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Patricia Law Hatcher is a certified genealogist and Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, an honourary organisation limited to the top fifty leading genealogists in the nation. She is the author of the instant classic, Producing a Quality Family History.
There are fundamental methodological differences in tracing the history of your Pilgrim ancestors, who got off the boat in Massachusetts and never moved away, and your itchy-footed pioneer forebears, who always were on the edge of settlement, forever looking toward the west. (I have a line which, in a single long generation, moved state-by-state from Baltimore in the 1790s to Iowa in the 1830s.) One of the biggest problems is the tendency of early settlers to arrive somewhere ahead of the recordkeeping apparatus - but recording the ownership of land was almost always the first thing put on paper as soon as the government's clerks arrived. These records often are underused, especially in "metes and bounds" states, because ploughing through a three-page description of boundaries can be daunting. Hatcher, a CG and FASG, and a specialist in problem-solving, has an almost inhuman fondness for land records, however, which she largely succeeds in communicating in this book. She leads you carefully through the steps, from locating that first deed (or grant, or confirmation of colonial title), to tracking the later transfers of ownership, to understanding just what it is you're reading, to knowing how to select and record the essentials, to interpreting what it all means. There are plenty of examples and several case studies, plus a detailed bibliography of key maps and gazetteers for each state. She also includes numerous historical sidelights, such as the observation that less than half the federal public lands originally went to individuals. (Think "railroads.") This is an excellent and highly readable text in an important subject.
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Land records are important to genealogists in many ways. There's the simplicity of just knowing more about your ancestor, the idea of following migration, but also there's a great feeling of being grounded when you see EXACTLY where it is your ancestor lived and breathed. It's not a tricky subject, but it can be a dry one, with terms and graphs most people don't think about. This book introduces all those concepts plus shows you how to approach them for the benefit of your family history. The author tells you all about plat books, city directories, maps, tax records and probate, down to receipts; all as they relate to land ownership. She also tells you some very important things about how your ancestors got that land in the first place, which with colonists and pioneers is exceptionally helpful. Land records can be confusing. Many times while introducing terms she shows you how to avoid pitfalls you can come across while trying to decipher these records. There is also a thorough glossary and locality reference in the back. This is an important book for intermediate genealogists. To truly understand your ancestors and to solve some of the puzzles they left behind, you will need to use land records. This is a helpful resource, and definitely one you'll come back to past that first reading.
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