lives of ancestors. However, most of these records have never been digitized and must be searched in person or requested via the National Archives’ online order service.
Land records at the county or town level are still held at the local county courthouse or archive, if they survive. Many jurisdictions have digitized their land records and made them available online, in many cases for free. This can sometimes include the entire run of a county’s land records, back to the formation of the county. County clerks and recorders will also sometimes do research via correspondence, though most are unable to do so due to time constraints.
Land Records at FamilySearch
Most importantly in the field of land records research from a genealogical perspective is the massive digitization project undertaken by FamilySearch, the website for the genealogical Society of Utah.
Millions of land records from all across the United States, and even some from other countries, are available at their website free of charge—and viewable either from the comfort of your own home or at a Family History Center or the Family History Library itself, depending on the license agreement FamilySearch has with the original repository.
This vast trove of land records is almost completely unindexed by FamilySearch and will thus not appear in results using their “Records” search page. They must instead be searched in the “Catalog” search page. (Editor’s note: learn how to search unindexed records at FamilySearch by reading our article: Browse-Only Databases at FamilySearch are Easy to Use.)
Despite not being indexed by FamilySearch, the digitized microfilms themselves usually have indexes, either in separate volumes or at the beginnings or ends of the digitized individual deed books.
Most of the digitized land records made available by FamilySearch date from 1900 or before, so a trip to the courthouse might still be warranted for most twentieth-century deeds and more recent land records research. If all else fails, don’t forget to ask the recorder or clerk for help if you have a limited research goal, such as one deed copy—you just might be surprised how eager and willing they are to help.
If the land records you need are unavailable online or are held in a remote location, consider hiring a professional genealogist to go to the courthouse in person on your behalf. Legacy Tree Genealogists has a worldwide network of onsite researchers who can obtain nearly any record that still exists in most areas. Learn more here about how we can assist you in the search for your ancestors and the records of their sometimes only tangible piece of the American dream—land!
(Editor’s note: Our links to Legacy Tree Genealogists are affiliate links and we’ll be compensated – at no cost to you – if you use it when you visit their website. This page includes a discount code for full service projects, or scroll to the bottom of the page for information about their 45-minute genealogy consultations. Thank you for helping to keep our articles and the Genealogy Gems Podcast free. )
Indeed, land ownership was more widespread in the Thirteen Colonies and the United States than most any other nation on earth. So the good news is that there’s a good chance that some of your ancestors were land owners. However you access them, land records are absolutely critical for success in genealogy and should be thoroughly examined whenever possible. You’ll be glad you did.
Jaye Drummond is a researcher for Legacy Tree Genealogists, a worldwide genealogy research firm with extensive expertise in breaking through genealogy brick walls. To learn more about Legacy Tree services and its research team, visit their website here.
Homestead land records tell us more about our forebears who settled the western U.S. Learn more with Lisa Louise Cooke at the Land Records and Genealogy Symposium July 14-15, 2017 in Beatrice, Nebraska.
Lisa Louise Cooke will be a featured speaker at the Land Records and Genealogy Symposium in Beatrice, Nebraska on July 14-15, 2017. The 2-day event is co-sponsored by the Homestead National Monument of America, a unit of the National Park Service, and the Beatrice Campus of Southeast Community College.
Homestead land records and our ancestors
Omer Madison Kem, (later, Representative to the United States Congress) in front of his sod house in Nebraska (1886). Click image to view at American Memory (Library of Congress digital archive).
“The Homestead Act of 1862 had a profound affect on the United States and throughout the world,” states the symposium webpage. “Under the provisions of this law, the U.S. government gave away 270 million acres of land to 1.6 million individuals and families for the purposes of settlement and cultivation. Today there may be as many as 93 million descendants of homesteaders.”
Our homesteading ancestors may show up in land patent records and related paperwork. Over five million documents are searchable by name and location at the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office Records website. These databases found at major genealogy websites may also be helpful for finding homestead land records and related paperwork:
Out ancestors’ homestead land records may reveal when they purchased and/or applied for land and where they were living at the time. In many instances, immigrants had to be citizens to purchase land, so you may find information about their naturalization. You’ll often find land records in the same area purchased by relatives, which can help you reconstruct family groups and more confidently identify your family.
Participants in the Land Records and Genealogy Symposium will learn to use records of different kinds–and strategies for researching them–in their genealogical and historical research. Lisa Louise Cooke’s lectures will focus on using powerful online tools to map out your family history and find mention of ancestors that may be buried deep in online resources. Other lectures will also help you chart the stories of your frontier ancestors, many of them immigrants, who purchased land from the government in the Midwest and Western United States.
What: Land Records and Genealogy Symposium, co-sponsored by the Homestead National Monument of America (National Park Service) and the Beatrice Campus of Southeast Community College
When: July 14-15, 2017 (8 am – 4 pm on Friday, with optional dinner presentation; 8:30 am – 3 pm on Saturday)
Where: Southeast Community College, Beatrice, Nebraska
Genealogy Gems Premium website members can learn more about homestead land records in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 33, in an interview with expert Billie Edgington. (Click here to learn more about all the benefits of Premium membership, including access to the full Premium Podcast archive of nearly 150 episodes!)
Click here to see all of Lisa’s upcoming presentations: is there one near you?
U.S. land entry case files are now free to browse at FamilySearch. We give you a link to a free index to those–and MORE new and updated records for Argentina, Australia, England, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Scotland, and other U.S. collections (Crimean War photos, Illinois birth certificates, and more).
Featured: U.S. Land Entry Case Files
Over a quarter million record images have been added to the free FamilySearch database of United States, Cancelled, Relinquished, or Rejected Land Entry Case Files, 1861-1932. This collection gives researchers access to browsable images of case files for those who unsuccessfully applied for homesteads (such as the one shown above; click the image to see its citation), mining claims, and land pre-emptions. Even better–the National Archives website hosts a name index to speed along your search of the browsable records at FamilySearch!
According to a National Archives description of the original collection, “A file may contain the original entry application, correspondence between the officials of the Lincoln Land Office and the GLO in Washington, D.C., receipts for fees paid, public notices, affidavits and witness statements, proof of military service, the entryman’s naturalization records, and documents concerning the cancellation or relinquishment of the entry.”
This collection of Land Entry Case Files includes Kansas land offices at Dodge City and Topeka and Nebraska land offices at Alliance, Broken Bow, Lincoln, North Platte, O’Neill, and Valentine. More records will be forthcoming.
The British Newspaper Archive recently announced it now has a title online for every county in England. (Click here to learn more.) They’ve also updated several London titles and added two new ones, among them the North London News and West London Observer.
Findmypast.com has recently added more than 4.5 million records that can help those searching for ancestors in Wiltshire, in southwest England:
Newspapers.com has added Louisville, Kentucky’s Courier-Journal to its collections of digitized newspapers. Basic subscribers have access to just shy of 100 years’ worth of issues (1830-1922) and Publisher Extra subscribers also may access more recent years (1923-2016).
A new online database of The Michigan Daily brings more than 23,000 issues digitally searchable. This is the student newspaper of the University of Michigan. The newspaper archive spans 125 years: 1890-2014. Click here to search it for free.
Google your way to MORE genealogy records like these
Wish you could find similar records for another time or place? Use Google search strategies to target the record types, places and even a specific range of years. You can even search for digitized photographs on Google! Click here to read more about Googling old records online.
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!