Land Has a Heart

I’m a really big believer in the use of land records in genealogy research.  Land records have helped me solve some of my toughest genealogical problems.  One time, I was able to get back several generations with the information in a single deed.  At the very least, land records help to locate our ancestors in a specific place and time.

My research into the land records of Washington County last week was especially personal and emotional.  For my entire life, I’ve heard the stories of the Fourth of July gatherings at my mother’s grandparents’ farm.  All of the aunts, uncles and cousins were there.  These were some of her most precious memories.  Below is a description in my mother’s own words:

Homework Assignment written by Mary Payne Furlong, age 17, 1 October 1948
Homework Assignment written by Mary Payne Furlong, age 17, 1 October 1948

In October of 1948, my mother was still heavily grieving, and you can hear it in her words.  She had lost both of her grandparents in the previous eleven months.

Below is a visual – my mother is on the far right, her sister Arden is to her left, and then her brother Jimmy.  The other two children are cousins.

Playing at Grandfather’s farm, Fourth of July, about 1940

So finding out when and how my mother’s grandparents acquired the farm where my mother spent so many happy summers in her childhood was really a very personal mission.  My great-great grandparents were James Furlong and Mary Ball.  Their son, James William Furlong, married Mary Payne; these were my mother’s grandparents and two of her most favorite people of all time.

Mary Payne and James William Furlong, 50th Wedding Anniversary, 18 November 1941
Mary Payne and James William Furlong, 50th Wedding Anniversary, 18 November 1941

As I‘ve mentioned before, many years ago I obtained some land records from Washington County using the “grab and go” method.  I had no citations for these records, nor did I know if they were all or only part of the collection of deeds for James Furlong and James William Furlong.  Reminiscent of Thomas MacEntee’s “Genealogy Do-Over”, I needed to go back and re-do everything the correct way.  Which I did, and I now have about twenty five deeds scanned on my computer.

What now?  Well, I have to abstract all the deeds, and organize them before I can start analyzing them.  I will read each deed several times, and then summarize the basic information into a deed abstract.  Then I’ll make a table listing the transactions in chronological order, to see if I can trace the path of the land parcels through time.  That will take many hours.

Deed Abstract, Walker to Furlong, 1883
Deed Abstract, Walker to Furlong, 1883

I’ve created a template that I use to abstract deeds, to make sure I don’t forget to note some critical piece of information.  I’m happy to send anyone a Word version of it if you’re interested – just send me a private message on the Contact page of the blog.

I’ve heard people say that for every hour spent doing on-site research, we should plan on five hours of documentation and analysis of the records retrieved.  I really think that’s true.  I spent a full day last week, about 5-6 hours, doing research in land records at the Washington County Register of Deeds Office.  But since I haven’t yet spent the 25-30 hours it will take to process and analyze it all, I don’t have any firm conclusions yet.  I do, however, have a few observations to report.

After a cursory review, the land records indicate that James Furlong, the coal mining immigrant from Wales who came to Washington County with his wife and two small children right around the end of the Civil War, was able to purchase four acres of land in 1874, and then another ten acres in 1883.  James died in 1896 and then his wife, Mary, in 1901, but the land wasn’t distributed to the heirs until 1906.  This was because James’ will stipulated that the executors “hold the property intact” until the youngest child turned 21, which happened in 1906.

Below is the top of one of the 1883 deeds and the subject of the above abstract:

Deed, Walker to Furlong, 1883
Deed, Walker to Furlong, 1883

And, I was able to see that the ten acres which James Furlong purchased in 1883 was the land which ended up with his son, James William Furlong, the same land that my mother loved.  There’s more work to be done to get the whole story, but I’m happy to know this much for now!

3 thoughts on “Land Has a Heart

  1. OMG!! Loved reading your Moms story of Fourth of July ! I find it amazing that a 17 year old would mention that eating their meal, while overlooking the old country road, was what made the meal even better……. your mom really loved the beauty in nature huh???
    Your research is fascinating !!
    Love Betsy


  2. Chris, I’m really enjoying your adventures!

    I love your deed abstract form. I have abstracted some of the info in my deeds, but not every detail. I think I have about 250 deeds, so not sure I want to redo them. However, I’m attempting Thomas MacEntee’s “do-over”, so who knows?


  3. I’ve never heard about these Fourth of July events at the farm! But maybe it partially explains Uncle Jim’s love of that holiday (including loud patriotic music)!


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