Bell Anthology - Deeds

The Raymond M. Bell Anthology

Genealogical Data in Deeds
           A deed by which a grantor (seller) transfers to a grantee 
      (buyer) a piece of land may seem an unlikely source for 
      genealogical data, but one never knows. In Pennsylvania 
      the Penns and the Commonwealth granted land to persons 
      who applied. Sometimes the application (on file at the 
      Division of Land Records, Harrisburg) contains historical 
      or genealogical data.
           Upon receipt of the application a warrant was issued, a 
      survey made and finally a patent was granted. One never 
      really owned the land without a patent. There is still 
      some unpatented land in Pennsylvania. In some cases the 
      patents were issued 100 years after the warrant. Pennsylvania
      was not surveyed in advance as in western states, so 
      warrantee maps, such as in the Horn Papers, volume 3, show 
      farms of many odd shapes, often related to geography. 
           It should be possible to take any piece of land in 
      Pennsylvania and trace it back to the patentee by title searching. 
      Sometimes this is difficult:
          (1) The deed may not have been recorded in the courthouse. 
              This was not necessary, as long as the person possessed 
              the deed. The trip to the courthouse was too long, or 
              the process of recording may not have been understood.
          (2) Deeds were taken to be recorded - maybe 100 years later,  
              making them hard to locate. The Washington County Recorder 
              has deeds left for recording and never picked up by the 
          (3) The land may have passed down from parent to child - by 
              will, sometimes for several generations. Or the oldest son 
              may have just taken over the land. No deed was required 
              to transfer land this way. When the land was finally 
              deeded out of the family, there may have been a recital 
              of owners for several generations - enabling the family 
              line to be traced. From a warrantee map it should be 
              possible to determine the present location of the land
      A deed consists of several parts; 
          (1) The name and place of residence of the grantor(s) - 
              if a man was married, he and his wife issued the deed 
              jointly. If the deed was made by the heirs of an
              estate it may show persons living in other counties or 
              states. In all cases, the township stated was as at 
              the date of the deed. Since then new townships may 
              have been formed, making research necessary.
          (2) The name and place of residence of the grantee(s) - 
              if you are lucky your ancestor may have bought the 
              land while living back east, before moving west. This 
              will show you where he came from. This does not often 
          (3) Description of the property as taken from the survey 
              or an earlier deed. The names of earlier owners may 
              be given - sometimes even the patentee. If the survey 
              has a name, it may be a useful clue in your search.
          (4) Names of adjoining owners. This is especially important. 
              One of my ancestors got his warrant in 1763, but he 
              was an adjoinee when his neighbor got his land in 1738. 
              Check the deeds of adjoinees . They may be relatives of 
              your ancestor.
          (5) Names of witnesses. One may be the man who wrote the 
              deed. The others are relatives or close friends. Check 
              their ancestry. If you find where they came from, it 
              may help you.
      Washington County was formed from Westmoreland County in 1781. 
      It included all of southwestern Pennsylvania west of the 
      Monongahela and south of the Ohio. Before 1781 Virginia claimed 
      this area and had organized it as;
          West Augusta 1775; Monongalia, Ohio, and Yohogania Counties 1776.  
      You will find deeds for: 
          West Augusta in Boyd Crumrine's 
          Virgnia Courts in Pennsylvania Ohio County at Wheeling, 
          West Virginia 
          Yohogania County in Deed Book C, Washington County 
          Monongalia County records before 1781 were destroyed by fire in 1796.
      There maybe some deeds at Greensburg, Westmoreland County.
           A special type of land warrant was made by Pennsylvania to persons 
      who thought they were living in Virginia. Virginia granted them 
      certificates 1779-80. These could be exchanged for Pennsylvania 
      warrants. The important fact is that the certificates gave 
      the date of settlement. A Pennsylvania warrant listed back due 
      rent. A man, who got his warrant in 1765, may have had to 
      pay back rent from 1751. Both these types of warrants are 
      important, because they tell when settlements were first made. 
      Of course, the warrantee may not have given correct information.

This article was transcribed by Chris Purple of Bolingbrook, IL in February 1998.

Raymond M. Bell Anthology     Genealogy in Washington Co., PA

Published with permission of Raymond M. Bell.