I feel like I could spend a year in Walton County, and neighboring counties, and still not be done with the research I need to do here. Thank goodness it’s a beautiful area, and I’ve found a terrific campground, because I will definitely be back!
Eric’s Walton County ancestors go all the way back to the formation of the County in 1818, on multiple lines. It’s so overwhelming, it’s hard to know how to approach it. Because Eric is very interested in the history of the land where the family cemetery is, I decided to start with deed research.
Walton County has an absolutely gorgeous courthouse in downtown Monroe, built in 1883. Unfortunately (or fortunately for some!), a new courthouse was built in 2005 which houses the land records, so I couldn’t research in the historic building. Darn!
The first afternoon at the new courthouse, I focused on finding documentation on exactly how the Roberts family lost the property during the Great Depression. As I mentioned in a previous post, the family story was that the land was lost due to non-payment of taxes, and the family of the current owner purchased it for pennies on the courthouse steps.
First, I searched the Grantor Index (the Grantor is the seller) to see if I could find a transaction in the 1930’s from Willoughby Roberts to someone named Thompson, the current owner’s name, but there was no such transaction. I then checked for the City of Monroe or the County of Walton as Grantors, figuring one of those government entities might have seized the property if the taxes had not been paid, but there was no transaction to Thompson. I did see that Willoughby Roberts had taken out a mortgage in 1923, so I looked for sales to Thompson with the bank as Grantor, with no luck. Finally, I checked all transactions with Willoughby as Grantor, disregarding the Grantee’s name, starting with 1940 and going backwards, and nailed it.
As it turned out, the property was sold by the bank, acting as Attorney-in-Fact for Willoughby Roberts, six months AFTER Willoughby died in 1938. Essentially, the property was foreclosed upon and auctioned off because of past due loan payments of about $511 on a $3,000 loan, representing three years of non-payment. The Grantees paid about $4,000, and were two gentlemen whose names we didn’t recognize.
As is so typical with genealogical finds, we’ve generated more questions than answers. Although we’ve debunked the family story that the land was sold to the Thompsons on the courthouse steps for pennies on the dollar, we wonder why Willoughby’s children, one of whom was an accomplished attorney and Eric’s grandfather, didn’t figure out a way to stop the foreclosure action. The property had been in the family since 1822, and contained the precious family cemetery. What were they thinking? And how did the Thompson family eventually acquire the property?
A few days later, we met with Mr. Thompson, the current owner of the property, and learned the answer to that last question. It turns out that the two gentlemen who bought the property at the foreclosure sale in 1938 were relatives of Mr. Thompson, who bought the property from his uncle in the 1970’s.
Have you heard the 80/20 rule about family stories which say that 80% of the story is true 20% of the time, and 20% is true 80% of the time? That certainly seems to roughly apply in this case. The property WAS sold by auction, but not on the courthouse steps. The property WAS sold to the Thompson family, but not to a family member with the surname Thompson. The property WAS sold due to non-payment, but it was non-payment of a loan, and not non-payment of taxes.
I did a LOT more research in Walton County, including obtaining copies of about 75 Roberts family deeds. These aren’t all of the Roberts deeds, and I didn’t even begin to touch the other Walton County surnames in Eric’s family. As I’ve said before, deed research is quite labor intensive, because the digital images that I have need to be processed – I have to match the images with the book and page number in my notes so I can properly cite the deed, and then I have to abstract and analyze all of the deeds before I can move on in my research.
I’ve already made my reservation at the same Georgia campground for a month next April. By then, I will have processed what I have, and I’ll be ready for the next round!