The prospect of looking for your ancestors in land records might seem rather daunting at first sight, particularly if you are relatively new to family history research, but they can be a fascinating source of information. One of the first problems is knowing where to start. There are many different types of deeds and understanding what each type of deed is, and what type of infromation it contains can be , at least initially, quite challenging. For students of house history, land records are essential tools. Even if you live in a modern house, the land upon which it stands has a history and an exploration of the records can yield names of both land owners and tenants.
As part of my MLitt Degree studies, I undertook some research into the land upon which my 1970s home stands. Opposite is a large Victorian detached house. The deeds of my house, and those of the house opposite, which I obtained via the Land Registry for a small fee, confirmed what I already suspected. My home was built on land which once formed part of the gardens of the old house. My own deeds and the deeds of the house opposite were about 95% identical, with the only difference being relevant to my own house. The deeds gave some names, and I was then able to visit the wonderful Registry of Deeds in Wakefield to start tracking back the records relevant to the land upon which my home sits.
Living in Yorkshire I am extremely fortunate to be able to visit the Registry of Deeds in Wakefield, the repository for summaries of the registered deeds deposited between 1704 and 1970. They are indexed by personal name and place and held by West Yorkshire Archive Service. The West Riding Justices of the Peace, by Act of Parliament, were made responsible for the establishment of a registry to record deeds, except copyhold and short leases, relating to land in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Its main purpose was to provide dependable proof of ownership. The West Riding included the area which became part of North Yorkshire after local government reorganisation in 1974.
A deed is a legal document. It is signed and delivered, especially if it concerns the ownership of property or legal rights. Such deeds include mortgage deeds, contracts, indentures, instruments, wills, and other legal documents.
In 2016, the Wakefield archive building was closed to enable archivists to remove all their holdings to a new purpose built archive. Local researchers are eagerly awaiting the opening of the new Archive building on February 11th 2017.
Tomorrow I will describe what I was able to discover about the land by making use of material held in Wakefield and Local Studies Library.