(Note: As always, we receive no financial benefit or consideration for any product or service we review/recommend/discuss here. Everything we discuss is our opinion alone, and we talk about it because we use it.)
Our Ahab-like quest to build links between a group of Tradewell residents of upstate NY in the early 1800’s got a big boost with the discovery of a great new tool: DeedMapper (Direct Line Software)
About two months ago we came across a call to help index exactly the set of records we’d hoped to find, as we tried to build past one of our largest brick walls: FamilySearch’s New York Land Records, 1630-1975 (Link). This is a collection of all of the NY Deed/Mortgage/Grantor/Grantee books including Schoharie, Albany and Delaware counties from the 1790’s onward. In advance of any Index, we went through every deed in Schoharie county from 1797 through 1845 (when we know our brick wall relatives moved to Wisconsin Territory) and found a gold mine of data.
But very quickly, we ran into the dreaded “Metes & Bounds” problem which we’d read about. Most of our land research has been in areas settled after Western migration when the US Government laid out a grid system that is much easier to determine where land was. Metes & Bounds (Wikipedia) describes land based on landmarks on the property itself, like this:
“Beginning at a Willow tree near the Schoharie Creek marked on the east side with the Letters C.E. and runs thence south fifteen degrees east ten chains and sixty links, thence East twenty five chains, thence north twenty one degrees thirty minutes east thirty two Chains, thence north ten chains fifty links, thence west seventeen chains and fifty links to the Schoharie creek, thence along said creek to the place of beginning”
This makes it nearly impossible to map out what a piece of property looked like, or where it might have been located. But DeedMapper was created to draw a plot based on these property descriptions, and it allows you to overlay the properties on a map. We’re here to tell you, it works well and it’s now a key tool in our tool kit.
The tool has an easy “wizard” like entry window for new deeds, and we had the hang of it the first deed we entered. Essentially, we just had to breakdown the original deed description at each use of “thence”, like this:
- Beginning at a Willow tree near the Schoharie Creek marked on the east side with the Letters C.E.
- thence south fifteen degrees east ten chains and sixty links,
- thence East twenty five chains,
- thence north twenty one degrees thirty minutes east thirty two Chains,
- thence north ten chains fifty links,
- thence west seventeen chains and fifty links to the Schoharie creek,
- thence along said creek to the place of beginning
The Deed entry screen walked us through each of those lines, until we had our first plot!
The next thing we wanted to do was see this on a map, and while DeedMapper has many local maps for purchase, they suggested we download free USGS Topographical maps instead…which worked perfectly because the Schoharie Creek was dammed up in the late 1920’s and no longer runs where any of these property descriptions ran 100 years earlier. The USGS Topo map we downloaded was from 1903, so we were able to get much closer to where the creek ran in 1806.
We found it very easy to move the plots to fit marks on the maps, the feature called “meandering” was especially useful times when the boundary line is described as “along said creek”.
The software is of an older vintage, and it reminds us of a time before ribbons and web interfaces, but it’s more importantly rock solid, well coded, and it does exactly what’s needed. It doesn’t need to be fancy, or modern, it just needs to work and it does.
Just as importantly, DeedMapper support is exemplary! When we first emailed about how we could buy the product without a CD/DVD drive, we had an almost instant reply from a human who is clearly deeply involved in the product. He solved that issue, and then gave us the great info on the USGS maps instead of trying to sell us their own maps. Combined with the great community that’s grown up around this product, with customers sharing their own plotted deeds to the extent that some counties in several states are full mapped, and available for free, it’s clear that one way or another we’re going to get what we need going forward for this software to help us in our genealogical quest.
About the only thing we didn’t like was that DeedMapper is Windows-only, and we do all of our family history on a Mac. Luckily we’re multi-OS, and we’ve been running the program on a MS Surface tablet with no issues.
So, what can you do with DeepMaper and these old Deed books? Next week we’ll give you an example of how we used it to attack some of the questions we’ve been hunting since we first posted about the Tradewell family over a year ago, but here’s what we immediately saw when we drew our first 3 plots…that we thought were just random, unrelated properties:
The story of how DeedMapper helped prove a family relationship for us continues here: How to leverage the power of deed records in Family History research