Have you ever used U.S. land records? If you said no, you’re not alone. Land records can be difficult to access, overwhelming to search, and hard to read. But land records are one of the most fascinating resources for genealogists, and they often provide clues and establish relationships not found elsewhere. Here’s what I found about one of my ancestors, Mordecai Taylor, who settled his family in southwest Ohio in 1821 on 114¾ acres of land which he purchased through two land sales (the deeds for which can both be found at the county courthouse). Tracking this land has provided some interesting clues about Mordecai and his family.
In 1840, Mordecai was nearing the end of his life. Instead of waiting until his death to give his land to his children, Mordecai deeded his land early for a very unique reason. According to the deed, Mordecai claimed that “the advancements…made [among]…my children have become unequal [because] my sons have used and converted to their own use the portions…given to my daughters…and have become unable…to refund to my said daughters their respective advancements.” Mordecai chose to deed the entirety of his land (all one hundred fourteen and three-quarters acres) to his daughters, Mary (now Cleaver), Ann, Frances, and Gulielma Taylor. Because his sons were, according to his view, misusing their potential inheritance, Mordecai gave his land to his daughters.
The land does not appear in the deeds again until 1853. One of Mordecai’s daughters, Ann, died in 1851, leaving no will and no family. Her undivided one quarter interest in the land was passed to her seven living siblings. In 1853, five of those siblings (along with their spouses) sold their undivided interest in the land to the other two living siblings, Jacob Taylor and Frances Taylor, neither of whom were yet married. As most of Mordecai’s children married prior to the 1850 census, this one record establishes the relationship of his eight children and names most of their spouses.
Two deeds, both executed in 1857, establish the final ownership of this land. In 1857, Mary and her husband and Gulielma and her husband each sold their undivided interest in the 114¾ acres to Jacob Taylor. This left Jacob as owner of five-eighths of the land, with his unmarried sister, Frances, owning three-eighths. The two siblings would continue to maintain the property through the marriage of Jacob in 1869, the death of Frances in 1875, and the death of Jacob in 1885.
These five deeds not only establish the names and spouses of the eight children of Mordecai Taylor but they also give a glimpse of intricate family relationships. (Why did Mordecai cut his sons out of their inheritance?) If you have never taken a peek into the land records of your ancestors, consider taking time to do so. You never know what you might find.
For information on land records in the United States, see the United States Land and Property article in the FamilySearch Research Wiki.