Advanced Research Tools: Land Records
When working to solve brick walls in my own family tree, I have often come to find that if my ancestors left behind nothing else, they made a point to leave records of their land. Therefore, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to immerse myself in "Advanced Research Tools: Land Records" at the 2016 Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. Coordinated by instructors Richard Sayre and Pamela Boyer Sayre, with additional instruction provided by Judy G. Russell and Angela Packer McGhie, this five-day course was a stellar educational experience.
As a long-time lover of land records interested in delving deeper, I was particularly interested in learning more about state land states as well as the fine points of military bounty land warrants and homestead applications. With sessions ranging from the Federal Land Division and State Land States to Private Land Claims, Land Entry Papers, Land Ownership Maps, Deed Platting, and, yes, Homesteads and Military Bounty Lands, not to mention several others, this course more than delivered. A look at "the law of the land" with Judy G. Russell provided an excellent overview of the different land records and legal terminology we would encounter throughout the week, and I came away with new inspiration for my own research as well as a wealth of information about available resources both online and off.
One of the most unexpectedly rewarding sessions for me was an introduction to tract books by Angela Packer McGhie. Within a tract book can be found information about each section of land in the public domain, including the names of those who either purchased or claimed land, the dates of their transactions, and even, often the case for homesteads, information about claims that were canceled before patent. As a (hopeful) eventual BCG candidate, I am drawn to lesser-known resources such as these that offer a more complete look at an ancestor's life, and using the information gleaned from this session, within a matter of minutes I was able to locate a digitized tract book listing an ancestor's relinquished homestead. A later session with Richard Sayre answered my questions about obtaining this file, and in his discussion of homesteads, he drove home the point, "Reasonably exhaustive research in the public land states would include an examination of canceled claims."
What was also especially helpful to me was hands-on experience with DeedMapper in a computer lab session at the Family History Library. If you've ever wondered how to make sense of a state-land description involving rocks and trees as landmarks and measurements in poles, the deed platting capabilities of this software could be of great value. The opportunity to become acquainted with other mapping resources, including HistoryGeo, one of my personal favorites, was eye opening, as was exploring the capabilities of Google Earth and the ability to place historic maps onto a modern landscape in order to identify the precise location of an ancestor's land. The Sayres made an effort to ensure that their instruction in the lab was easy to follow.
Although individual homework was not assigned in "Advanced Research Tools: Land Records," group project assignments were made on Monday with short presentations following on Friday. In the interim, groups of about six could coordinate the division of labor as they saw fit and meet as frequently or infrequently as they liked in order to solve the assigned land-related research question. This was an effective way to piece together knowledge gained from different sessions throughout the week in order to thoroughly explore a variety of complex problems.
"Land genealogy is equally as important as people genealogy," said Pamela Boyer Sayre in her final session of the week, and after exploring the wide range of land records available and the diverse information contained within them, I wholeheartedly agree. In addition to the overall high-quality educational experience, the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy offers numerous social and networking opportunities as well as the chance to spend time researching at the nearby Family History Library. It is an excellent choice for those who would like to immerse themselves in the study of a particular topic at a genealogical institute, and I look forward to attending again.
Melanie Frick, , holds a Certificate in Genealogical Research from Boston University and has attended the Genealogical Institute on Federal Records and the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. She is the editor of the APG eNews, volunteers as a proofreader of the NGS Magazine, and serves on the board of the NextGen Genealogy Network. She also writes at Homestead Genealogical Research. An Iowa native with deep roots in the Midwest, Melanie lives in Southern California.