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New England Land, Probate and Tax Records

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Syllabus for class taught by Marilyn Markham, US and Canada Research Consultant, Family History Library, presented at the BYU 2010 Conference on Computerized Family History & Genealogy.

The New England Region overview of land, probate and tax records [edit | edit source]

The New England region contains the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

  • Importance of probate, land, and tax records 
  • Types of records
  • How to find the records
  • Finding aids for boundaries

Probate, land, and tax records[edit | edit source]

  • Probate and land records begin as soon as settlers move into an area
  • Land and tax include most men up to the 1860s
  • These records include women
  • The older the record, the more genealogical information it will likely contain

Probate records [edit | edit source]

  • Records relating to the disposition of an estate after its owner’s death
  • “Probate a will” means to officially prove that the will is genuine
  • Testate means there is a will
  • Intestate means there is no will

History of probate records[edit | edit source]

  • Wills were made beginning with the first permanent settlement
  • Wills designate distribution of land and property
  • Anyone could make a will but was usually of legal age

Types of probate records[edit | edit source]

  • Wills
  • Administrations
  • Letters of Administration or Letters Testamentary
  • Inventories
  • Petitions
  • Final Settlements
  • Distributions
  • Sales
  • Probate packets
  • Other

What do wills contain?[edit | edit source]

  • Name of the deceased
  • Name of executor who is often a spouse, relative, or close friend
  • Approximate date of death
  • Names of witnesses—often relatives or neighbors
  • Names of family members - More family relationships than in other court records
  • May include place of residence or description of land

Limitation of Wills[edit | edit source]

  • Wife’s first name only is given. Not required to name wife. Wife mentioned may not be the mother of the children
  • Not all next of kin are mentioned
  • No exact death date
  • No place of residence of next of kin
  • Date of will is not always near death date. Date of probate is closer to death date
  • Indexed by name of deceased, not heirs

Intestate--non-will probate records[edit | edit source]

  • Administrations. Name of deceased. Name of administrator—often a relative. Later records may give death date.
  • Inventories. Value of estate. Hints about occupation and education. Relatives and friends may buy property.
  • Accounts. Accounting of property and debts
  • Petitions. Appointment of administrator. Contesting wills.
  • Dower Rights. Widow’s rights to husband’s estate
  • Settlements and Distributions. List all those receiving property (Surviving children, grandchildren if their parent is deceased)
  • Guardianships. Names of parents. Death date of parents. Names and ages of children. Guardian appointed for minor child or dependent adult. Natural parent may be appointed guardian. Guardian appointed may not be surviving parent

Finding probate records in the Family History Catalog[edit | edit source]

Place Search:

  • By town - Rhode Island
  • By probate district - Connecticut, Vermont
  • By county - Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire

Land Records[edit | edit source]

  • Majority of adult males can be found in them
  • Exist from beginning of settlement
  • Contain clues: Where and when a person lived in the area. When he moved into or out of the area (Sometimes previous and subsequent residences). Wife’s name listed when property was sold. Property distributed through deeds instead of wills. (Relationships sometimes given or inferred.) May show: Whether he served in the military; Names of spouse, heirs, other relatives, and neighbors.
  • Births, marriages, and deaths may be listed
  • Land was equal to wealth
  • Assured a person’s right to the property
  • Marriage records assured a wife’s right to property or dower
  • Probate records assured land was given according to person’s wishes rather than law
  • Court records show disputes over land

Types of land records[edit | edit source]

  • Government (Crown) to Person/Proprietors—issued by town charters and were usually six miles square. Colony lands; Bounty lands for military service; State land (most given out by 1776).
  • Person to Person: Proprietor’s records—early to the 1800s; Deeds—early to present

Military bounty land[edit | edit source]


  • Did not give lands for military service, but gave to those whose property was destroyed. Towns destroyed by British were: Danbury, East Haven, Fairfield, Greenwich, Groton, New Haven, New London, Norwalk (from Federal Land Series, FHL book 973 R23s)
  • Records usually found in town deed books
  • Ohio Bounty Lands: Connecticut Western Reserve, opened 1786; Firelands, opened 1792; Records in Connecticut town deeds

Massachusetts and Maine

  • Bounty lands were in Maine, mostly in Penobscot and Washington Counties
  • Revolutionary War Veteran’s Land Records. On 12 FHL films, 10249–10260
  • Names of Soldiers of the American Revolution, Who Applied for State Bounty, by Charles House (FHL book 974.1 M2n)

No Bounty Lands

  • New Hampshire
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

State lands[edit | edit source]

Connecticut[edit | edit source]
  • Most lands distributed to proprietors before Revolutionary War
  • Remaining land distributed by towns
  • Have to know the name of the town
  • No statewide index
Maine[edit | edit source]
  • Land was owned and controlled by Massachusetts until 1819
  • 1820–1853—Massachusetts had right to dispense half of remaining state land
  • 1853—Maine purchased remaining land rights from Massachusetts
  • Check Maine county land records. York County for earliest deeds
  • Check Massachusetts state land records
Massachusetts[edit | edit source]
  • Most state lands distributed before Revolution
  • Remaining lands distributed by towns
  • Districts within counties recorded land deeds—Berkshire, Bristol, Essex, Middlesex, Worcester
  • Check town and county records
New Hampshire[edit | edit source]
  • Few state lands after Revolution
  • After Revolution, land disbursed by county. Check county and town land records
Rhode Island[edit | edit source]
  • Boundary with Massachusetts changed frequently
  • Earliest records called land evidences
  • General Assembly sold land to Proprietors
  • Check town land records
Vermont[edit | edit source]
  • Before 1777, land disbursed by New York and New Hampshire
  • After 1777 towns granted land. Check town land records

Land record indexes[edit | edit source]

  • Land records are almost all indexed
  • Types of indexes. Grantor=seller; Grantee=buyer; Sometimes only alphabetical by first letter of surname, then by date

Finding land records in the FamilySearch Catalog[edit | edit source]

By county[edit | edit source]
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
By town[edit | edit source]
  • Connecticut
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
Other[edit | edit source]
  • Town—Deeds and proprietors’ records
  • County—Deeds and proprietors’ records
  • State—proprietors’ records

Metes and bounds [edit | edit source]

  • Used exclusively before Land Act of 1785
  • Boundary lines and limits of a piece of land. Measurements and markers
  • Defined by natural or artificial boundaries such as trees, roads, rivers, etc. Used a series of straight lines to measure from point to point
  • Directions recorded on a compass—North, South, East, and West
  • Distances measured by various units such as chains, rods, poles, perches, etc.

Internet software for Platting Deeds in Metes and Bounds (free)

Vital records in deeds[edit | edit source]

  • Birth, marriage, and death information
  • Sometimes have family groups with marriage information for parents and births of children. May give death dates
  • Does not mean family were all born or married in that town or county
  • Check when land was first bought or sold in the town to determine who was born there

Tax records[edit | edit source]

  • Can be used in place of missing census and land records
  • More valuable over several years
  • Vary in content but may include: Name; Residence; Description of real estate and personal property; Number of adult males, school children, and animals; Number of acres of land
  • Indicate when a man: Reached the age of adulthood; Poll=person free to vote and over age 21; Moved into and out of an area; Died (wife is named instead)
  • Indicate when a woman: Became a widow; Remarried

Finding tax records in the FamilySearch Catalog[edit | edit source]

  • Place Search under the name of the town: Topic; Taxation; Town records

Other record types in New England[edit | edit source]

  • Vital records
  • Town records
  • Church records
  • Collections
  • Genealogical Dictionaries
  • Census—state and federal
  • Cemetery records
  • Town histories
  • Military records
  • Periodicals
  • Passenger lists
  • Naturalizations

Jurisdictions in New England [edit | edit source]

  • Connecticut: Vital-town; Probate-district; Land-town
  • Maine: Vital-town; Probate-county; Land-county
  • Massachusetts: Vital-town; Probate-county; Land-county
  • New Hampshire: Vital-town; Probate-county; Land-county
  • Rhode Island: Vital-town; Probate-town; Land-town
  • Vermont: Vital-town; Probate-district; Land-town

Finding New England places[edit | edit source]

Boundary Changes in New England[edit | edit source]

States and county borders changed. To determine boundary changes see:

  • Handybook for Genealogists (FHL book 973 D27e)
  • The Red Book (FHL book 973 D27rb)
  • Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses 1790–1920 (FHL book 973 X2th)
  • Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research (FHL book 974 D27g 1999)
  • Animap (On Family History Library computers under Databases)
  • Histories of states, counties, and town

Internet[edit | edit source]

Societies, archives and libraries[edit | edit source]

Summary[edit | edit source]

  • Probate records are the best source for showing relationships
  • Land records show land ownership and movement of residents
  • Tax records show residence and are a good substitute for other records
  • All may contain valuable clues on ancestors

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

Greenwood, Val. D. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. 3rd ed. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing, 2000. (FHL book 973 D27g)

Hone, E. Wade. Land and Property Research. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, 1997. (FHL book 973 R27h)

Melnyk, Marcia D. Genealogist’s Handbook for New England, Boston: Massachusetts: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1999. (FHL book 974 D27g 1999)

Rapaport, Diane. New England Court Records: A Research Guide for Genealogists and Historians. Burlington, Mass.: Quill Pen Press, 2006. (FHL book 974 P27r)

Szucs, Loretta D. and Sandra H. Luebking. The Source. 3rd ed. Salt Lake City, Utah, Ancestry, 2006. (FHL book 973 D27ts 2006)