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FAMILY TIES: Tracing your ancestry
by Dan Burrows

Land Records
     I would like to spend a little time in this article talking about  researching land records in a County Clerk's Office.  These records not only provide an excellent genealogical tool for research, they also provide lawyers with the tools to conduct title searches to property that is being bought or sold by their clients. 

     Attorneys usually hire title searchers to trace the property backwards from the present.   This is the same method we can use to trace the path of ownership of the house we live in (or the house our ancestors lived in). 

     The first step is to find yourself (or your ancestor) in the indexes to deeds in the Clerk's office of the county where the property is located.  Deed indexes are grouped together by year of sale.  You may find a book that covers all deeds recorded from 1975 through 1980.  If the property in question was purchased during those years, you will find the buyers and sellers (called grantees and grantors) listed in this index.  It will lead you to a book of deeds where you will find a copy of the deed.  After reading the deed, you can determine when the seller bought the property and from whom.  This date and these names will lead you to the next index. 

     This process can take you back through many years of ownership of the property, but sometimes you cannot find names in the early indexes.  This could be because the deed was never recorded with the proper county and  was recorded in another county.  The other reason might be that the deed was never recorded at all and the original deed was kept by the buyer and passed on to other family members.   It is important to know the county line changes and whether or not they might affect the place where a deed might be recorded. 

     If you are tracing a deed in the Newburgh area, it would be helpful to know that Newburgh was part of Ulster County prior to 1798 and the deeds prior to that time would most likely be found in Kingston instead of Goshen.  When tracing property ownership in Sullivan County, it would be helpful to know that Sullivan County did not exist at all until 1809.  Prior to that time it was all one township known as Mamakating and was part of Ulster County.  Prior to 1798, Rockland County did not exist and that area was part of Orange County.   If you are researching property in Warwick near the New Jersey border, it often pays to travel to Newton or Patterson to check the Sussex and Passaic County land records. 

     Many times when you get stuck on deed research, it would be beneficial to start checking the mortgage indexes for mortgagors and mortgagees.   If the early deed were not recorded but the property owner borrowed money against the property or used it for collateral. 

     For genealogical purposes, these deeds and mortgages can be a gold mine of information.  They often name the place from where the parties moved from.  For example, the deed might read that John Smith, of Boston, farmer, bought of Samuel Jones of Havestraw, five acres of land formerly owned by the grantor's father, Robert Jones and Sarah, his wife.   Often, the grantor's new residence can be determined if he sells his property and states he is now of New York City.  Multiple marriages can easily be discovered if the property was frequently mortgaged and different wives are named over a period of time. 

    Many times you will find a statement in a deed concerning the wife as they were often asked in private whether or not they freely consented to the sale.  Information about children can be discovered if the property is being disposed of by family members after the death of the owner. 

     Land records in Orange County began in 1703, while those in Ulster County frequently date back to the 1600's.  The indexes become very easy to use once you have tried them a couple of times.  Microfilm copies of the earlier deed and mortgage indexes can be found at the Orange County Genealogical Society.   This is helpful for those who cannot get to the county building during regular business hours.  If one determines that there is a deed or mortgage they would like to see, a trip to the County Clerk's Office will be necessary. 

     The following link will take you to a list of glossary of terms which will be very helpful in researching land records and wills etc.  Many of the terms are self explanatory but this list is worth keeping.

Glossary of Terms

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