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General Rule Patents Grants Deeds Elements of a Deed Indexes Marble-Taylor

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Deeds & Other Land Records

We'll make little of the different ways in which our ancestors might acquire real estate, beyond describing their procedures and applicability. What's more important to us is that acquisition of land means someone was planning on staying and that a sale (without a corresponding purchase) could indicate an intent to leave.

The General Rule

Land records are among the earliest kept and most likely to survive of all records. Government, it seems, has always had an interest in who owned or controlled land, as this was & remains an important taxing source and potential cause of disputes.

Patents & Grants

Whether your ancestor received a headright, patent or a grant for land in North Carolina depended largely on the time.

Colonial Patents

In the colonial era, the King technically owned all the land in the colonies. In the Carolinas, the King made (revocable) grants to the Lords Proprietors; they could not sell it as it still belonged to the King. But ,they could  "patent" parcels in order to promote agricultural and economic development.

A prospective landholder would "enter" a patent with agents of the Lords Proprietors and, if not conflicting with others, be granted it. He would then pay annual Quit Rents on the land — an early form of property tax.

Some early Taylor patents can be found here.

The process for original patents varied with the period.

Proprietary Period -- 1663-1729


During the proprietary period the eight Lords Proprietors relied on a headright system to distribute land grants. The standard headright of fifty acres per person established in Virginia was adopted in the Carolinas about 1697; before that time a sliding scale was used that granted one hundred acres to heads of families but only six acres to women servants when their terms expired. The governor also was allowed to sell tracts of 640 acres or less to those without headrights, or who had used their headrights for free land.

To keep people in North Carolina, the assembly forbade the sale of headrights until the claimant had been in the colony for two years. The proprietary land patents are available at the North Carolina State Archives and on microfilm at the FHL. See Margaret M Hofmann, Province of North Carolina: 1663–1729, Abstracts of Land Patents (Weldon, N.C.: Roanoke News Co., 1983), for abstracts of over 3,400 land patents made between 1663 and 1729. See Jo White Linn and Thornton W. Mitchell, “Headrights in North Carolina,” The North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal 15 (February 1989): 2–11, for detailed information on the headright system used in North Carolina


Originally developed by the Virginia Company to solve a labor shortage problem, the headright system granted land to those paying for transportation of settlers to the colonies. It was quickly adopted for use in the other 13 colonies. The land did not go to those being transported, but to those paying their passages.

Royal Colony Period -- 1729-1777


Seven of the original proprietary shares were sold to King George II in 1729, and North Carolina became a royal colony. Only John Carteret, second Earl Granville, chose not to sell the share he had inherited. The Crown continued the headright system instituted by the Lords Proprietors, but modified the system in 1741 to allow one hundred acres for the head-of-household. The Crown land office first opened in 1735, six years after the Crown purchased the province. Abstracts of Crown land patents are in Margaret M Hofmann, Colony of North Carolina, 1735–1764, Abstracts of Land Patents and Colony of North Carolina, 1765–1775, Abstracts of Land Patents (Weldon, N.C.: Roanoke News Co., 1983–84).


Federal & State Land Grants

After independence from Britain, state and federal governments gained title to great tracts of land (Much of it by seizure from the Native American claimants.) and began granting it to citizens.

A peculiar situation developed with respect to publicly-owned land as a result of conversion from the immediate post-Revolutionary War Continental Congress system to our present one, as state sovereignty diminished. Some states, including North Carolina had land grants in process for land they no longer owned. These were recognized by the federal government.

For example, North Carolina ceded the Southwest Territory (today's Tennessee) to the federal government in 1789, having already committed to several land grants in the territory.

We won't go into homesteading here, as this process largely applied in states and territories that were not among the original 13 colonies.


The most common way for land ownership to change hands was by means of a sale or gift. Even in the Colonial era, a landholder could transfer all or a part of his patent. A written document, called a deed, evidenced the transaction; it was signed by the parties and by witnesses to it.

Elements of a Deed

A deed requires certain things to be present in order to make the document legally binding. (This, by the way, is an old rule from British Common Law.) However, states have added their own legal requirements as to form and deeds have become more complex.

  1. Description of what's sold,
  2. Description of the consideration (e.g., the price or "love & affection")
  3. Name of the grantor (seller) — who must have the legal ability to grant the property (a competent adult)
  4. Name of the grantee (buyer) — who has the legal ability to receive the property
  5. Express agreement by one party to buy & the other to sell
  6. Date executed
  7. Signature or mark of grantor, signifying agreement with the terms
  8. Signature or mark of grantee, signifying agreement with the terms
  9. Witness or witnesses (Today, a notary public or title officer often witnesses.)
  10. A seal affixed to it.

Upon recording & copying by the local authority, the original of the deed was returned to the grantee. Not surprisingly, most of these originals are lost; they ceased to have value after the property was transferred again. In most instances, we see only recorders' copies of deeds, not the originals which would have had the seal.

Quitclaim Deed

A quitclaim deed does not actually represent a sale of real estate. The grantor does not warrant that he or she has the right to sell, merely relinquishing any rights he or she may have (even if nonexistent) to the grantee.

Grantor & Grantee Indexes (Indices)

Grantor (seller) & Grantee (buyer) Indexes provide the easiest way to look up deeds. Sometimes, they provide the only remaining records of the deeds. All one needs to know is the name of either the seller or buyer and the approximate date; these pieces of information will direct you to the book and the few pages in which the deed will be indexed. The index listing will give you some basic summary information and the place where the full deed may be read.

Due to the need for frequent reference to deeds, they were indexed, twice, in books called a "Grantee Index" and a "Grantor Index". Each was roughly alphabetical; pages were assigned for the first letter of the surname. As deeds were "recorded" (copied), they were entered into both indices.

The copies were in the handwriting of the clerks, not that of the person who prepared the original document. After recording, the original documents were returned to the grantee. few of these originals survive.

How was yesterday different from today?

The chief differences are in the methods of recording and indexing of deeds.

More than you dreamed

A deed can provide genealogical information that might be gained in no other way. Obvious examples are where the grantor identifies the grantee as a son, daughter or brother or where the consideration is "love and affection".

Your ancestor may be named, not only in documents for the transactions he or she conducted in his or her own behalf, but also in those witnessed or where the land in question shared a boundary.

Adjoining Owners

The property descriptions in many of these deeds are, perhaps, more useful for their genealogical content than for locating the subject land. This is because they tend to describe the property in terms of bordering owners; they have almost more names of neighbors than features of the terrain (which tend to be creeks, runs, swamps, etc.)


An ancestor's name as witness suggests a relationship with at least one of the parties.

Marble-Taylor Collection

Martha Marble & Gloria Taylor have published extracts of more than 300 Taylor deeds for this area, from 1744 to 1880. Click here to see them.

Here is one I especially like for the richness of content:

Bk 1, pg 592 - Oct 12, 1761 Abraham TAYLOR, Dobbs Co planter sold to Jacob TAYLOR brother of Abraham TAYLOR of Craven Co., planter 20 pds., 238 acres land on south side Southwest {Creek}, next to Abraham. Granted to sd Abraham TAYLOR 10 Apr 1761. Wit: William WILLIAMS, John DELLAHUNTY. Reg. Jan Ct. 1762.
[Note: Abraham Taylor grant of 10 April 1761 gives description (from Hoffman): in the Fork between SW Creek and Turkey Branch, joining said Taylor, the Branch, and the Creek. Martha Marble notes from Bill Murphy - Turkey Branch rises on state road 1125 to flow a short distance NW across State road 1127 to enter Deep Run at State Road 1141 in Lenoir Co.- not on Martha's map but this would be within walking distance of Edwin Taylor land of Lenoir Co - gst].

Notice that two separate men named Abraham Taylor are mentioned, one (Jacob's brother) of Craven Co., the other of Dobbs. It's not far-fetched that these men are first cousins. From the date of 1761, we may deduce that both Abrahams were born before 1741.

By Geographic Area

The page at this link takes the Marble-Taylor collection and breaks it down by geographic area. This is an aid to sorting out the persons of the same man and zeroing in on their family relationships.

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