Q&A: Diana Crisman Smith

On Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, Family Tree University conducted a live Q&A on Facebook with Fall 2012 Virtual

Conference presenter Diana Crisman Smith as part of our ‘Meet the Presenter’ series. Here is the full transcript:

Family Tree University: Hello and welcome to our Live Q&A for the Fall 2012 Virtual Conference’s ‘Meet the Presenters’ series. You can View the entire series schedule at the link below. Our subject is Diana Crisman Smith, genealogy expert and senior Family Tree University instructor. Feel free to submit your own questions to Diana by Commenting on this post.

So, Diana, first question: One of the sessions you’re presenting is “Finding Land Records Online”. What makes land records such an important source of information?

Diana Smith: Thanks, Tyler – great question. Land records help to place people in a specific place and time. They also either provide or lead to information on neighbors, heirs, and spouses.

Family Tree University: What sort of information can you find in land records?

Diana Smith: The more closely you read the records, and think about how your record relates to others, the more you can learn.

Diane Haddad: I’m finding from census and vital records and draft cards that some of my family owned farms not far form where I live today. Most records don’t give addresses, though, just a street name and “farm,” so I’m trying to find out where their property was located.

Kay D.:  Are land records kept in many different places?

Diana Smith: For example, if you find a colonial-era record that states the “regnal date” (“in the xx year of the reign of King George”) when no other records in that section of the deed book are dated that way, it might be a strong clue that the grantor was a Loyalist!

Kay D.: Wow – hadn’t thought about getting ideas from census and vital records and draft cards…

Pat R.:Can you explain the basic difference between federal land and state land states?

Diana Smith: As I mentioned, you can find the names of heirs, or the deed may specify the relationship of the grantor to the grantee. There may also be leads to previous or future residences (when the grantee and grantor are named, it usually indicates their residence.

Diane Haddad: Kay, for one of the ancestors, I found a reference to the year he purchased the farm in a local history book, so I can go down to the county courthouse check deed books for that year.

Diana Smith: Kay, land records are usually found in the county recorder’s office. The original land entry sale (new US territory) may also be found in the Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office records.

Diana Smith: Kay and Diane, the land records may lead to where you can find the census records and draft records – or vice versa.

Diana Smith: For the virtual conference, I am presenting “smarter online census searches” and “using online land records” (which is specifically geared to the Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office).

Family Tree University: How have land records changed over time?

Diana Smith: Pat – federal land states are those which were created from land acquired AFTER the US was established, AND where that land was not already in the hands of private owners. State land states are those which distributed the land prior to the US and a few others, such as Hawaii and Texas, where the land was distributed under the previous rule.

Diane Haddad I haven’t found any family in the BLM-GLO database (which has patents received by people who purchased land from the federal govt). My people seem to have purchased their land from other private citizens, so county deed records would have info on the transactions.

Diana Smith: Diane – that’s right, only the original purchase from the government is in the BLM-GLO database; that includes military bounty warrants, homesteaders, and cash purchases.

Diana Smith: FTM, over time land records have evolved slightly, and terminology has changed a bit, but the essentials are still there: grantor (seller), grantee (buyer), consideration (price paid), and any restrictions on the sale.

Family Tree University:Diana, as to your other session on Smarter Online Census Searching, what are some common mistakes people make in their census searches?

Diana Smith: FTM, the most common mistake I see people make is spelling …. “that can’t be my family, the name is spelled differently”. Trust me, there are a lot of creative spellers who served as enumerators. Remember that many people could not read and write, and many enumerators didn’t even ASK how the name was spelled. They wrote what they THOUGHT they heard – which may have been flavored by an accent on either side.

Diana Smith: Another common “error” is limiting the place too much. Many families were mobile, and did migrate between censuses. Some families may even be found in two places in the same census because they were moving at that time.

Allison Dolan: For those getting their feet wet with land records, Diana’s Land Records 101 class at FTU includes and excellent crash course in terminology. :)

Diane Haddad: How common was it for people to be missed in the census?

Family Tree University: Diana, in your session, will you be focusing particularly on the 1940 census, or on census records in general?

Diana Smith: Diane, I haven’t found too many who were actually missed – they were SOMEWHERE, but the trick is finding them. I hunted for one great-grandfather for many years before locating him in South Dakota. I had looked in every other state from Iowa to Washington, but had been told they were in NORTH Dakota before moving to Iowa, so I only looked there. Shame on me!

Kay D.: I have about 8 different spellings for my “Schardein” ancestors!

Kay D.:Are there many land records on line or is mostly done via trips to the court house?

Diana Smith: The session for the virtual conference is NOT focused on 1940, although there are few examples from that census. It pertains to all federal (and most state) censuses available online, especially the post-1850 federal which are every-name in the household.

Family Tree University: Kay, that’s a great question. Diana, can you do your land records research online?

Allison Dolan: Kay–I can relate… but more with first names! I stopped counting the variations on “Catherine.”

Diana Smith: Kay – it all depends. Some counties have started posting land records/deeds online – but it’s not a widespread practice yet. Other counties might have the current plat maps online, but nothing historical. The BLM-GLO website mentioned earlier by Diane, which I will be discussing in the Virtual Conference (and in the Land Records 101 course mentioned by Allison), the online database is not yet complete, but is a work in progress – there are, however, MILLIONS of records available!

Allison Dolan: The BLM-GLO database is fun to poke around in, even if you don’t find your ancestors specifically. You can get a sense of who settled the areas they lived in.

Diane Haddad: Kay, from what I understand, there aren’t many county deed records online. Many deed books are accessible on Family History Library microfilm (you’d do a place search for the county and look for a land and property heading). You might be able to find published indexes of county deed records digitized on a site like Ancestry.com. (For more info, we actually have an article coming up in the October/November 2012 Family Tree Magazine on deed records.) Federal Land patents for the most part are on the BLM-GLO site, but you’d have to request your ancestor’s application for the federal land from NARA.

Diana Smith: Using it to it’s full advantage, you can also find out who the neighbors were in that area. Maybe the person they bought from is the original purchaser.

Family Tree Magazine:  Wow–I think our time is up already! Diana, thanks so much for chatting with us today!

Diana Smith: Take care and see you online!

Family Tree Magazine: Remember, only FOUR DAYS LEFT until the conference! If you haven’t registered yet, there is still time. Save $40 with the coupon code FRIENDSOFDIANA! REGISTER HERE.


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