Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Keeping Track of Land Transactions

As you probably know, I have been busy collecting and transcribing deeds for my Oakland County, Michigan families.  While I’ve recorded each transaction in my database, it’s hard to visualize what occurred with each parcel, when and between what parties.  Over the last few days I’ve been brainstorming about how I could make it easier to track all the transactions for a particular parcel.  Today, I’ve been working on compiling the transactions in a Word document and thought I’d share with you why and how I did it, as well as the things I found as a result.

While I don’t like having the same data in many places or across several types of media and/or formats, I thought it was important to pull out the land transactions to better analyze them together.  So I created a Word document for each of the two main families I am working on.  Within that document are tables for each parcel of land.


I used the following columns:

  • Date (the date the transaction took place)
  • Party 1 (I prefer to have the relative in this column for easy reference)
  • Trans. Type (sold to, purchased from, mortgaged to, financed mortgage to, quit claimed, etc.)
  • Party 2 (the other person or persons involved in the transaction)
  • Price (Trans. Amount might be a better label)
  • Acres
  • Divided? If so, what part? (this is to indicate whether only a particular part of the parcel was transacted and what part)
  • Still In Family? (this is to keep track of whether or not any of the land remained in the family as well as when it left the family’s possession)

The parcel tables are arranged by Township, then Range, then Section so I can easily find a particular parcel.  Each transaction is listed in date order, from oldest to newest.  Most of the transactions followed the typical pattern you would expect; it came into possession and later left their possession.  But by putting these land transactions together in this manner, I was able to see a variety of issues.

For example, there are a few parcels where the only transaction is the sale.  Keep in mind I have started with the first volume of deeds, as well as the federal land grants, so I should have the purchase transaction (or so you would think).  Also note, that as far as I can tell, the land did not enter their possession through inheritance.  In these cases, I created a footnote pointing out that I have no idea how the person came into possession of the land they subsequently sold.  After I entered all the transactions for all of the family land, I took a closer look.  In two cases where the initial possession is unknown, I do actually have an index entry indicating a purchase of some kind with an approximate date.  Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I was unable to located these two deeds.  I went back to the Word document and amended the footnote to include the possible purchase transaction.

Another reason this was helpful was to see how the a larger parcel of land became divided.  Since I record the parcel as that of the original purchase transaction, I subsequently add the sale transactions that took place dividing the land.  See example below.


In this case, Robert originally purchased 80 acres in 1823.  But in 1827 he sold off 40 acres, which I can easily see in this table. I also noted in the “Still in Family?” column that some of the land is still in the family (after this particular transaction took place).  (Note:  I do not have any further transactions for this piece of land; I’m only up through volume 10 with a “whole heck of a lot” of volumes still to go.)

This process also led me to question some things.  For example, Robert S Parks purchased 80 acres of land, described as T3N R10E, Section 26, E 1/2 of SW 1/4.  In another transaction, two days later, he sold 80 acres of land described as T3N R10E, Section 26, E 1/2 of SE 1/4.  After carefully reviewing the deeds again (and then again), I am pretty certain that it was not a transcription or interpretation error.  While it is possible that he bought one parcel of land and sold another, I have no purchase for the second one, so I am left to wonder if it was the same piece of land and that someone recording it made an error.  More research needs to be done to determine if this is a correct theory and if so, which quarter-section is the correct one.

Another set of questionable transactions relates to land my fifth-great-grandfather, Aaron Webster, purchased from the government in 1821, namely T2N R11E, Section 5, SE 1/4.  Just before his death in 1823, he was selling off his land in Troy Township because he decided to build a saw and grist mill in neighboring Pontiac Township.  In May of 1823, before his death, he apparently sold this parcel of land to James Thorington for $2,000.  But, in March 1824, after his death, this SAME piece of land is sold (by the administrators of his estate) AGAIN this time to Nathaniel Millard.  No idea what’s going on with this one!

It took me roughly half the day to record about 50 or so transactions in Word and update my Google map, but I think it was well worth the time as illustrated above.  Additionally, by having these transactions laid out in this particular format, I can see if there are transactions missing, follow up on mortgaged property, and trace any particular piece of land from the time it was sold by the government until any point-in-time.

If you have your own system for tracking land transactions, please share it by leaving a comment.  I’d love to see how others do it.



DianaR said...

Hi Julie ~ I think this looks amazing!! What a great idea. I am a visual person and I can't picture things "in my head" - I need them laid out in front of me like this. Just one question - why did you choose to do this in Word rather than Excel? Of course there really isn't any need to sort, so maybe Excel isn't really necessary.

Anyway - great job!

Janet Iles said...

Julie - Thanks for sharing your method of charting the land transactions. I haven't done anything as detailed as this.

Land transactions are an important part of the genealogical research process and it is great when you can access these records.

Lisa said...

Oh my goodness, Julie, I LOVE this! My Kentucky ancestors had the old "from the oak tree on the edge of the creek 50 poles SW to John Smith's line" type of property description, but a form like this could force me to read those descriptions more closely in order to see if I'm following the same piece of property or not. Brilliant!!
(From The Shy Genealogist, who can't seem to get this comment to post the regular way.)

Julie Cahill Tarr said...


I used tables in Word because it's easier to format. Formatting something like this becomes cumbersome in Excel (for me anyway). Since I was entering them in date order, I didn't need to sort, but you can sort tables in Word if you need to.


Julie Cahill Tarr said...


Gotta love the old oak tree :)

Fortunately, at least for now, I'm working in a federal land state, which certainly makes it a heck of a lot easier to decipher. They get into the crazy descriptions when they start dividing it, but most of the time it refers to "a stake on the north section line" or something like that. Sometimes it refers to a residence or land owned by someone else. Have only seen one "white oak" so far.

Best of luck with your Kentucky folks!

Julie Cahill Tarr said...

You're welcome, Janet.

Ginger Smith said...

Yes Julie I like this too. Thanks so much for sharing.

GrannyPam said...

Thanks for posting your method of keeping track of land transactions. I have been using a spreadsheet, that is my preferred tool for tasks when I might want to sort. I can sort by any column, and it does help me a lot. Here is my in-progress on of Wexford County, Michigan land records for my target families.

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