Tuesday, 11 February 2014 05:16

Discussion #4

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This blog entry shall be another foray into the mysteries of land records, or perhaps more correctly, what can be found if you dig deeply enough into them.  Additionally, it will include a somewhat fictionalized account of what may have occurred if your ancestor was contemplating moving to the newly opened Northwest Territory.

Unfortunately with the advent of the Internet, recliner-chair research is more the norm than the rule.  And it keeps getting worse as time goes on.  While any researcher worth his salt knows that researching deeds is one of the areas that should be explored not many are willing to travel down the road less traveled.  Being lazy or unwilling to have it performed by a knowledgeable person prevails.  Generally a researcher will got to the county of their interest and pull any and all deeds that pertain to their ancestor, and if they are smart they will spend time while there to research the deeds of other parties they are interested in.  I do not recall how many times the trip to a court house has been made only to discover many months later that I should have pulled another record I saw.  A lamentable fact, but true.

My fellow German Baptist Brethren friends and I, as do many others, trace their ancestry through or from Pennsylvania.  Fortunately there is an excellent online resource.  The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission has for many years now made available a portion of their collection online.  It is their Land Records that often hold much value when researching.  Only IF one knows how to navigate the process.  This is likely just as confusing to some today as it once was to our ancestors.

The process went as shown in the block below, and in part is courtesy of the above site:

  1. Application: a request for a warrant to have a survey made; usually a slip of paper not bearing the signature of the applicant.  These are not online.
  2. Warrant: a certificate authorizing a survey of a tract of land initiating a title of property and providing the basis for a legal settlement, but not conveying all rights to the property.
  3. Survey: a sketch of the boundaries of a tract of land with an exact determination of the acreage.
  4. Return: a verbal description of the property boundaries similar in fashion which was an internal process of the Surveyor General to the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Land Office.
  5. Patent: the final official deed from the Penn Family or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania conveying clear title and all the rights to the property.

Experience has taught this writer that not always does the person who made the application become the patentee.  I am well aware of this and the reader should keep this in mind as well.  Two that come to mind are Matthias Swartzel (ca. 1739-1820) and John Crull (ca. 1749-????), both of Bedford county, Pennsylvania, and figure prominently in my ongoing "families-of-interest" research.

In the case of John Crull, or as I often refer to him ‘Ole John Crull’, it is only in a neighboring tract's survey that it is learned John originally had an application, or perhaps a warrant though the actuality of it may never be known.  Later this tract becomes vested in Dr. Peter Shoenberger (1782-1854), an industrialist in the iron business with extensive holdings in Morrison's Cove, Pennsylvania.  It appears from evidence that John Crull entered the land in the mid 1770's at the same time as other Brethren of Maryland were moving into the Cove.  It was not warranted till 1828 by Shoenberger with the patent issued the following year.  Who actually owned it in the intervening years is not yet known and only a concerted study of the tax records will likely answer that question.

As for Matthias Swartzel, alias Swartzly, Swartzell, etc., it is clear that he had a warrant in Bedford county, Pennsylvania.  Recorded as “Matthias Swarsill”, the warrant issued in the 1790's for Providence township, same county and state, was eventually patented nearly forty years later in two tracts, one to James James [sic Iams?] and John Hixon.

Sample Warrant Register page [Click for larger image]Sample Warrant Register pageA word to the wise in Pennsylvania, or for that matter anywhere else, it is only by accessing the actual deeds, even as late as a hundred years or more after the warrant that facts become clearer.  While the applicable deeds for either of the latter two men have been collected, it is often in these later deeds that the true facts become apparent.  Time and time again I have found pertinent facts, even at times the name of the previously unknown of wife as well as other interesting data, to be in these much later deeds.  A little extra effort can reap unforeseen dividends.

On the PHMC web site you would access the Warrant Registers and select your county of interest.  Then scroll down to the section that contains the first letter of your ancestor's last name, clicking into each link and scrolling thru each resultant PDF.  A word of caution though.  Just because your ancestor lived in County A, he may have acquired the land while it was County B.  So if you do not locate your ancestor's warrant in County A, look in the parent county's warrant register.  A helpful link with simple pedigrees of Pennsylvania counties is that offered by Pennsylvania Genealogy on the Web.

Locating the warrant register entry solves the first hurdle, i.e. locating the warrant.  Locating this gives the user access to the other records that are available, the survey and the patent — Steps 3 and 5 above.  On the line mentioning an ancestors warrant the applicable columns for exploring is those headed by “Date of Return”, “Name of Patentee” and “Where Recorded”.  In the main there are two record groups which comprise the larger part of the patent books, Series P and Series H.  The former covers 1781 to 1809, and the latter 1809 to 1957.  The first series covers four volumes and the second five volumes with each volume covering a date range.  For your ancestor's warrant you also want to pay attention to the column heading “Where Recorded” as this date will inform the user as to which Patent Index to view.

Sample Patent Index page [Click for larger image]Sample Patent Index pageThese records can be found via the Patent Indexes of the site.  As stated, the “Where Recorded” column covers the various volumes, and the staff at PHMC have made the series easier to access by linking the books via a series of dated links.  Now as to what the warrant register code is stating.  The first code letter for the “Where Recorded” column tells you the series, the second the volume number, and the final the page of that volume.

Clicking into the appropriate volume permits access to your ancestor's patent, or in case the warrant was sold to a second party, that person's patent via the same style first letter of last name links.  This step can be daunting due to the cramped handwriting of the indices, perhaps limiting access to the linked PDFs until you find the relevant record.  Perseverance will offer bonuses though.  Oft times it is easier to open the linked file, examine the date of the first and last records, and if not the correct page, and move on.

Having located the warrant and patent, now the survey is the desired document.  Notice that I reversed the process as described in the block above: warrant, survey, patent.  Why?  Because it is easier for me — use whichever workflow best suits your style.  On the same page where your ancestor's warrant is to be found in the last column to the right is “Where Survey is Copied”.  This consists of another series of sub-columns containing the Volume Series as a letter, the volume, and the page.  This information is referenced on the PHMC web site as the Copied Survey Books link.  Scroll down to the appropriate series and volume and click into it.  The subsequent landing page encapsulates all the pages of that particular volume.

Sample Survey Book page [Click for larger image]Sample Survey Book pageOne last word of caution.  Often it is only by locating the tax records for your respective county that you will discover land once owned by an ancestor.  Why?  Because through my travels I have found land by looking at these taxes to discover that no warrant, survey or patent exists.  But, at least in Pennsylvania, many of the earlier deeds give a hierarchical history of the land.  Often it will mention that John Smith warranted the land, his son Jacob Smith owned it, and that it was patented by Henry Jones.  The dates are also usually mentioned along with perhaps the deed book in which it was recorded.

So, though it is extremely difficult at times researching in the records in Pennsylvania, the pay off is well worth the effort.  The next time you plan for that once in a lifetime “Trip back East” prepare yourself in advance by whatever method you can.  Locating and retaining the skills of a local professional researcher-for-hire is a viable option.  And I stress the word “local” as often as not those living and working in the county will better know the ins and outs of the local repositories far better than a general for hire genealogist.  You have been forewarned.

One last thing in my discussion about the warrant, survey and patent books of Pennsylvania and this why a local researcher is best.  Often, and I know this applies to Bedford county, Pennsylvania, it is generally not known that at times the county repository, be it the court house or the local historical or genealogical society, may house an intermediary record set.  I am referring to the actual original survey by the surveyor.

After having obtained a warrant, Step 2 above, it was up to someone at the county level to do the actual survey, Step 3.  It is from this that the survey books were created, Step 4.  Having a local to the township surveyor often precluded the errors made in Maryland with their notorious “Resurvey of a Named Tract”.  Generally these resurveys were due to adjoining tracts overlapping each other which seldom happened, at least in Bedford county.

Sample Original Survey [Click for larger image]Sample Patent Index pageSo your ancestor paid a local surveyor, and each township generally had one or two or more, and he presents him with a survey.  It was up to the warrantee to have it filed so that the state could issue a patent.  Whether it was first done at the county level and then forwarded to the state Surveyor General or not is unknown by this writer.  It is possible that the county system may have been bypassed entirely, in which case it would indicate that the patent once returned needed to be filed at the county court house.  Any imaginable scenario likely applies.

Who owns these surveyor's reports, showing the metes and bounds and neighbors, is open for debate.  The norm is that if the county paid for the creation of any record then they own it.  Thus the original is retained by them with copies available as part of the public domain.  However, if the warrantee paid for the survey, then it was their paper after having been duly recorded in some official fashion.

Another scenario, and this applies to several collections I am aware of, the original was retained by the surveyor after having been recorded.  A sample scanned from the Bedford county, Pennsylvania, is presented herein.  Thus these are owned by a private individual.  Whether case law in Pennsylvania applies is not known by this writer.

Having in a simple, though convoluted, measure explained the process of obtaining land from proprietaries, later the Commonwealth, in Pennsylvania.  In another section will be introduced material concerning Ohio.  After a thorough and diligent search of the Internet nothing was found explaining the process above for Ohio.  It is safe to presume that the process was similar.  The records that will be exhibited in that section concern the land entry books of Ohio held by the Ohio Historical Society and the corresponding United States Bureau of Land Management patents.

This completes the discussion regarding the State of Pennsylvania warrant, survey, and patent process.  The link below shall discuss the process in Ohio.

Click HereOhio LandClick Here

As to how all this reflects on research for the on-going foray into the land records of Elder Daniel Miller (1755-1822), the search for the record of his payments to the Cincinnati Land Office was successful.  That was for land purchased from the Federal government by Daniel in present day Adams township, Darke county, Ohio.

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A. Wayne Webb

A long time historian of the German Baptist Brethren church, and its more modern derivative bodies, Mr. Webb has moved on to become a recognized authority in digitally archiving manuscripts, both published works as well as singular documents.  He served as the Editor of Brethren Roots, 2002 to 2008, as published by The Fellowship of Brethren Genealogists.  To that end he has created and maintains a series of Internet web sites devoted to his passion, German Baptist Brethren history.

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