It is no secret that I am a huge proponent of researching deed records. I have previously discussed them in this blog and I have a webinar that teaches these records.
Yes, deeds can be contain boring, lengthy descriptions of land, but when you find one that uses the phrase “undivided interest,” oh baby! You may have hit the jackpot. The image above well illustrates my feelings when I encounter these kinds of deeds.
Undivided interest means ownership of property with someone else. Usually it means someone died and more than one person inherited the property.
If someone died without a will (intestate) and owned land, the land descended to their heirs according to state law. The wife and children are almost always first in line.
If someone died who was not married and had no children, the property may descend to their parents, siblings, or nieces and nephews, depending upon who is still living. Be sure to look at probate records for these persons, since they can contain a goldmine of family information.
Why does Undivided Interest Matter?
Often, “undivided interest” will include a set of siblings. These deeds can be one of the best sources for uncovering who sisters or daughters married, since deeds will almost always name their husbands.
They can be excellent evidence for tying generations of family together. These deeds are also valuable for telling us where descendants lived at the time of the property sale. We can find them when we didn’t initially know where they went.
A Suggested Process
First, transcribe the deed, which helps ensure that we read every word. I like to use the free software called Transcript. I created a YouTube video to help with installing and using Transcript.
Next, analyze the content of the deed. Who is the buyer? Are other people mentioned such as neighbors? Who are the witnesses? Find a good local map and attempt to locate the land. For the men and women, are spouses listed? If there are unknown words or phrases look up the definition or ask an archivist. Write down in your notes anything else that stands out.
These kinds of deeds usually state how much undivided interest a person has, such as “my ¼ undivided interest in the George Hogg land.”
Pay close attention to these fractional numbers. In the example above if George Hogg owns 1/4, that means there are three others that own the rest of the interest. It may be a widow and two other siblings, or three siblings.
Many people purchased the undivided interest from their siblings. I researched one man in Maryland who methodically purchased the interest of all nine of his siblings until he owned full title to their parent’s property.
It makes a lot of sense: siblings who migrated elsewhere and didn’t plan on returning to their place of origin would rather take the money that selling their interest generated.
However, be aware that individual siblings did sell their interest to people outside of the family.
An ‘Et Al’ Tip
Deeds that involve several persons are not going to list all their names in the index. They usually list the first name with the latin phrase “et al.” That phrase means “and others.” The clip below from a transcription of a 1919 deed from Simon Haley is indexed under “Simon Haley et al to CC Shaw.” But look at who is in the actual deed:
All of Simon’s living siblings and their spouses in the case of his sisters were listed.
I tend to jump to those deeds first when I research a family, since it is likely those are the deeds that include undivided interest!
A Few More Examples
Some deeds state explicitly how the person or persons came to have undivided interest in land. This 1922 deed from Joe Doran to J.W. Holt Jr. is a good example (underlined in red):
However, other deeds will not explicitly state the relationship to the deceased. We see this in the 1921 deed below from Henry (and wife Elzora) Holt to G.W. Holt. Henry sold his 1/5 interest:
It does state elsewhere that they are selling land “where the old homeplace” was located, which tips us off to the fact that it was probably their parent’s land.
In their case, I knew Henry was selling his interest to his brother, G.W, Holt. Their mother and 3 other siblings survived, so that explains the 1/5 interest. None of this was explicitly stated.
In reading the acknowledgement at the bottom of the deed, I see that they were living in McNairy County at the time, instead of Hardin County where the land was located.
Some “undivided interest” deeds can tie together three generations, as seen in this 1933 deed where Lou Anna Brown sells her interest. She explains that the land originated with her grandparents:
A Deed Table
Consider making a deed table to better organize and analyze your research into a family, such as shown here:
These tables are easy to make, but I sell a set of downloadable blank tables (for Microsoft) that includes one for deed records. I also offer a Beginner’s Guide to Deed Records PDF for those interested in exploring these records in more depth.
No research is complete without deed records research. I hope you enjoyed this post on the joy of undivided interest! Only a genealogist would say that;)
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.
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