RootsTech 2015

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Understanding Real Property Legal Descriptions for Genealogy: Metes and Bounds

English: Broadwater Farm: detail of the 1619 map of the Parish of Tottenham, Middlesex (now in the London Borough of Haringey)
One of the keys to accurate and complete genealogical research is finding the exact location of some event associated with an ancestor. Real property rental or ownership is one very good way to determine an exact location associated with your ancestor's life. Some of the documents you may find that might contain a property description, often referred to as the legal description (or even the "legal"), include:
  • deeds
  • rental or lease agreements
  • probate documents
  • gifts or bequests
  • sales contracts
  • tax documents
  • mortgages
  • deeds of trust
  • land warrants
  • trust documents
  • wills
and many other documents. Historically, land has been described in three different ways:

  • Metes and Bounds
  • Rectangular Survey
  • Subdivision Lot and Block

Sometimes, the differences between these systems are blurred and a legal description may contain elements of two or all three of the methods. The important thing to understand is that the legal description is a method of representing the boundary of the property in words. These legal description methods are not confined to the United States, they are used around the world.

The original method of establishing the boundaries of piece of real property was by reference to physical objects such as trees, rivers, lakes, rocks, or other such objects. For example, a prominent tree or rock outcropping would be chosen as the starting point and then measuring the distance to other physical objects. This type of description is what is meant by the terms "metes and bounds." Here is the definition of the terms from Wikipedia:
  • Metes. The term "metes" refers to a boundary defined by the measurement of each straight run, specified by a distance between the terminal points, and an orientation or direction. A direction may be a simple compass bearing, or a precise orientation determined by accurate survey methods.
  • Bounds. The term "bounds" refers to a more general boundary description, such as along a certain watercourse, a stone wall, an adjoining public road way, or an existing building.
Here is a commonly referred to example of a metes and bounds description:
Commencing at a heap of stones about a stone’s throw from a certain small clump of alders, near a brook running down off from a rather high part of the ridge, thence by a straight line to a certain marked white birch tree about two or three times as far from a jog in the fence going around said ledge and the “Great Swamp” so called, then in a line of said lot in part and in part by another piece of fence which joins onto said line, and by an extension of the general run of said fence to a heap of stones near a surface rock, thence aforesaid to the “Horn” so called and passing around the same aforesaid, as far as possible, to the “Great Bend” so called, and from thence to a squarish sort of jog in another fence so on to a marked black oak tree with stones around it and thence by another straight line in about a contrary direction and somewhere about parallel with the line around by the “Great Swamp” to a stake and stone mounds not far off from an old Indian trail, thence by another straight line on a course diagonally parallel, or nearly so, with “Fox Hollow” run, so called, to a certain marked yellow oak tree on the off side of a knoll with flat stones laid against it, thence after turning around in another direction and by a sloping straight line to a certain heap of stones which is by pacing just 18 rods more from the stump of the big hemlock tree where Philo Blake killed the bear, thence to the corner begun at by two straight lines of about equal length which are to be run in by some skilled and competent surveyor so as to include the area and acreage as herein set forth.
Unfortunately, I cannot find where this particular description originated. It may be made up for illustration purposes, but it is often referred to by those talking about boundary descriptions. The main problem with such descriptions is that the physical objects chosen to describe the property often are destroyed or move over time. For genealogists, trying to locate property from such a description can be a nightmare. Current property boundaries that were historically based on metes and bounds descriptions may have been supplanted by another, more recent survey method. However, even today when the waypoints (Waypoints are sets of coordinates that identify a point in physical space) for a description may have been established by exact survey points, unless the survey is tied into a rectangular survey, the description may still be referred to as a metes and bounds description. 

Early in the European settlement of America, land descriptions might refer to adjacent property owners. If the genealogical researcher expands the scope of his or her inquiry, sometimes the land descriptions can give the names of other members of a the extended family or even the maiden names of married women. 

In subsequent posts, I will talk more about legal descriptions and their impact on genealogical research. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Where did your ancestors live? -- An Introduction to parcel maps

Sanborn Insurance Map of Provo Utah, 1908
My recently post on cadastral mapping points out an interesting fact: local tax records usually indicate where and when people lived in a particular place. Since determining the exact location of an event in an ancestor's life is often crucial in determining his or her identity, any resource that can give an exact location is invaluable.

My early experience with these important records was in researching town records in Rhode Island. I found that most of the documents associated with land or land transfers were in these records. In a quick search on, I find only six collections of digitized town records. So most of these records, at least on, are still available only on microfilm. A search on shows more town related documents, with over 600 falling in this category.

Beginning in 1867, the Sanborn Map Company began publishing insurance maps of cities in the United States. There are various collections online. The map above comes from a collection at the University of Utah, J. Willard Marriott Library. There are over 660,000 of these maps available, many online. The largest collections of these maps are in the Library of Congress and online. Search for "fire insurance maps" on Google.

The corresponding maps for the rural part of the United States are on "county atlases." These maps can be quite detailed and show individual parcels and ownership. For example, the Map Collection of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum CommissionBureau of Archives and History, Pennsylvania State Archives contains Pennsylvania County Atlases and Maps from the 1850s-1870s.  Here is an example showing the individual property owners:

Map #334 - Map of Bradford County, Pennsylvania, 1858 Published by Wm. J. Barker, Philadelphia. J. M. Edsall, Assistant Publisher
You can download these maps and zoom in and see the individual lot owners. 

Another way to approach this research is by searching in the online records maintained by individual counties. These are usually maintained by county recorders and/or assessors. There is a portal to these records maintained by Nationwide Environmental Title Research, LLC. For example, using their Public Records Online Directory, I clicked on Utah, then Utah County and found the website for the Utah County Recorder online. Within seconds, I found the chain of title to my own property in Provo. These records contained a legal description of the entire subdivision development. Here is an example of a legal description from that source:
Legal Description: COM N 40'48"W 1063.12 FT & E 405.72 FT FR SW COR SEC 29, T6S, R3E, SLM; 60.98 FT ALONG ARC OF 402.60 FT RAD CUR L (CHD N 6 DEG 54'33"E 60.92 FT); N 2 DEG 34'12"E 18.48 FT; ALON ARC 300 FT R CUR T L (CHD N 5 DEG 36'08"W 85.29 FT); ALONG ARC 20 FT RAD CUR TO R (CHD N 28 DEG 43'08"E 27.02 FT); ALONG ARC 269.5 FT RAD CUR TO R (CHD N 71 DEG 33'17"E 3.22 FT); ALONG ARC 269.5 FT RAD CUR TO R (CHD N 80 DEG 37'02"E 81.64 FT); N 89 DEG 19'12"E 186.9 FT; S 40'48"E 182.35 FT; N 88 DEG 27'42"E 199.63 FT; S 40'48"E 21.34 FT; S 89 DEG 19'12"W 485.31 FT TO BEG. AREA 1.36 ACRES.
This brings up another issue. In many cases, to interpret the land records you find, you will need to know how to read the legal descriptions and further, how to place those descriptions on a larger map. Very often, the county will include a way to look at the parcels and ownership. Here is an example from the Utah County Parcel Map:

Early land acquisition records in the United States are also a valuable genealogical source. In future posts, I will explain how to read the above legal description and others both recent and historical. I will also explore some of the other detailed land records in the United States dating back to the times of the earliest settlers. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

The European Library Online

January: a man warming himself (at a fire)
Dutch collections Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts
Citing from The European Library website:
What is The European Library?
The European Library is an online portal that offers easy access to the collections of Europe's national libraries and an expanding range of research libraries. It aims to meet the needs of researchers worldwide by providing the ability to:
  • Search over 200 million records
  • Access over 24 million pages of full-text content and more than 7 million digital objects
  • Find a wide range of material, including rare books, manuscripts, images and video
  • Export records to reference management services such as Mendeley and Zotero
  • Download metadata free of charge for data mining and exploitation 
What is the relationship between The European Library and Europeana?
The European Library is the aggregator of digital content from national libraries for Europeana. We deliver digital content from our member libraries on a monthly basis to Europeana. Some human and technical resources are also shared between the two organisations.
The majority of the items in the Library are free to access. Users can cross-search and reuse over 25,188,714 digital items and 165,471,423 bibliographic records.

I find that this type of online resource is virtually unknown among genealogists.

The Pan-European Newspaper Digitalization Projectākās Ziņas/1915/1/23 and The European Library have been involved in an historic cultural project, from the website, here is an explanation of the project;
Our project is:
  • Funded under the European Commission’s CIP 2007 – 2013 programme;
  • A three-year project, running until January 2015;
  • Aggregating 18 million historic newspaper pages for Europeana and The European Library;
  • Converting 10 million newspaper pages to full text. This will help users quickly search for specific articles, people and locations mentioned within the newspaper;
  • Creating a special content viewer to improve online newspaper browsing.Try the prototype;
  • Building tools that will allow professionals to better assess the quality of newspaper digitisation in relation to level of detail, speed and costs.
On the 22-23 January 2015 an international meeting was held in the National Library of Estonia which concluded the pan-European newspaper digitalization project. About 40 specialists of digital libraries from 23 countries were expected to participate. Here is an outline of what the project accomplished from the National Library of Estonia:
As part of the Europeana Newspapers project, The European Library developed a historic newspapers browser that enables users to perform full-text searches in millions of historic newspaper pages. The browser contains around 30 million newspaper pages from 25 libraries in 23 European countries. Users are able to search:
  • full text of more than 10 million historic newspaper pages
  • named entity recognition in Dutch, German and French to enable searches of names of people and geographic places
  • metadata records of over 20 million historic newspaper pages.
You can see the results of the project on The European Library's Historic Newspaper Browser.

I am continually amazed at the huge number of digitalization projects going on around the world almost continually.

Don't Ignore Migration Patterns and Routes

Areas with greatest proportion of reported Scotch-Irish ancestry
One of the most ignored areas of genealogical research is the issue of migration routes. All too often I will see an online family tree record with a person listed as living in a certain location and then moving to another location that does not make any sense. Usually, it turns out that the second person is in fact a different person. If you find information about an ancestor that runs counter to the normal migration pattern, this is an invitation to do more intensive research into the history surrounding the family.

In the map above, you can see the concentrations of Scotch-Irish immigration in the United States. Contrast this with following map of Lithuanian immigrants:

Distribution of Lithuanian Americans according to the 2000 census.
Of course, maps such as these do not tell the entire story. Here is a description of the distribution of Lithuanian immigrants from Wikipedia:
Chicago, Illinois, is home to the second largest population of Lithuanians in the world, and the old "Lithuanian Downtown" in Bridgeport was once the center of Lithuanian political activity for the whole United States. Another large Lithuanian community can be found in the Coal Region of northeastern Pennsylvania, particularly in Schuylkill County where the small borough of New Philadelphia has the largest percentage of Lithuanian Americans (20.8%) in the United States. There is also a large community of Lithuanian descent in the coal mining regions of Western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia Panhandle and Northeastern Ohio tri-state area. Grand County, Colorado's Lithuanian-American community has the unusual distinction in that it is the only sizable immigrant population in an otherwise fairly homogeneous population in a rural, mountainous community. There is also a small but vibrant Lithuanian community in Presque Isle, Maine. Many Lithuanian refugees settled in Southern California after World War II; they constitute a community in Los Angeles.
To begin to understand how populations move both across international boundaries and inside specific countries, it is necessary to do both general and very specific historical research. But the real question is how is this going to help me find my ancestors? Inexperienced genealogists focus on names and dates. As we gain experience, we expand our searches to include the social, political and economic backgrounds of our ancestor's surroundings.

Since people tend to congregate into areas that have similar social, economic, racial, cultural and religious backgrounds. As we learn about and analyze these factors, we can explain seemingly random movements.  For example, why did I move from Mesa, Arizona with a high concentration of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Provo, Utah, another place with a high concentration of members of the same Church? The more you know about my background and values, the easier it would be to understand the move.

If that question does not seem important to you, then you are missing one of the most basic of genealogical research issues; the forces behind the movements of your ancestors. Those forces can be said to push people to move and also pull them. For example, one branch of my family came from Northern Ireland. The ancestor that immigrated with his family was William Linton (b. 1799 in Northern Ireland, d. 1851 in Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) From the dates and places where his children were born, I can determine that he moved from Northern Ireland to New Brunswick, Canada in about 1835. Why then? Even a very modest investigation into the history of Ireland in the 1800s will give one very good answer: from 1801, Ireland had been on the verge of disaster. Here is a brief description of the conditions from Wikipedia: Great Famine (Ireland):
Starting in 1801, Ireland had been directly governed, under the Act of Union, as part of the United Kingdom. Executive power lay in the hands of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and Chief Secretary for Ireland, both of whom were appointed by the British government. Ireland sent 105 members of parliament to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, and Irish representative peers elected 28 of their own number to sit for life in the House of Lords. Between 1832 and 1859, 70% of Irish representatives were landowners or the sons of landowners.[10] 
In the 40 years that followed the union, successive British governments grappled with the problems of governing a country which had, as Benjamin Disraeli put it in 1844, "a starving population, an absentee aristocracy, and an alien Church, and in addition the weakest executive in the world."[11] One historian calculated that between 1801 and 1845, there had been 114 commissions and 61 special committees enquiring into the state of Ireland and that "without exception their findings prophesied disaster; Ireland was on the verge of starvation, her population rapidly increasing, three-quarters of her labourers unemployed, housing conditions appalling and the standard of living unbelievably low."[12] (footnotes left in on purpose).
 Could there have been better reasons for moving to America?

On the other hand, migrants may be pulled to a new land. Examples in the United States are numerous; the 1849 gold rush to California, the Oklahoma land rush of 1889 and many other examples. Many of my own ancestors came to America because they joined the LDS Church.

If you are not aware of the factors that affected your ancestors' movements, you will lose them in the shuffle. Many times, when searching for the next ancestor, the researcher ignores the factors that placed the family where it was. We always point out that we begin the search for an immigrant in the country of arrival, but we always need to look to the reasons that made the immigrant move in the first place.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

#RootsTech Week-at-a-Glance

I got a comment stating that that the person was having trouble finding an overall schedule for #RootsTech 2015. My wife and I had the same problem, but she found that the mobile app has a document attached called RootsTech Week-at-a-Glance. The link is to a PDF file that has an outline showing the times for registration and closing. It doesn't answer specific questions but it does give you the information you need to plan when to arrive and when you might be leaving. I thought this link might be useful to some who have not yet downloaded the apps for their tablets, iPad or smartphones.

Some Comments on Upgrades -- Windows 10 is coming soon

From time to time, I have written about the need to backup your data and upgrade both programs and operating systems. A recent online news item caught my eye, will no longer support OS X 10.5 or older starting May 18th. See Help Center, "Ending support for OS X Tiger 10.4 and 10.5 Leopard." This announcement may seem innocuous and just part of the background news that you patiently (or impatiently) ignore, but it is another example of the very rapid movement in technology. Genealogists are not immune to these changes. I am still talking to people who have massive amounts of their personal genealogical research locked up in Personal Ancestral File, a program that was discontinued in 2002!

Apple's OS X operating systems were first introduced with Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah in 2001. Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger was introduced in 2004 and Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard was introduced in 2006. I have an iMac sitting dormant in my office because the processor in the iMac cannot take an operating system later than OS X 10.5 and there are very few things left I can do with the computer. The most recent Apple OS X is OS X 10.10 Yosemite introduced in 2014.

There is a direct correlation between the release of a new operating system and changes in the microprocessor used in your computer. New processors equal new operating systems in most cases. You may think that your old computer is merely a little out-of-date and slow, but the effects of technological change are much more serious than mere inconvenience. Some programs are abandoned as the new technology changes. Most developers bite the bullet and upgrade their programs constantly. Sometimes these upgrades result in a cost to upgrade to a new version. Most of the time, the new version has features that make it more useful, although with some upgrades it may seem that the developer is going in the other direction.

Now we come to Window 10 from Microsoft. estimates that 56.26% of the world's computers are running Windows 7. Mac OS X 10.10 has 3.21% of the market and older versions of both operating systems or other operating systems make up the balance. There are supposedly 18.26% of the market still using Windows XP. Windows XP had a long run, it was introduced in 2001 and replaced by Windows Vista in 2007.

At the core of the issue here is that when Windows 10 comes out, it will have features that will require the most recent computer processors. If you look at the list of Intel Chipsets in the past few years, you can see a rough correspondence with the changes in operating systems. Intel released new Pentium chips in 1999 and 2001. See Wikipedia: List of Intel chipsets. Pentium 4 Chipsets began coming out in 2000 and continued until 2003. Newer Pentium 4 chips came out in 2004, 2005 and 2006. 2004 to 2006 saw the introduction of the Core/Core 2 Chipsets. New series of chips are coming out in 2015 and 2016.

You may wonder what in the world the new Windows 10 features have to do with genealogy. So do I as a matter of fact, but the reality of the upgrade is that programs will have to be upgraded to function with the new system. Once a developer moves to a new version of their program, they almost always phase out support for older versions over a matter of time. So you may not be attracted to the new Windows 10 features and conclude that you will just stay with your old XP system for a while longer, but inevitably your computer will stop functioning and you will start looking for a new computer and find out that the new computers all come with a much newer operating system and that your old programs need to be upgraded. If you are forced to upgrade all of your programs at once, the cost can exceed the cost of the new computer by three or four times.

My wife and I use Adobe products constantly. I use Photoshop, Bridge, Lightroom, InDesign and Adobe Acrobat Pro almost every day. She uses InDesign, Photoshop and Acrobat Pro very regularly. We upgraded our iMacs and the cost of upgrading just one of those programs, Photoshop, was close to $800. We have since gone onto the Adobe Creative Cloud program and have access to all of the programs for a monthly fee. The concept here is that you can pay a large sum from time to time or a smaller amount for periodic upgrades.

Computer systems and online connections have a definite cost. As genealogists this cost and the time spent to do the upgrades is a "cost of doing business." Change is the reality. Railing against the change is futile.