Many of my favorite genealogy subjects to research and understand are those of any ancestor that does something “first.” I love the thought of someone being a pioneer in their family history. First to go to college, first to go to high school, an immigrant to a new nation, or the first to own American soil (Native American land ownership notwithstanding).That’s why I love the study of patents. Patents are the record signifying title or ownership of land to the first individual American to hold possession of it. It clearly says, this ancestor was here and claimed stake to this land – first. All subsequent owners of that property hold deeds, as to be distinguished from the first owner who held a patent.
I have recently discovered the most amazing series of published books that make patent research a whole lot easier and shed a most enlightening perspective on the lilfe and times of our forebearers. Each book in the series is entitled Family Maps of “X County”, “Y State”, for example, Family Maps of Bates County Missouri, or Family Maps of Johnson County Missouri. The books are by Gregory Boyd. You can check out the authors and the series at their website, www.arphax.com.
What’s in the Family Map Books?
Greg and his wife, Vicky, Boyd have taken on the monumental task of mapping every patent holder – regardless of when and how they acquired the land – in each section and township of many, many counties. They are drawing on data from the Bureau of Land Management, so the information is most authoritative. But imagine what they are doing for genealogists. If your ancestors were the pioneers of a county or township, they purchased the land from the Federal Government and received a patent for 40, 80, 160, 460 or some quantity of acres. That acreage was in a very specific location and can be – and has been – mapped by the Boyds. Further, the other pioneers of that county or township did likewise and have been mapped, too – most likely right next to your ancestors. And they may be kinfolk!
You can see on the map below the names of patent holders within their respective land plots and the year they received the patent. How truly cool is that?
Family Maps – Ownership Map
You may have seen Plat Maps on www.ancestry.com or at your state archives. The maps are land ownership maps of a township. The Boyds have done the same thing with their maps. HOWEVER, the Family Map books are of that unique period in time – which may span decades depending on how long it to the land to be first purchased – when the property was first settled. Unlike the Plat Maps which are for a specific year and may contain deed and patent holders undistingquished from each other.
Further, beyond these amazing maps of first patent holders, you will find two more maps of each township – one depicting the topography (lakes, streams, etc.), and one marking the major roads. So you can easily compare and contrast the maps to get a pretty good handle on the lay of the land. Below is the corresponding topography map for the above map.
Family Maps – Topography Map
Finally, in these spiffy books there are indexes. Each township has an alphabetical listing of every person by surname that owns property in that township. Isn’t that the coolest thing ever? If your ancestor settled in one township, it would be super easy to scan the list to look for kinfolk. (Don’t forget to look at nearby townships for kinfolk, too.)
Family Maps – Surname Index
AND, there is a cross reference index from the name list to “Appendix A,” which with a simple flip of the page will tell you under what legislative Act your ancestor acquired the land. Did they purchase the land with cash? Was it acquired under the Homestead Act? But wait, there’s more. Appendix A gives you a count of how many settlers in the county got land under each Act. It will answer the question of how the county was settled – was it 90% Homestead Act, was the county a bastion of Bounty Land migrants, were they all cash sales? HUGE information for understanding the world in which your pioneer ancestor lived in. And it’s all available thanks to the Boyds.
Family Maps – Appendix A
Now the “Bad” News
The good news is that these books exist for townships, counties, and states within the Public Domain or Federal Land Grant area. Those are all states EXCEPT the 13 Colonies, Texas, and Hawaii.
The “bad” news is that the Boyds have yet to document every county. It is as I mentioned earlier a monumental task, so we should give them a break and some time as I know they are working diligently on the project. You can find the list of what counties they have completed on their website (www.arphax.com), where you can also purchase any books you find relevant to your research.
Before you pull out your debit card, check first with your local library, archives, or genealogy center. They may have a copy of the series for your reference. I know the Midwest Genealogy Center has the full series, and I’m sure they will keep up with any new publications as they are released.
Final thoughts –
Maps are often the unsung hero of genealogy research simply because they aren’t valued for the rich genealogy treasures which they often hold. These maps – if you’re into researching patent holders for your family or even the founding of a township or county – are a must for your research agenda. Oh, one last tip, if “your” counties aren’t yet documented, don’t dispair, you can and are encouraged by the Boyds to put in your “vote” or request for a county. Just email them – politely – through the contact page on their website. They are always eager to hear where the interest lies, and where they should next turn their efforts.