Time Period – learn what legal instruments were used during his or her lifetime.
Gather every record, especially censuses and records showing property ownership and location. You may need to narrow or broaden your search for a specific person or family.
If you can't find land records, deeds, or probate/wills start looking for alternate records. Sometimes courthouses burn or you reach a brick wall, so follow this link to read about alternate records. Burned Courthouses
Maps are the most important tool you can use in finding ancestors and proving family relationships.
Map a timeline.
A timeline puts your ancestor in historical perspective and points you to genealogical records. Take all the information from item #1-4, focus on location and create your time line. Find or create the best format to organize your facts, one easy to understand and use. Remember, you should research families and communities as Cluster families, covers any number of family groups with different surnames related through marriage and living as neighbors and the local community at large, and Whole family genealogy, records including cousins, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews, step-parents or step-children, or even step-grandchildren to find evidence about her. Don’t limit your research to one surname only.
Maps are a visual tool and a helpful aid in locating your ancestor. Historical maps, particularly of colonial America, were often commissioned by the county seat. Plat maps contain family names and boundaries to their property. Geographical maps show the county lines as they changed over time. Maps are an essential part of locating where your ancestor lived and what records may have existed and still remain at the county courthouse. Combine your findings from Cluster research and whole family research. The next step is to map out her family and village and consider what records could be available about her.
1. Maps – Neighborhood Genealogy & Microhistory – place your family history in its historical context
Google Images. For example, 1800 Wythe County, VA. You may find plat maps identifying your ancestor's name and property.
Google Earth is free and safe to download to your computer. It can geographically document our ancestors’ lives. Use it unlock mysteries from unidentified photographs or plot the migration route of your ancestors to homestead locations.
Historical Topographic Maps - Preserving the Past. In 2009, USGS began the release of a new generation of topographic maps in electronic form, and is now complementing them with the release of high-resolution scans of more than 178,000 historical topographic maps of the United States
The Library of Congress has custody of the largest and most comprehensive cartographic collection in the world. The online map collections represents only a small fraction that have been converted to digital form.
Why Use Land Records? By using land records we can learn more about our ancestors and their families:
The prosperity of a family is often indicated by the amount of land, kind of land, and location of land that was owned by a family.
To verify a person lived in a community at a particular time.
To help differentiate families of the same or similar names in a locality.
To help find the first name of a wife or if a man might be married or single.
Approximate dates of marriages.
To track movement of people from one community to another.
To fill in where census information is missing.
You might discover the married names of daughters when land from an estate is sold or location of children when estate properties are sold.
Even after finding a will or probate, check land records. You might find a family avoiding inheritance taxes by selling land for a small payment and love and affection to adult children for the care of an elderly parent. Or you might find the names of the heirs listed in a sale of land under one name and et al after the name.
Tax Records. There are three basic types of direct tax records: Poll or head taxes which were levied upon a person, real property taxes which were levied upon a person's land, and personal property or income tax. These can be recorded separately but are also found combined into one record with various columns representing each property type. Numerous other direct taxes have been levied from time to time for different purposes by different states. You may encounter a gun tax, highway tax, or any other tax type the government saw fit to levy.