10 October 2013

Mapping Deeds -- some options for family historians!

Wake County, NC Land Grant Research  
Copyright 2011, James P Jones

Mapping deeds can be a tricky proposition!  You definitely need to have patience and a tolerance for vagueness, ambiguity, surveyor mistakes and more.

My experience is with platting metes and bounds (versus the Federal Township & Range System).  Understanding the context of any land granted to, purchased by or bequeathed to your ancestors has great relevance to our research.  It can help identify heirs, maiden names of spouses, siblings, extended family, close friends, neighbors, and more. It can also help you, when combined with a modern map overlay, identify where your ancestor’s land was so that you may physically visit it.  Additionally, you can use historical map overlays to correlated landmarks mentioned (bodies of water, mills, paths, river crossings, roads, etc) through time as they changed.  

For example, in North Carolina, I might be tracing land that passed out of a family’s hands in the early 1800s as they migrated west and descendants want to walk where their ancestors lived.  I could possibly do a title search through deeds in conjunction with inheritance records to find the current owner and use the counties Geographic Information System (GIS) to determine the modern location of that land.  Or, I might start with a land grant plat, as well as those of a few neighbors (you do need to make sure that you have “anchored” your collection of plats to an immovable object such as a river, county boundary, etc). I then look at historical maps to see what nearby landmarks are identified.  I might then shift to a Gilmer Civil War Map and see how the same landmarks (or new ones) are then identified.  Next I will check county-specific maps including Soil Survey maps (typically early 1900s) to move forward in time and then check other more modern maps as needed to further correlate old route numbers to street names and so on until I can tell with precision where the old land is.

I am only directly familiar with Deedmapper.  I was introduced to this software and its wonderful collection of already platted deeds by a colleague many years ago.  I most recently used it to correlate the land in a land division in the latter 1800s with a land grant from the 1700s.  I platted both descriptions (easily 30 entries each) and found out that they were oriented 180 degrees differently.  When I then rotated the one, it perfectly overlaid the other!  At least I hadn’t imagined that the metes and bounds seemed similar and yet were different. The two surveyors also went different directions.  One went clockwise and the other counterclockwise.

Deedmapper is not the only tool available to those who want to plat land:
·    Plat individual deeds, http://www.genealogytools.net/deeds/

For a bit more of a context for land platting, check out Metes, Bounds & Meanders (Kimberly Powell, About.com).

What is the neatest discovery you made after platting your ancestor’s land?
Are there other platting tools that we genealogists should be aware of?

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