Course: 2024-18 – Get Your Hands Dirty! A Workshop in Land and Property Records

Coordinator: Kimberly T. Powell


The emphasis of this intermediate to advanced course is a hands-on approach to solving genealogical problems with land and other property records at the local, state, and federal level. Short teaching sessions will be interspersed with plenty of interactive learning and hands-on, practical problems to allow you to practice what you are learning for better understanding. No homework will be assigned so that you can spend your free time applying what you’ve learned in class to your own research (or attend evening sessions or enjoy time with friends)!

Other Instructors:

Richard G. Sayre, CG, CGL, FUGA
Gerald H. “Jerry” Smith, CG

Student Prerequisites:

Students should have some basic experience using land records, reading deeds, etc. (this is not a beginner class and will move quickly).


Students should plan to use a laptop (Windows or Mac) for in-class exercises and to run the land platting software. NOTE: There is a $15 materials fee included in the tuition for platting tools (land measure compass,

Day Session Title Description Instructor
Monday 1 Finding & Using Local Land Records We’ll begin the week learning to master deeds, including the many quirks they can throw at you. This includes hands-on exercises focused on locating, using, and analyzing deeds and other local land records in a variety of localities, plus exploration of some alternative resources for locating property records, such as court records, probate records, and newspapers.  Powell
2 Finding & Using Local Land Records continued Continued  Powell
3 Tracking Property Ownership Through Local Land & Tax Records In this interactive session, we will explore a variety of strategies for tracking property ownership in and out of an individual’s possession, including creating and using a deed in/out table for keeping track of the research and using timelines to integrate and correlate land and tax records.  Powell
4 Finding & Using State-Level Land Records The first acquisition of land in the state land states (the original thirteen colonies, plus Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and West Virginia) was generally accomplished through a system of land grants or patents, although the process varied by location and time period. In this session we will dig into how to find and use these records, plus touch on how state boundary changes affected the survey and disbursement of land, and how to determine where the records can be found today.  Powell
Extra Finding & Using State-Level Land Records, continued Continued  Powell
Tuesday 5 Understanding the Public Land Survey System We’ll briefly review the Public Land Survey System, the most common method of subdividing and describing land in the public land states, followed by the practice of using the legal land description to identify and locate property in the public land states on maps in tax records, etc.  Powell
6 Finding Federal Land Records Online This hands-on session will explore how to access the many records and resources available through the BLM’s General Land Office website and other online resources for federal land records.  Powell
7 Military Bounty Land Records An introduction to research in federal military bounty land records, including both online resources and requests for records from the National Archives (in person, mail, and internet). Some states also offered military bounty land during various conflicts, which will also be touched on.  Smith
8 Hands-On Practice Using Federal Land Records To reinforce the day’s learning, this session will provide hands-on experience with locating, using, and analyzing federal land records to help answer research questions. Powell/Smith
Extra Hands-On Practice Using Federal Land Records, continued Continued Powell/Smith
Wednesday 9 Introduction to Land Platting Land plats help researchers visualize land parcels by translating the written boundaries described in documents like deeds, mortgages, and surveyors’ notes into detailed drawings. In this session, we’ll introduce basic land platting terminology and explore the role of land platting in resolving a variety of genealogical questions. We’ll also take a look at historical surveying tools to understand how past technologies influenced the accuracy and detail of landplats. Powell/Smith
10 Hands-On Land Platting Workshop Students will plat parcels of land from written boundary descriptions using provided tools. Exercises will include experience in dealing with meanders (e.g., creek, missing boundary line). Powell/Smith
11 Computer Platting with Metes & Bounds Now that you understand the basics of platting by hand, we’ll dig into the benefits of letting the computer do the heavy lifting! We will use Metes & Bounds software by Sandy Knoll Software for this session because it runs natively on both Mac and Windows and, more importantly, offers a free version (suitable for those who aren’t sure yet if they want to invest in deed-platting software). All class exercises can be accomplished with the free version. Students who have DeedMapper installed on their personal laptops and already understand how it works can use that instead if they choose. Instructors are versed in both programs. Powell/Smith
12 Solving Problems with Plats This extended session will have you working through several different genealogical problems using land plats. Powell/Smith
Extra Putting Plats on the Map with Google Earth Pro The Pro paid version of the Metes & Bounds platting software allows you to export plats in a format that can then be imported to Google Earth Pro. This mini-session will demonstrate the process. Powell
Thursday 13 Building a Neighborhood Students will participate in building a case study set in Meigs County, Ohio, in the nineteenth century. Records of the Ohio Land Company and several counties’ records will be explored. Sayre
14 Building a Neighborhood Continued Sayre
15 Nailing Dem Boots to the Ground: Locating Land on a Map Location is essential! This session delves into a variety of methods and resources for pinpointing your ancestor’s exact location on a map, including landowner maps, current GIS tax maps, tracing land titles forward and back in time, and identifying and using the neighbors. Powell
16 Hands-On Practice: Locating Land on a Map Learning is enhanced when you put it into practice! Students will work together through practical exercises to place tracts on modern maps. Powell
Extra Hands-On Practice: Locating Land on a Map Continued Powell
Friday 17 Land Laws and Their Use Key to understanding the genealogical value of land transactions is understanding the underlying laws or authorities for the transaction. We will explore some of these key authorities and demonstrate the genealogical impact. Sayre
18 Tracking Four Generations Through Eight States This interactive case study demonstrates the use of local, state, and federal land records—in conjunction with census, military, court, tax, and probate records—to establish linkages and track migration through four generations of a family from South Carolina to Washington, by way of Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, and Oregon. Powell