In Search of Your Ancestors?
A column on genealogy by George Farris

June 13, 2008

10. Land Records as a Source of Family Information

In the previous column I included an example of how deed records and related powers of attorney were useful in helping to sort out the ten children of a family who were orphaned in the early 1800s and then lived with the family of their uncle in a different state. Following are two more examples from my own family research that involved the use of deed records in gaining better understandings regarding the members of the families involved. In all of these cases the records involved land that was part of an estate - and provided family information that wasn't available in corresponding probate records.

Schnellbacher - Madison County, Iowa

In an earlier column I mentioned the Schnellbacher family in Germany and their immigration into the United States in 1840. The church records from Germany that I had researched had identified the marriage of Peter Schnellbacher and Christina Hofferberth, the births of all of their children, and the death of one child before they left Germany. The passsenger list for the Ship Caroline also listed all of the living children in 1840. There are some records in Darke and Ross Counties, Ohio regarding the family, including the 1850 census, which included all but one of the children - Peter Schnellbacher, Jr. In 1855, the entire family, along with several other inter-related families moved to Madison County, Iowa. This move was related to the appointment of one of the sons, John Schnellbacher, (my as a minister of the Evangelical Association of Ohio to establish and serve a new church to be located in a part of Iowa that had not been settled for very long. (The church is still there as a part of the United Methodist Church and is located adjacent to the Roseman Bridge - recently made famous by The Bridges of Madison County). There are many records for these families in Iowa and elsewhere including all the Schnellbacher children - except for Peter Schnellbacher, Jr. About 10 years ago a descendant of one of the families, Kent Transier, embarked on a project to document the related familes of Wissler, Krell, and Schnellbacher. I collaborated with him in providing all of the background information from German records and in further research of records in a variety of places. In his research, Kent had found no record of what had happened to Peter Schnellbacher, Jr. and had assumed that he had died in Ohio before 1850.

Deed Records in Madison County, Iowa
Peter Schnellbacher, Sr. died in Madison County, Iowa late in 1879. While I've found no will or probate records regarding his estate, in a search of the county deed records I located a quit claim deed filed early in 1880 that was signed by all except one of his heirs. This deed conveyed title of the land that Peter and Christina had owned, for a consideration of one dollar, to one of the daughters who had cared for them in their later years.

But I found that there was also a second quit claim deed regarding the same property filed two years later. This was a short but very important document for helping to complete our understanding of the family. The deed, executed September 20, 1882, was between the above daughter, Elizabeth M. Wissler of Madison County, Iowa, and Peter Schnellbacher (Bachelor) of Baker County, Oregon, conveying, for one dollar, his interest in the same property described in the first deed. So this was obviously the missing son for whom we had last found a record in the 1840 ship passenger list.

Given a specific location, Kent Transier researched Baker County, Oregon records and found enough records for Peter "Snellbach" to assure us that he was the same person. He was listed in Oregon as a farmer in the 1880 census in North Powder Township of Baker County. Kent then did further searching of military records based on that version of the name and discovered that Peter had enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1848 in Ohio and had been assigned to serve on the frontier. There were records of him at three different frontier outposts in Oregon under the name Peter Snellbach - although nothing after 1855 when the frontier post were he was located at that time in SW Oregon was decommissioned. We conjecture that he spent many years in the gold fields of California before resurfacing - and, apparently, his family did not know where he was until he showed up in Iowa in 1882. I found one last record of him in the 1885 Iowa census living with a niece and nephew in Union County, Iowa.

Bowen - Carroll County, Illinois

In researching my wife's family history we knew, from family records, that her, Alanson and Maria (Bowen) Spencer had lived in Carroll County, Illinois - and we visited there to begin researching the Spencer and Bowen lines. The Spencer information was readily available and, through other family researchers it was not difficult to trace that branch back many generations. However, it did not appear that much research had been done on the Bowen branch - so we had to find a starting point. We found three deed records that provided the critical information to get started. One was a quit claim deed in 1851 to Alanson and Polly (as Maria was called) Spencer from Austin Bowen, identified as her brother - which also stated that their interest in the land involved was derived through Amasa Bowen, deceased. Another deed in 1847 from Lucius Fuller and wife to Amanda Bowen & others sold their rights in the same property to Amanda and all of the ten living children of Amasa and Amanda Bowen - all of whom were listed by name, including Polly Spencer and Candice Fuller, wife of Lucius. A third deed in 1845 between Amasa Bowen and Lucius Fuller provided the information that the Fullers lived in Bradford Co. PA and that Amasa Bowen had previously lived there.

Having identified the members of the Bowen family we were able to find considerably more information. We also found through a cemetery book at the local library the location of a cemetery where Amasa and Amanda Bowen were buried. Maria and Alanson Spencer were also buried there - as well as Alanson's parents, Naaman and Diantha (Benham) Spencer. The tombstones helped fill in birth and death dates for all of these. The reference to Bradford County, PA pointed to the next place to look for information about these families.

While this column is primarily about the use of deed records as a source of family information - as illustrated in the above examples, the last example points to another approach for finding source data. In the case of the Bowen family, we needed source data from places that were not convenient for us to visit personally. I contacted people who were active in family research who were near the locations and asked for help. This led to several different people in different places. Starting with Bradford Co. PA, following this family branch led to Rhode Island (where Amasa Bowen was born in 1789) - then on to Reheboth, Mass. to Amasa's grandparents, James Bowen and Ann Thurber - and to Ann's parents, John Thurber and Mary Brown. The Brown line was interesting and a reseacher looking through Swansea, Mass. records for us tracked Mary Brown's family back to her grandparents James Brown and Lydia Howland. At that point there was plenty of well documented genealogical research to tie into on that branch - since Lydia was known to be one of the children of John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley. Both John and Elizabeth were passengers on the Mayflower in 1620. John had traveled by himself as a youth of about 16 during the voyage and Elizabeth was a girl of about 10 and accompanied her parents on the voyage. Elizabeth's parents, like the majority of the Mayflower passengers, did not survive that first hard winter in America and Elizabeth was taken into the household of Governor William Bradford. John Howland also lived with that household - and they were married a few years later.

We would not have found all of this information without first finding the critical information in the deeds in Carroll County, Illinois and then working backward through several localities - one generation at a time.

Previous Columns in this series

1. Beginning your search
2. "Source Data"
3. More About Data Sources
4. Additional Data Sources
5. LDS and Data From Other Countries
6. Census Records
7. Military Records
8. Land Records
9. More About Land Records

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