From OnBoard - Newsletter of the BCG

Elizabeth Shown Mills, "Analyzing Deeds for Useful Clues," OnBoard 1 (January 1995): 8.

Analyzing documents, extracting clues, and developing research plans are crucial skills for every genealogist.

How does one properly analyze a deed? Sure, we know to copy all the relevant data; but how do we harvest nuances, implications, and indirect connections that move beyond the realm of fact to the more-nebulous world of clues worth pursuing?

To analyze a deed, we ask questions and probe for answers. For example:

Who else is named in this document? Does this person appear in any other record created by your individual? If so, odds are that person should be pursued as a possible connection. However, there are nuances to consider. For example:

Does the document include more than one person of the same surname? If so, are they acting jointly with your individual or in a more-peripheral capacity or adversarial role? (Even foes cannot be eliminated as relatives, of course.)

Is the legal description given for the land? If so, plat it. Find its precise location on a contemporary map. Identify nearby landmarks and terrain. Churches and burial sites are likely to be nearby.

What type of deed is this, specifically?

Is there a wife's dower release? If not

How much time elapsed between the draft of the document and its filing? If there is a significant delay, an explanation should be sought.

If your individual is selling property, how did he acquire it? Answering this question is imperative. If the property is land:

Is slave property involved? The names, ages, occupations, and other personal data on those slaves are important clues for tracking inheritances and for identifying owners when working with multiple people of the same name.

Posing questions such as these, to every deed we find, will always suggest new possibilities to add to our research plan.

Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL

This article was originally published in OnBoard, BCG's educational newsletter and is protected by copyright. Individuals may download and print copies for their personal study. Educators are granted permission to provide copies to their students as long as BCG, OnBoard, and the appropriate author are credited as the source of the material. Republication elsewhere is not permitted.