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January 23, 2018

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Researching land requires a critical eye

Stefani Evans

Stefani Evans

Land records often surprise us.

We expect deeds to be filed in the county records in a fairly timely manner. But many factors might prevent a grantee from recording the proof that the land he holds is legally his. The grantee might not have wished to pay the costs associated with recording the deed. The courthouse might be quite a distance and the grantee wanted to wait to record the deed until he had other business to transact. The grantee might have been called to war. Or perhaps the persons who held the original deed just didn't see the point of recording it until it came time to dispose of the land.

When we search for deed records we need to extend our searches well beyond the time frame we think is appropriate, we need to realize that property owners may not be the obvious persons, and we need to read critically. Three examples below illustrate why we must keep an open mind about land records.

The deed held by the Ebenezer Baptist Church near Hamilton, Harris County, Georgia, illustrates why we need to check well beyond reasonable time frames. Seaborn Jones Whatley deeded the "Deacons of the Baptist Church at Ebenezer, viz: A.S. Webster & R.M. Winfree, and their successors in office, A certain tract or parcel of land, being part of lot No. 108 in the 21st District of aforesaid County, whereon the Church building stands, to be by them enjoyed so long as said premises shall be occupied as a place of worship by the Baptist denomination, then to revert and belong to the original lot 108," containing roughly three acres of Whatley's farm.

Whatley signed the deed July 13, 1874, and "everyone" knew Whatley had deeded the land to the church. But no one filed the deed in the Harris County Courthouse on behalf of Ebenezer Baptist Church until Aug. 29, 1923 (Deed Book 4, p. 57), without explanation nearly 50 years after the original transaction took place, and long after Whatley and his three witnesses (heirs of Whatley) had died. The church still occupies its home on the Whatley farm.

Sirena Bush of Platte County, Mo., exemplifies why we need to be flexible when we seek index entries.

Sirena purchased 17 acres for $140 on Nov. 10, 1877. Sirena was a married woman who had given birth to her 11th child just seven months before, in April 1877. Sirena and her husband, James, bought and sold several parcels of land in nearby Buchanan County, Mo., and Atchison County, Kan., but other deeds named her as James's wife when the couple sold land jointly.

This was the sole deed that named only Sirena and was the family's only deed filed in Platte County. Sirena gave birth to her 12th child in April 1880, and Sirena, James, and the couple's 10 youngest children were enumerated on the Platte County property near Edgerton in the 1880 census. Sirena did not record her deed until five years after it was executed, Nov. 27, 1882 (Deed Book 14, pp. 47-48). Platte County records contain no deed whereby Sirena or any of her family members sold her property.

Elizabeth Hines of Laurens County, widow of [unnamed] Revolutionary Soldier, was a winner in the 1827 Georgia land lottery, receiving land lot (LL) 251 in the 6th District of Troup County. On Sept. 22, 1827, Elizabeth Hines deeded to her probable son, Thomas Hines, for "the Love, good will and affection I have and bearith unto" him, 202.5 acres in Troup County, LL 251 in the 6th District originally granted to Elizabeth Hines. Thomas Hines recorded his deed, Oct. 2, 18[2]7 (Deed Book A, p. 43).

The deed book copy erroneously notes that Hines recorded his deed Oct. 2, 1837. Only when the reader examines nearby recorded deeds and their dates does the ten-year mistake in the filing date become apparent.

Read deeds critically, look for them long after you think they should have been recorded, and be flexible when looking for names of the participants.

Stefani Evans is a board-certified genealogist and a volunteer at the Regional Family History Center. She can be reached c/o the Home News, 2275 Corporate Circle, Third Floor, Henderson, NV 89074, or [email protected].

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