Thursday, October 17, 2013

It's Always Halloween With Scary Property Records

Every county is a little different, but some are more different than others. Last week was my first time researching in Fulton County, Illinois, which is one of the more different.

Most land records are indexed according to the number of the book and the number of the page where each record was recorded, such as Book 22, page 33. For some reason, Fulton County was not content with this simple, elegant, expandable, and durable system. The county started by giving each record a number of its own regardless of where it had been recorded. For the first few decades this seems to have worked fine. The land records (usually deeds) were entered in numerical order so it is no great trick to find the required record. When indexes were created, sometimes the clerks named the book but they always gave the unique property number.

Those who have worked with property records have already seen the impending train wreck. Later on, especially in the grantor indexes, book numbers were dispensed with. As the 19th century rolled on, for a variety of reasons documents were no longer entered in numerical order. No doubt some were recorded late; some may have been segregated in special books (for instance, Tax Deeds and Quit-Claim Deeds); some were recorded in books with preprinted forms while other books were all handwritten.

The result is an index that gives only the most general idea of where to find any particular deed. I hauled ten different large books off the shelves looking for a particular five-digit-numbered document. Sometimes I found the document, sometimes not. Most of the time the documents in any given book were themselves in numerical order regardless of how many numbers were skipped, but in a few cases I saw books where the occasional deed was out of numerical order. None of the books I saw contained their own indexes.

If you have property-owning research targets in the Spoon River Country, be prepared for a good long physical workout and an incomplete in-out table of deeds at the end of the day. One final touch: the grantor index through 1853 burned.

Of course, today's record custodians bear no responsibility for this malpractice. Those who do are presumably in a very warm place at the present time.




Harold Henderson, "It's Always Halloween With Scary Property Records," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 17 October 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

7 comments:

Geolover said...

Ah, Harold, another test of the researcher's dedication.

The added grunge to the "lump of coal" gift is that Fulton County was home of both the interim Mormon settlement at Nauvoo and the Icarian colony, and was one of the sites where War of 1812 veterans were granted Bounty Land. Thus the land-records problems would frustrate more specialist historical seekers than would seem likely at first glance.

The original bounty land grants and the other original-title land patents can be retrieved at the Bureau of Land Management / General Land Office site. But most of the original grants are not helpful for subsequent ownership histories.

Harold Henderson said...

Thanks, Geo. Actually Hancock County was the Mormon and Icarian site, but both Hancock and Fulton, as well as other counties between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, were in the "Military Tract." The GLO site has a detailed index and images of the patents, but it does not include the land case files themselves, which need to be ordered from NARA.

Geolover said...

Oops, so glad you corrected my mistake. I should certainly have checked facts before hastily going with the brain's first impression.

eva said...

I've only just today started taking a look at genealogy blogs so this is my first time saying "hi" but this post just made me laugh. I can't tell you how many times I've encountered similar difficulties. Glad we can at least kvetsch with each other!

Harold Henderson said...

Thanks, Eva. At the time I was too incredulous and busy, but afterwards I could see the humor and that's one more thing I'll be ready for next time...

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