United States Deeds
A deed is the written legal document transferring ownership of property. Generally county offices have the jurisdiction for the recording of deeds except for Connecticut, Vermont, and Rhode Island, which keep deeds in the town records.
Be aware that deed books contain a variety of records relating to property, not just land. Deed books might contain mortgages, leases, the sale or manumission of slaves, bills of sale, powers of attorney, indentures, adoptions,livestock brands, wills,apprentice papers, tax lists, and other miscellaneous documents.
Value of a land deed
- A deed often took the place of a will. A parent may have sold land to the children or to brothers or sisters. Brothers and sisters may all have signed a deed giving up their claim to property received from their parents.
- Deeds of sale often give the first name of the wife.
- The first deed in a new place may mention the previous location of residence.
- If a person has moved, the deed for their previous property may tell the new location of residence.
- Deeds often give the names of adjacent property owners, who might be family members.
- Land was often given to soldiers or their widows for military service.
Parts of a land deed
- Date of land sale, date of recording, and date of verification
- Names of grantor (seller) and grantee (buyer)
- Granting clause, specifying the interest being transferred and consideration (money)
- Property description (legal land description)
- Recital clause, if present, states how the seller got the land
- Warranty section, stating how the seller will be liable to the buyer in case of later problems
- Execution Section containing acknowledgements, seals, and signatures
- Deed books are copies of the original documents. Older deeds are the clerk's handwriting, or typed; seals and signatures aren't the originals. Newer deeds are Xerox copies.
- The deed might not have been officially recorded until property, especially land, was distributed to parties outside of the immediate family. Therefore, deeds might be found recorded decades after the original owner died.
Finding a Deed
To start your deed search, first determine the county covering the land at the time the deed was made. Then contact that county recorders office.
Most counties have at least some land records online, check the county websites for the recorders office. You might be able to obtain a copy of a county land record by writing to the county recorder, or you may have to the visit the recorders office.
The Family History Library has a large collection of deed records including most counties and towns. To access these records go to the Family History Library catalog Place Search - type in County or Town where the land was at.
Devine, Donn, "Land Records: What You Can Learn, and Some Pitfalls to Avoid," Ancestry, 12:1 (Jan/Feb 1994), 16-18.
Luebking, Sandra Hargreaves. “Land Records,” in Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, eds. The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy. 3rd ed. Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2006.
Mills, Elizabeth Shown. "Analyzing Deeds for Useful Clues," OnBoard 1 (January 1995): 8. Also posted under Skillbuilders on the Board for Certification website.