At our October 2013 meeting, Richard Konkel presenting a program on how to use land records to further your genealogical research. He provided a handout that defined many terms commonly found in land records, and I’ve included some of them here.

The presentation began with a description of how land was obtained from the Penn Proprietors or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. First an Application was made. This is simply a request for issuing a warrant and may include information about the date the land was settled. Next a Warrant was ordered for a Commonwealth surveyor to initiate a survey.  A warrant designates where the land is located by county and township, the person to whom the warrant was granted, the number of acres the warrant emcompassed, and the date the warrant was issued. Then  a Survey was completed by an official surveyor for the Penns or the Commonwealth; often it was a County Deputy Surveyor. Surveys usually noted the location by county and township, courses and distances of the boundary lines, the warrantee, the number of acres with allowances for roads and errors, natural features such as springs, streams, hills, etc., and the date of the wanrrant and survey, and sometimes the date of settlement. And finally a Patent, the official granting of clear and perfect title to the land by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, was issued at the owner’s initiative.

Rev. Neal Otto Hively published a series of books and maps summarizing the official Pennsylvania colonial records for all 35 townships in York County, from 1736  through the end of full land acquisition process (for some tracts as late as 1874).  He has also summarized the 20 townships in Adams County. You can visit for more information on his work.

Warrant registers can be found on the Pennsylvania State Archives website at

When reading a deed it is important to understand the language …

Indenture: a deed distinquished by having the edge of the paper on which it is written indented or cut at the top in a particular manner

Grantor: the transferor of property; the seller

Grantee: one to whom a grant is made; the buyer

Consideration : the cause, motive, price, or impelling influence which induces a contracting aprty to enter into a contract

Hereditaments: things capable of being inherited

Heirs and assigns: ordinary words of limitation and not of purchase

Fee Simple Absolute: an estate in which the owner is entitled to the entire property, with unconditional power of disposition during one’s life, and descending to one’s heirs and legal representatives upon one’s death intestate

Tenements: in its common acceptance, is only applied to houses and other buildings, but in its original, proper, and legal sense signifies everything that may be holden, provided it be of a permanent nature

Metes and Bounds: a way of describing land by listing the compass directions and distances of the boundaries

Perch: a measure of land containing five yeards and a half or sixteen feet and a half in length; otherwise called a “rod” or “pole”

Acre: a quantity of land containing 160 square rods or perches; 4,840 quare yards or 43,560 square feet of land in whatever shape

Dower and Curtesy: the provision which the law makes for a widow out of lands or tenements of her husband, for her support and the nurture of her children.

The “It Being” clause reveals the chain of title for the particular parcel of land arranged consecutively, from the government or original source of title down to the present owner. A deed may indicate where the buyer came from. 

It is important to check the names of the adjoining property owners as these could be relatives or in-laws. The same is true of witnesses as they may be friends, relatives or neighbors of the grantor.

Always check all land indexes for after recorded deeds. Until recently there were no deeds for transfers of land that passed by inheritance; so remember to check probate records. Using tax records and working the chain of title from the beginning using Neal Hively’s maps and the property location may help fill in any gaps resulting from an unrecorded deed. It is also beneficial to check advertisements of public sales in newspapers as they often contain a detailed description of the property, including building and land usage.

Richard also discussed “other” records recorded at the Recorded of Deeds; for example: sale of slaves or livestock, prenuptial agreements, releases on estates, powers of attorney, etc.