12 March 2010


     My eyes glaze and my mind wanders when I am reading a deed, especially those long ones from the 1880's with property descriptions as big as the land itself. But with the help of a strong cup of coffee to keep oneself awake through the metes and bounds and duly's and hereby's, we can discover nuggets of genealogical treasures in deeds and property records.
     I have seen deeds that contain mini-family histories amid the land descriptions. In one such deed from 1900, a family tale was buried in the middle of a four page land description. The deed recounted how the land was purchased by an uncle and nephew-in-law, who each built a house on the land through a private family agreement. The uncle and nephew-in-law died within a short time of each other; the uncle with no children, but the nephew-in-law with eleven. The deed recounts the rights of the heirs, and is signed by them, so it is a valuable document in that sense.
      But the big genealogical discovery is in the part of the deed that recounts an agreement between the uncle and his nephew:
      "Daniel Kelly died and his interest became vested in Kearn Bowe his nephew by virtue of an agreement between them that Kearn Bowe should care for him in his last illness and give him a decent burial."
     Not only did this description introduce a new ancestor to the family, Kearn Bowe, it also provides a glimpse into the lives and relationships of the family members.
     For me, a story about a nephew caring for an uncle and their special relationship is what family history research is all about! Who would think to find such a story in a dry, old deed?
     The other day a woman in one of my classes showed me an deed from 1869 that contained all sorts of genealogical clues regarding wills and heirs. It even recounted the book number and location of a will and other deeds.
     In researching some Irish deeds and property records, I have come across another valuable genealogical gem: "measuring lives."  Under British property law, the time period of certain land transfers were measured by "lives" of (usually) three people. These deeds and records often described the "lives" in some manner, often in terms of a family relationship. Family historian Darryl Scarff shared with me an example from an 1819 County Kilkenny deed:
     "to hold same with all apput's therto belonging unto the said Jas. Scharf, his Heirs and afsigns, for and during the natural life or lives of the said Wm. Tyndall, John Tyndall, eldest son & Wm. Tyndall, youngest son, of said Wm., the lessor and survivor of them..."
So, as you see, this record not only states the names of  William Tyndall's sons, it gives the birth order as well! I have seen many other examples in Irish deeds and property records of the "lives" described in this way. After all, familial relationship was the best way to describe a person at the time.
     In the Wandesforde Estate papers, I read letters addressed to agents of the lord, directing them to determine if the people listed as measuring lives in some of the conveyances were still living. Certain lands could be reclaimed and sold if all had died. See my posting on searching estate records for other discoveries that can made in such collections.
     When researching Irish land and deed records, a family historian should be aware of this common law device and should search for conveyances in which the ancestor was the grantor as well as the grantee, as family members could be named as "measuring lives" in conveyances to third parties.
     While I will treat the methodology of property research in a future post, I will post below links to the Registry of Deeds Index Project and to the Registry of Deeds for Irealnd for those who might want to start their digging into Irish deeds. The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) has estate and land records in Belfast. Don't forget to search the Family History Library to determine if the FHL has films of records or indices for your area of interest.