I have made over 5,000 copies of papers and have yet to find a deed. Why is that? For the most part people don't understand the value of using deeds in their research. Apparently for some people, they can be scary. Deeds are not boring pieces of paper. If used properly and understood, they carry a lot of weight for the genealogist who is searching for information and clues.
The purchase and sale of land can provide the researcher of a clear picture of their ancestor's lives. The first ownership of land is made either by grant or purchase from a government, proprietor or crown. Second land ownership of land is through the sale of land by a company or individual. Your ancestor may have never experienced first ownership of land. Even so, the records should be checked.
When checking land records in a courthouse or on microfilm (such as at the Family History Library or a Family Search Center), look first at indexes. These come in a variety of forms, but basically you will want to look at the indexes by grantee and grantor. The grantee is the person buying the land and the grantor is the seller. Land indexes can also be found in numerical books. While a good deal can be said about using land records, to further understand metes and bounds, rectangular survey, state-land states, public-domain states, bounty land, as well as terms in deeds, researchers should read one or more excellent books. I would suggest:
The Source, A Guidebook in American Genealogy, ed. Loretto Dennis Szucs & Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, published by Ancestry
Locating Your Roots, Discover Your Ancestor Using Land Records by Patricia Law Hatcher, published by Betterway Books
Courthouse Research for Family Historians by Christine Rose, published by CR Publications
Books such as these can be found in libraries with genealogy collections and can also be purchased from genealogy book sellers, many of which have web pages. Any or all would be a great addition to a genealogist's library.
By tracking ancestors through deeds, you will determine where and when they were living at given times. When a man purchased land, if married, the wife will not be named as a grantee. He may be shown as a single person. However, when he sells the land he will be shown with his wife's name, if he is married. Should he be shown as single as a grantee and with a wife as a grantor, start searching for a marriage in that area.
Quite often I have seen a deed where the grantee is shown living somewhere other than the location of the property. In that case you have a better idea where to look for him in "further back" records. In the case of
state-land states there may be detailed information about the acquisition of the property, taking the sale back to the original grantee. The state-land states consist of the original thirteen colonies plus Maine, Vermont, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, and Hawaii. All the rest are called public-land states.
You may locate a dower release attached to the deed. This is the wife's acknowledgment that she agrees to the sale and terms. She went to the courthouse to have the deed registered and was interviewed separately as to her wishes. The purpose of the dower release was to release her from a lifetime interest in the property, also referred to as the "widow's third." A few years ago I read a letter a man wrote to his father stating that the only way his wife would agree was if he agreed to buy her a new dress!
So you go to the courthouse or crank up a reel of microfilm of deeds and find all the good information. What you are seeing is a copy of the actual deed. That record went to the party or parties involved. Scout through family treasures and you may find an original deed.
Try looking at deeds ... read every bit of them and add the information to your notes and records. You will be surprised at what you will find.