Monday, February 16, 2009

A Couple of Research Observations: Land Patent Records and Probate Records

Over the years with my work at the historical society I’ve had the pleasure of corresponding with many Itawamba County researchers. Usually I receive quite a few research queries in my work with the historical society and it seems one particular concern pops up several times a year. A researcher will find a land patent of Itawamba County lands from the late 1830’s documenting their ancestor, yet the ancestor is not enumerated in the 1840 Itawamba County Federal census.

Simply put, a land patent is only a title to land which was originally acquired within the United States of America by a treaty. It grants the rights to the described land under the treaty to the individual person named on the patent and to their heirs and their assigns forever. A land patent merely documents title to land. In the Chickasaw Cession area of northeastern Mississippi, many people obtained land patents from the sale of public lands at the land office in Pontotoc, yet never moved onto the specific lands documented in the patents. There were many land speculators buying land and receiving patents in Itawamba County. From small-time speculators with only a quarter section of land to larger operations involving thousands of acres, these people were absentee landowners. I’ve come across patents in Itawamba County from such land speculators and businessmen as John Henry Miller and Duncan Clarke of Pontotoc County, William Eckford of Lowndes County, Archibald Taylor of Tuscaloosa County, Alabama and even Natchez nabob and millionaire, Dr. Stephen Duncan.

Many residents of neighboring Monroe County obtained land patents in Itawamba County as well, yet never moved onto the Itawamba County lands patented. One aspect of land patents in Itawamba County I have noticed is usually on the land patent itself, the residency of the patentee will be documented – Stephen Duncan of Adams County, Archibald Taylor of Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, etc.

Simply because a person obtained a land patent, doesn’t necessarily indicate the patentee ever moved onto the land. It is important to keep in mind a land patent merely shows land ownership and not necessarily residency.

On another note, I’ve seen the discussion of probate records on an online discussion board where a researcher was asking a question pertaining to the location where probate documents were filed. Were they filed in the jurisdiction where the deceased lived? Where they filed where the deceased died? Were they filed where the deceased owned property?

Over the years in researching Itawamba County probate records, I have come across many probate records of people who did not live in Itawamba County, yet owned property in Itawamba County at the time of their death. In researching Dr. Stephen Duncan of Natchez for an article I was preparing, I found he died at his home on Washington Square in New York City during 1867 where he had been living since 1863. His probate was handled in the courts of New York, yet a portion of his probate records can also be found in both the counties of Adams and Issaquena in Mississippi where he had considerable land holdings. Based upon my research in the old probate records here in Mississippi it is my belief that 19th century probate records of a deceased individual would be found in the jurisdiction of the residence of the deceased, as well as in the jurisdiction where the deceased owned property. It may be a good idea to also search in localities where the deceased owned property, if the probate records are missing in the location of legal residence.


Don Dulaney said...

Mr. Franks, Your timing was perfect for this post. I have just started researching John Dulaney and his brothers land patents. Your information will be very useful as most of it is.

Bob Franks said...

Thank you for your comments Don. The Dulaney family has been a part of Itawamba County since before the county was organized. I'd imagine the courthouse is full of Dulaney records.