Use of Real Estate Deeds to Establish Family Connections
The first installment of this series discussed how the use of real estate deeds obtained through the Family History Center at the Godfrey Memorial Library can be a way to uncover spousal identity.
In this second installment, the use of real estate deeds to identify other family relationships is discussed.
The use of wills was not overly prevalent during the 19th century, especially in rural areas. Many adults died relatively young and unexpectedly due to the outbreak of a particularly virulent illness. In those intestate situations, the deceased’s land would be divided between his spouse (dower’s right) and any children. Often times, however, some of the land had to be first sold to satisfy an estate’s debts. Typically, the division of land either left small parcels which the heirs would then typically sell or if a division of the land could not be agreed upon, then the heirs sold their interests prior to any division of the land.
For instance, my great-great grandfather, Philip W. Smith, died intestate in 1878 in Sussex County, New Jersey. His ten surviving children sold off the 51 acres inherited to one of their cousins. We find a transaction in 1881 which states that six of the heirs of Philip W. Smith are each selling their one-tenth interest, for a total amount conveyed of six-tenths. This confirms the identity of six of the children and also states which ones were married at that time, along with the name of each spouse. These six lived in or near Sussex County. A seventh heir executed at the same time a separate deed to sell his one-tenth interest because he was stated as living in Illinois at that time, thus providing information on his location. The other three children were still minors in 1881 but each executed a deed later to sell their one-tenth interest upon reaching 21 years of age. This was a very typical pattern and helps to 1) identify living children; 2) identify their locations; and 3) identify the names of spouses. If the heir was a female and married, then the full name of her husband would be stated since women at that time could not own land separate of their spouse.
Similarly, another relative, named Lodewick Smith died intestate in early 1810 in Sussex County. In this case, his widow decided to be the administratrix of his estate. During the proceedings to settle the estate, an 1817 deed reveals that she has remarried since she is identified as “Mary Teeple, formerly Mary Smith….Administratrix of the estate of Lodewick Smith, deceased…” This was further confirmed by an 1812 marriage record between Joseph Teeple and Mary Smith. With a common name such as Smith, this type of confirming record is critical. And similar to the first example discussed, her three children later each sold their one-third interest. In this case, a daughter was married and her husband was fully identified.
The above two examples provide just two examples of how interesting family relationships can be found in deeds.