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A Tale of Twenty-Two Documents

By Daniel Hubbard | August 19, 2012

One of the biggest problems in genealogical research is deciding how much is enough. We all deal with it. How much dedicated searching before you decided that a record simply doesn’t exist? How long do you spend on a difficult to read document? How many documents relating to the same fact are enough?

I know when his son headed west and I know that he followed a year later. There isn’t any mystery there. I also think I know where his son’s land was. In this case all I want to understand is what land the father owned and where his home stood.


I have an obituary for the man’s daughter. It implies but does not state that the father, mother and daughter settled on land adjacent to his son’s land. It also states that they lived with her brother while her father prepared to move to his own land. Eventually, he built the first stone house in the area for his family.


I have the census taken in 1870, just before the family headed west. Father’s occupation is given as “Stone Mason,” the only time he appears that way in the census. It is, in fact, the only confirmation that he had such skills.


In a large unorganized photograph collection, I’ve found family photographs that extend over many decades that contain the same stone house. The first photo I’ve dated to the mid to late 1870s. The last seems to show the home still standing but abandoned in the 1940s.


I have three maps showing property owners in the township. One is a reconstruction supposedly showing the original owner of each piece of land. That means there is no date when the map represents the actual land owners. The earliest original owners may have sold their land before the latest had acquired theirs. Nevertheless, it should give some idea of who owned what land in the 1870s. The father is shown owning land adjacent to the son, just like the obituary implied. Unfortunately, there are no citations that would tell the user about the source of the information about a specific owner or when the piece of land was acquired. There is another problem with the map. I’ve looked at the land patents for the area. They mostly date from military grants made in 1860. The patentees probably never lived on the land and they are not named on the map. The map seems more likely to represent original occupants than original owners. What were its sources?

I also have two plats. One from a 1900 atlas and one from a 1913 atlas. There is a funny thing about those plats separated in time by thirteen years. They are identical except for the quality of the printing. So I really only have one map with data from 1900 or earlier. I also think I have to be somewhat wary of the plat. At least one of the men on that plat lived hundreds of miles away in 1900. He might still have owned the land. I doubt that in this case but, in general, land ownership does not prove that the person actually lived on that land.

Even though the father had been dead for years in 1900, this map just might have something to say about his home. On part of the land shown as his on the original owners map, there is a small black square indicating a house.

A Deed

I also have a deed. It isn’t a digital version of a microfilm copy from the county deed book. It is the original paper deed with a cross reference, made by the county clerk, to where he copied it into the county deed book. It does not get much more original than that. It should take care of any questions about his land. Or maybe not…

  1. The deed dates from June of 1874 but he settled in 1871.
  2. It is not the land that he is shown as owning on the original owners map. It isn’t even for land particularly close to his son’s land.
  3. Then there are the tax receipts…

Tax Receipts

The rest of the twenty-two documents in the post title are original receipts for property tax payments. They tell yet another story.

The first receipt is for the same land as the deed not the land near his son. That is interesting but what is more interesting is that it is from April 1874, so it predates the deed. Even more interesting is that it covers the full tax bill for 1873, a full year and a half before the deed connects him to that land. Was he helping someone out and then getting the land cheap afterward? Apparently not, because the land was valued at less than he paid for it a few months later.

Another interesting thing about these receipts is that they give the full rectangular survey specification (the aliquot parts). That should make them very useful and as a group they are. Nevertheless, the specifications are occasionally wrong. Everything matches from one year to the next except that township 4 will become township 6 one year. Section 27 becomes section 22 another year. If I looked at just one, there is about a ten percent chance of getting the wrong piece of land and about a five percent chance of not even being within many miles of the correct place. I noticed as well that at the top of many receipts there is an admonition to check that the land description is correct. Oh well.

The receipts show that the father eventually did pay taxes on the land adjacent to his son’s but not until 1879 when he got two receipts, one for the land that he had been paying taxes on for years and one for this other land. The following year he got a single receipt that listed both properties, though it specifies that he only paid taxes on thirty of the eighty acres that made up the land from the 1874 deed. From 1881 onward, he only paid taxes on the land near his son.

So, How Much is Enough?

I still wonder, how many records does it take? There is of course no answer. Twenty-two records and still the simple questions about a man’s land and his home are not answered. Some records are wrong. If I had been unfortunate enough to have only those ten percent of the receipts with an error in one or another of the aliquot parts, I would be very confused. If I had only one erroneous receipt, I would be looking at the wrong place entirely. Some records add unexplained nuances and result in more questions than they answer.

That’s research.

In this case even twenty-two records don’t tell the full tale.

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