3 Strategies to Work Around Missing Deeds

You’re chaining a deed and you get stuck. There isn’t a previous deed reference and you can’t find anything in the indexes either. What can you do? Here are three strategies to help you get past these obstacles.

#1 Use Land Ownership Maps

While I encourage everyone to start with the present and work backwards in house history research, sometimes you have to break the rules. Imagine this scenario: You are researching a house built circa 1820 and you successfully trace the deeds from the present back to 1880. At that point you get stuck and can’t go back any further.

 F.W. Beers 1874 map of Woodbury, Connecticut
F.W. Beers 1874 map of Woodbury, Connecticut. Street names change! Wesley Street on the map is now called Church Street.
Source: Ancestry.com

One of the best resources to turn to is Land Ownership maps. Many maps were produced between 1850 and 1880. Check to see if your house, including the landowner’s name, is on an earlier map. If it is you can check the indexes in the registry of deeds for that owner. Check for the owner as both grantee (buyer) and grantor (seller).

Read the previous posts I’ve done on maps online and panoramic maps to help you locate maps.

#2 Search Probate Records

You could be stuck because previous land transactions transferred in probate rather than in the registry of deeds. This was fairly common when land transferred within the same family. Locate the appropriate Probate Court in your area and check for records for the last owner you traced in the deeds. This means you’ll be searching for probate records for the parents of the last owner you identified. You may get lucky and find the information that will get you back further.

#3 Become a Genealogist

A very helpful way to get you out of jams is to learn how to do genealogical research. In the 19th century and earlier it is common to find land transferring from father to son or other family members. By doing a little family research using census and vital records you can reconstruct the family of the owner where you got stuck. Once you determine the name of the father, search the grantor and grantee indexes to see if the father once owned the same house.

I once got stuck researching the home of Appleton Bragg in Holliston, MA. I couldn’t find a previous deed reference nor could I find him listed as a grantee. By determining that his father was Arial Bragg I was able to find the deed where Arial had purchased the property before selling it to his son.

Still stumped? Describe to me your situation and I’ll see if I can come up with more suggestions.

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