You Can Understand the Meanings of the Documents: You Cannot Take the Law for Granted!

I am so excited! From 30 April through 5 May 2007, I get to teach land and property records to attendees at the next Research Retreat sponsored by Each day at 3:00 p.m. (11:45 a.m. on 5 May), we’ll concentrate on the ins and outs of property research, including why Bill Dollarhide recommends searching deed records first–before any other category. And I am creating a major, new Checklist of Property Documents, so you won’t lose a minute of time finding the right record to accomplish your research goals.

Do you have these dates open in your busy life?

You really cannot afford to miss this opportunity. Register today while there is still room. Classes are deliberately small, so we can guide you personally, one-on-one. And the cost for this week-long genealogy experience is awesomely inexpensive. Nowhere else can you get so much help for such a reasonable fee!

You will have ample time to examine and search the actual records at the Family History Library. Under the careful eyes of myself, Jimmy Parker, expert on researching Indian and Public Domain lands, and Judith Wight, Irish research expert, you can expect to make major breakthroughs in your American ancestry.

Some of the special research questions I will answer are outlined on my Speaking Schedule–return to my Home Page and select Speaking Schedule from the left-hand menu to read these questions.

Transferring Property Title by Probate, With or Without a Court Process

Wills, administrations, partitions, distributions, and other Probate Records are Documents of Vicarious Title Conveyance. These records transfer title from the deceased owner to heirs or claimants, often regardless of place of death, residence at time of death, or location of the property conveyed. The circumstances vary from state to state depending upon the Law. And the records assume you know the Law and how it operates in each place.

Some legalities that underlie these documents:

  1. A married woman’s name never precedes that of her husband in a property document. If her name appears first, she is a widow.
  2. A married woman, in many jurisdictions, could not make a will without her husband’s permission–until changes in the laws beginning in the mid-1960’s. Her will disposed of personal property only, unless there was a prenuptial agreement or a marriage contract.
  3. A married woman, with a marriage contract providing for her upkeep and maintenance after the death of her husband , does not need to be named in her husband’s will. So do not conclude that she is dead if he does not name her.
  4. When a man dies with property in counties where he does not reside, no deed conveys the title of that land. Title is transferred by probate process. When you search the deed indexes, there will be no entry for that transfer. So do not conclude that your ancestor had no land, just because there is no deed.
  5. Watch for a distinctive mark or signature on the will. Clerks usually tried to preserve the mark, even on hand copied documents. You can use this evidence to distinguish between two or more persons with the same name.
  6. A posthumous child usually inherits equally with other children, even if not mentioned in the will. And the child, whether girl or boy, often carries the name of the father. Watch for females with male given names. Harriett Alexander Haney was the posthumous daughter of Alexander Haney, not the daughter of a mother with the surname of Alexander. Misinterpretations can occur easily.
  7. Also watch for occupations which follow names and are incorrectly capitalized by the clerk. Or, where no comma has been inserted. James Thomas Taylor is really James Thomas, tailor. When using a printed index, unless it is gigantic, I prefer to review all the names, watching for such misinterpretations.

Law codes have been reprinted in facsimile and many research libraries purchased the set. So you can spend a few entertaining minutes to enlighten yourself. We cannot retrieve the evidence we need without this study.

Add to your Spring and Summer reading list:

Marylynn Salmon. Women and the Law of Property in Early America. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1990. Ms Salmon shows that Massachusetts and Connecticut placed some restrictions on dower rights for women in an effort to speed up the cumbersome process of land transfer. While Virginia and South Carolina enforced the dower law throughout the Colonial period to protect a widows’ right to maintenance without claim on county funds. Recommended, essential reading.

Noel C. Stevenson, “Marital Rights in the Colonial Period,” New England Historical and Genealogical Register (April 1955): 84-91. Answers the important question: Is a wife an heir to her husband? He describes an American accent given to English law almost immediately. Our ancestors came to America to make important changes in their lives and those changes are reflected in the laws they made here.

Jo White Linn, editor. Rowan County Register. Several issues of this outstanding North Carolina periodical, discuss important legal matters of genealogy research. I recommend that you browse a few issues at your local genealogy library. Watch especially for her “Tips” sections.

Alice Hanson Jones. Wealth of a Nation To Be: The American Colonies on the Eve of the Revolution. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980. This is a cliometric approach to history and well worth reading. She examines 919 estate inventories seeking evidence of age at death. She found ages at death for: 69% of New Englanders, 47% for the middle colonies, but only 9% for Southerners using the genealogical sources we all use. Her book is still available in print with a 5 star rating after 27 years. Used copies are available too.

Why Legalities are Important to your Genealogy

The legalities that provide basis for understanding our property records require attention. Many mistakes are made in family history each year, because well-meaning genealogists overlook this important study. Or, they consult incorrect reference works compiled by misinformed genealogists. Watch and study, so your evidence is correct to begin with.

We all seek direct evidence of relationship. And property documents provide that direct evidence because of the LAW that underlies those records. If you want the proof, you must know the LAW!

I will present a whole litany of legalities at the Research Retreat 30 Apr-5 May 2007 sponsored by My Ancestors Found. Why don’t you join us and discover how to read the documents that supply direct evidence of relationship? Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

Tune in later this week for more good stuff about property records. I am compiling the handouts for the Research Retreat now and I have so much good stuff! Check in often to see what I post.

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