Saturday, May 8, 2010

RESEARCH TIP: Land Records

Much of Indiana's land was surveyed using the rectangular survey system--a grid made up of a Township (which is numbered North or South from a fixed point, called the baseline) and a Range (which is numbered East or West from a fixed point, called the principal meridian). The baseline and principal meridian intersected at a point in Orange County (which is in the southern part of the state).

Each Township (not to be confused with a civil township, which was named--for example, Brown Township in Hendricks County) was made up of 36 numbered Sections. The Sections were numbered beginning in the northeast corner of the Township and then snaking left and right until ending in the southeast corner (see diagram, courtesy of Bureau of Land Management website).

A Section was 1 mile square and contained 640 acres. It was divided into quarter sections of 160 acres each. These quarter sections were referenced according to their direction on a compass--Northwest (NW), Northeast (NW), Southwest (SW) and Southeast (SE). The quarter section could also be further divided--for example, a half of it would be 80 acres; a quarter of it would be 40 acres.

When Indiana became a state in 1816, its land could be purchased from the federal government. These tracts of land were then subsquently bought and sold between individuals. The purchases from the federal government were made at General Land Offices (GLOs), with the nearest one to Hendricks County being in Crawfordsville. The Bureau of Land Management's website has a searchable database at which includes the Indiana land sales.

In a description of land, you usually work from right to left, as the description goes from the most specific to the most general.  For example, a piece of land might be described as being

"The NE 1/4 of the SE 1/4 of Section 16 in T16N R1E"

First you would locate on a map where in Hendricks County Township 16 North and Range 1 East intersect. From this grid that is overlaid with the civil townships of the county, you can see that it is an area around Brownsburg, in the northeast part of the county.
Next, you would locate Section 16 within that grid. Find the southeast quarter of that section, and then focus on the northeast quarter of that.

The Hendricks County Recorder (located on the top floor of the Hendricks County Government Center in Danville, pictured) has the land records for 1825 to present. The records are in ledger-size (11 x 17) white books, which are hard to maneuver onto a photocopier. Luckily, at one point they went through and created a set of photocopies from these ledger-size books, at the same time reducing them to legal size (8 1/2 x 14). These legal-sized copies are in red binders whose numbers correspond exactly to their white ledger book counterparts. Also, these reduced pages can be easily detached from the red binders for copying.

Deed books do not have an index; rather, there is a separate set of books, called Grantee/Grantor indexes (see sample pages). A Grantee was the person buying the land; a Grantor was the person selling the land. Each land transaction is therefore listed twice in the Grantee/Grantor indexes--once under the buyer's name and once under the seller's name. These indexes are separated by the letter of the last name but are not alphabetical--entries were made at the time that a deed was recorded, so you may need to browse through all the entries under that letter in order to find the transaction.

Hendricks County's grantee/grantor indexes for 1826 through 1889, and Hendricks County deed books for 1825 through 1886, have been microfilmed.That microfilm is available at the Family History Library, the Indiana State Library and also at the Plainfield library. The County Seat Genealogical Society (now defunct) typed up the grantee/grantor indexes for 1826 through 1853--the Danville library and the Plainfield library have copies of this book, and you can also request a lookup from it in the Lookups section of the Hendricks County GenWeb.

Plat maps are a great visual tool for showing who owned a parcel of land at a particular time. For example, Family Maps of Hendricks County, Indiana by Gregory A. Boyd (part of Arphax Publishing's Family Maps series) shows the location of all the parcels that were purchased through the federal government, and then shows the location of those parcels on a modern road map. J.H. Beers & Co. of Chicago published Atlas of Hendricks County, Indiana in 1878, whichn included plat maps of each town and township (see example, showing part of their plat map for Center Township).

The Archives on the Hendricks County Government website includes digital copies of plat maps from the Hendricks County Assessor's office. These plat maps cover various dates from 1880 through 1940, and include a map of each section, as well as a listing of all the owners and the location and assessed value of their land. See examples of a plat map from 1880.
Unfortunately, deed books are only a transcription of the land transaction, done by a government official--it does not include the actual signatures of the buyer or seller. For that, you would need to get a hold of the original deed, which may have gotten passed down through the family. See example of an original deed from 1865--note how the signatures and the name of the buyer have been precisely cut out of the page (perhaps similar to how mortgages were mutilated or burned once the obligation had been met?).

One reason why genealogists like land records (besides the fact that they can help you locate where your ancestor lived and when exactly they moved into the area) is that they are a good source for finding out about female ancestors when they may otherwise not be named in records. For example, if a man was married when he sold his land, his wife also had to sign on the deed, because it meant she was legally giving up her right to what she would otherwise inherit if her husband died (known as "dower").

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