Monday, July 29, 2013

Courthouse Planning - Part 9

While researching the records and repositories of Macon County, Illinois, I found an extremely interesting tidbit. The County Recorder's office maintains a real estate tract index. This is an uncommon, yet useful record set.

In some states, the County Recorder is known as the Register of Deeds. It's the same thing.

What's a Tract Index?

In most counties, you look up transactions for your ancestor's land (or your land) in indexes based on surname. I'll discuss those indexes another time. Suffice it to say that surnames were often read or written incorrectly, so the indexes can be a challenge.

A tract index is an index to all transactions for a place. Once you've identified the property your ancestor owned, all the transactions are indexed in a single book or series of books. It can be a very fast way to move through the deeds and mortgages for the land.

For example, one of my ancestors homesteaded land in Monroe County, Wisconsin, another county with a tract index. This will confuse you if you are new to land records, but hang on for why this matters with a tract index. Here are my notes about his land.

The land description for the original cash entry (Oct 30, 1857) is shown by BLM as:
  The S 1/2 of SW 1/4 of sec 13 T15N R3W
  and the NW 1/4 of NW 1/4 of sec 24 T15 N R3W
  and the NE 1/4 of N/E 1/4 of sec 23 T15N R3W
  total 160 acres
The land description for the homestead entry (1868) is shown by BLM as:
   W 1/2 of NW 1/4 of sec 30 T15N R2W, 66.1 acres.
He said he owned adjoining land:
   SE 1/4 of NE 1/4 of sec 25 T15N R3W
   and S 1/2 of S 1/2  of NE 1/4 of NE 1/4 of sec 25 T15N R3W

Several years ago I drew this out before I visited the county. Here's the scribbled version I ended up with after the visit. The dark lines separate the sections, while the red line separates the township names and the "ranges". The lighter lines separate the four quarter sections within a section. Notice all the legal descriptions talk about the northeast quarter or the southwest quarter, etc.

Let's look at just the yellow area, the land he bought in 1857. He owned land in three different sections of the township, yet it all was adjoining. Regardless of the section numbers, the land was in three different quarter sections. Each and every one of those quarter sections has its own index book(s): the tract index. All the transactions for one quarter section, for all owners and all parcels are indexed in that book.

So let's assume he sold all the yellow-coded land at the same time. There would be only one deed of sale in the deed books, but it would have been entered in the indexes at least five times:
  1. in each of the three tract index books
  2. under his name as the seller (grantor index)
  3. under the name of the buyer (grantee index)
If the buyer had been two men, such as John Jones and James Jones, both names may have been indexed, which would lead to a sixth index entry. Some counties index all parties under a single name, while other counties index them separately.

In this case, using the tract indexes may have been faster or slower when I was researching. With so many different parcels of land, I spent most of one day looking at land records.

Back to Macon County Planning

The reason the tract index is important for Macon County is that my German ancestor's name is very often misspelled. Generally land records are the most reliable for spelling, but if they couldn't understand him, they might have the wrong spelling. I think he owned some land, based on the 1870 census, but I'm not sure. So before heading to the courthouse I want to determine where that land would have been.

I went through a map exercise recently with using landowner maps to validate a newspaper article about this ancestor. So let's take another look at the map showing the area where he lived for the 1870 census and again in 1875 for the newspaper article. If he owned any part of the land in 1870, he had sold it or lost it to a creditor by the time the plat maps were drawn in 1874.

Can you see where the sections and quarter sections are for Forstmeyer's farm? The section numbers are hard to see, but they are 7 on the top and 18 on the bottom. The farm is in the southeast quarter of section 7 and the northeast quarter of section 18. When I review the 1870 census, I see that my ancestor claimed to own land about one third the size of Hostetter, and of course he lived next door, based on the census taker's route. I think that is likely to be the southern part of the tract held by Forstmeyer in 1874.

So I can look in the index books under Forstmeyer, Vossler (my ancestor), Fassler, Fessler, Fossler, Bassler, etc. You see my problem? Or I can look in the tract index for the Northeast quarter (NE 1/4) of section 18 (sec 18) township 16 north (T16N) range 2 east (R2E) of the 3rd Principal Meridian (3 PM) for deeds between 1870 and 1874.

Just to complete my thinking on this land search, let's see a legal description of land in that area. Visiting the general land office records search page for Bureau of Land Management, I can search based on the information I just listed above and see the list of the original land owners in section 18. Picking one, we can see the patent document with the full legal description of the land he purchased. And that's the end of this musing on land records.

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