Family History Researchers Find Land Records Language Changes

Family history researchers will find that metes and bounds is the first system of recording land in colonial times and in the early settlement of New Jersey – and all of the other colonies. End of conversation. This Record Click genealogist has heard that statement or something similar sooo many times from family history researchers.  And yes, it is true. The Bureau of Land Management  has some wonderful explanations and tools that help us family history reserachers work with both metes and bounds and rectangular survey systems.

However, I, a professional genealogist, keep coming up with metes and bounds questions for my neck of the woods—the genealogist in New Jersey and every other state. What happened when the tree that was used as the starting point died or was cut down for firewood? Where did the rock go that marked the long ago corner of the lot? Did the building of roads have any effect on surveying and property lines? And, possibly most interesting, when are our ancestors more than just our ancestors?

Often, in my family history research, I find myself looking for changes in legal language and practices as I go through old documents in the course of an ancestor search. Metes and bounds in New Jersey is a good example. Of course, I have to do a short timeline for the recording of land records for family history research in New Jersey:

  • 1664 – New Jersey land records begin. Before this the land records were kept in New York.
  • 1664-1785 – Land sales between individuals were recorded as deeds in either Perth Amboy, East Jersey, or Burlington, West Jersey. The originals are at the New Jersey State Archives and they have been microfilmed by the Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS).
  • 1670-1727 – Colonial Land Surveys and Warrants.
  • 1785 – The Land Act of 1785 transferred deed recordings to county clerks. Many of the records have been microfilmed.

It is true that the earliest records family history researchers will find use trees, rocks, a bend in a creek or some other land feature that might be considered permanent in land descriptions.

Family history researchers find many different land marks mentioned in ancestor searches

Family history researchers find many different land marks mentioned in ancestor searches

The land in one of my early family history research in New Jersey deeds is recorded just this way:Lemuel Cobb to Nicholas Teachman

1 September 1803

Bergan County, New Jersey, Book R: Page 368

Recorded 28 February 1804

“All that tract of land situate on the east side of Long Pond in the Township of Pompton in the County of Bergen and Eastern division of the State of New Jersey
Beginning on the Bank of said Pond at the distance of eleven chains below from where the York line strikes the said Pond
thence (1) south forty degrees west twenty two chains
thence (2) north thirteen degrees east nineteen chains and ninety links
thence (3) south seventy five degrees east ten chains to the place of beginning
Containing ten acres strict measure in as full and ample manner as the same was surveyed to the said Lemuel Cobb as by a return thereof dated the first day of October 1801 and recorded in the Surveyor Generals Office at Perth Amboy in Book S14 page 97…”

What happens when a settler stays awhile? Could a neighbor’s milk cow wander off? Have there been property line disputes? Did a path turn into a lane turn into a road? My children roll their eyes when I start telling them about how the two lane gravel road of my childhood has turned into a four lane paved thoroughfare that they take without a thought on their way from point A to point B.

So it was with our ancestors. Toward the middle of the 1800s, rocks, trees and forks in the road started becoming people in deeds:

Peter S. Johnes & wife to Francis Teachman,

28 February 1833

Morris County, NJ, Book D3: Page 567; Recorded 1 June 1833:

“…Beginning in the centre of the main road leading from Pompton Plains to Thomas Dods at the distance of one chain and eight links on a course of south seven degrees east from a cherry tree standing at the south east corner of Henry Vreeland, garden and in the line of lands formerly belonging to Peter H. Mandeville dec’d
thence running
1. south two degrees & forty minutes west eleven chains and fifty links
thence 2. south eighty one degrees east one chain and seven links to the green swamp
thence 3. north thirteen degrees east four chains and fifty two links
thence 4. north twenty two degrees east two chains and forty three links
thence 5. north twenty one degrees west three chains and thirty nine links
thence 6. nine degrees west one chain and ninety one links
thence 7. South eighty six degrees and a half west eighty four links to the place of beginning containing one acre and ninety four hundredths of an acre strict measure.”

As time went on, family history researchers will find that the marking of property lines became simpler. Fences, walls and established roads could be part of the land description. Adjacent property owners might be mentioned in the deed.

Richard Cole to John Teachman

13 September 1849

Bergen County, New Jersey, Book M14: Page 705

Recorded 13 November 1849

“Beginning at the northeast corner of the land of said John Teachman from
thence running northerly the course of the east side of the lot of said John Teachman to a fence coming from the west
thence along said fence westerly to the land of Albert A. Demarest there along his line southerly to the northwest corner of the land of said John Teachman
thence along the same easterly to the place of beginning.
Containing one acre be the same more or less….”

As a family history researcher, be aware that strategically placed stakes may have taken the place of the rock, tree or bend in the road. Links and chains have mostly given way to feet and inches. Family history researchers will find that neighbors or former property owners can still be mentioned as part of a land description in a deed. Often property descriptions now include terms such as “block” and “lot”.

Genealogical searches in New Jersey show changes in land language over the years

Genealogy searches in New Jersey show changes in land language over the years

Some land records have been microfilmed, mostly by LDS.  Family history researchers will find that when doing genealogy searches in New Jersey,  counties have begun to place more recent deeds and land records online. The best way for the family history researcher to find later records is to use a search engine listing the county, state, and a term such as “deed”.

Still lost in the woods when it comes to your family history research? The professional genealogists at RecordClick will root out long lost relatives, do the family history research, get you organized and create a plan of action for your ancestor search.