Click Here to Receive New Posts
in Your Inbox

This form does not yet contain any fields.

    In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” It is the goal of The Family Curator to inspire, enlighten, and encourage other family curators in their efforts to preserve and share their own family treasures.

    Now Available

    Follow Me

    Entries in land records (2)


    Let It Go? Save or Toss Those Old Family Escrow Papers?

    Photo of paper falling from tall office buildings.

    Yesterday I went into my basement family archive looking for my aunt's wedding album (yes, the basement is temperature controlled). The album wasn't upstairs in the house carefully stored in an archival box. . . it had to be downstairs, somewhere in the Holding Zone. That's what I call the precarious tower of banker's boxes and bins containing all the stuff a genealogist can't throw away when clearing out a relative's estate.

    Our basement storage closets are full of outgrown toys, my yarn stash, seven years worth of tax records and other household leftovers. A bank of metal file cabinets holds haphazard bundles of family letters, photos, and other papers inherited along with the file cabinets. But that's where the storage ends. The middle of the room is filled with boxes of personal items yet to be "processed" -- evaluated, organized, and stored in real archival storage containers.

    Someone dies and the house or apartment needs to cleaned out FAST! You open a drawer and find an assortment of rubber bands, bank receipts, and old letters. There's no time to stop, read the letters, wonder why your destitute uncle has a receipt for a $25,000 bank deposit. So, you shove everything into a box and take it home to sort later. And five years later, you are still looking at that box.

    Too many estates in too few years!

    As I looked through boxes for Auntie's album I discovered an entire box filled with financial papers, which got me thinking: 

    Why am I saving this stuff?

    Truly, what would you do if someone mailed you the 20th century escrow papers for your grandparent's home? It would include pages and pages of legal boilerplate and multiple copies of the same. The actual Title Deed would probably be absent.

    What would a genealogist glean from all that paper:

    • the fact that your grandparents were able to own their home
    • address and location of property
    • your grandparents full legal names and signatures, with addresses
    • purchase price and terms of sale for the property
    • property seller
    • potential notes on property improvements, non-compliance
    • possibly tax rate, insurance costs, hazard liability

    If your family member bought and sold several homes or property parcels, you'll be able to build a picture of their movements, their relative financial situation, and maybe social status as well.

    Working with property records found in a relative's home after they pass away is no different than working with property records on microfilm in the Family History Library. You still have to pull out the useful information, analyze what you find, and use the data to build a profile of your ancestor. All this takes time, which begs another question. Why do it at all? Unlike early land records, these papers are unlikely to shed light on murky kinships. And as for understanding the community: I'll learn more about the area from local histories and maps than poring over modern escrow papers.

    On the other hand, this is just the kind of information that will add color and detail to a biography or sketch. My grandparents never owned a home and moved from house to house exchanging my grandfather's labor as a housepainter for rent. Auntie remembered living in more than two dozen different houses and apartments as a child, so it's not surprising that she bought a home with her teacher's salary as soon as possible. 

    Let It Go?

    But, I'm thinking it might be time to let some of this stuff go. To the shredder. I'll go through the box and extract dates, addresses, sale prices. I might save the cover sheet of sales, or at least scan the paper for a digital file. But I don't need to save all the paper to save the story. Instead, I'll use the space for an archival storage box to hold Auntie's wedding album and diary, there's not much boilerplate in those pages.

    P.S. -- This is not an easy decision. What do you think? Have you been there, done that? Regrets? Is there something I'm missing, a reason I should hang on to every scrap? 

    Photo: Paper Party by Jason Sussberg, Flickr CC 2.0


    Land Records Here We Come! Digging for Ancestors with Michelle Roos Goodrum


    I am so excited about Michelle Roos Goodrum's new book Digging for Ancestors: An In-Depth Guide to Land Records, not just because I know it will be well-written and researched, but because I NEED THIS BOOK.

    I've been working with land records more and more and I've looked for a guide that would explain unfamiliar terms, give tips for transcribing and extracting information, and direct my research time for effective results. I can't wait to "dig into" Michelle's new book; from the topic list in the Table of Contents, it promises to answer a lot of questions:

    Table of Contents


    Quick Start: Top Ten Tips
    Getting Started with Land Records Research
    Using Deed Indexes and Deeds
    Transcribing Documents: Quick Answers to Why and How
    Understanding Extracts and Abstracts
    What are Dower and Dowry?
    Using the BLM in Your Research
    Baffled by Legal Property Descriptions?
    Let's Talk: State Land States
    A Look at Cash Entry Files
    Examining a Homestead File
    Using Land Records to Solve Genealogical Problems
    Cemetery Deeds: They're Land Records, Too
    Three Reasons to Visit the Old Family Home
    Google Earth: See the Past in the Present
    Fun with Land and Property Records
    Appendix A: Resources for Land Records Research
    Appendix B: Township Grid

    As Michelle notes, the contents includes material from her "Timeless Territories" column published at The In-Depth Genealogist, from her blog Turning of Generations, along with new material and resources.

    I have come to know Michelle from our shared interest in caring for family treasures; we both inherited a legacy of family photos, documents, and artifacts and have been working on digitizing and organizing the collections. Congratulations, Michelle, on your latest accomplishment. 

    Digging for Ancestors is available now as a PDF download from the In-Depth Genealogist and for Kindle, Nook, and in Paperback.


    Note: I was provided with a review copy from the publisher. I am an Amazon Affiliate.

    Find us on Google+