Witcher shares attorney tips for family research
Charles “Chuck” Witcher, a local lawyer who works as a title examinator in Coweta and surrounding counties, recently spoke to the Coweta County Genealogical Society – sharing insights from his legal work.
Speaking at the CCGS research library in Grantville, Witcher told those present about information that can be found in deeds. He also told them how affidavits – needed to show land ownership – can give a great deal of family information.
Before delving into the genealogical nuggets to be gleaned from land records, Witcher shared his path to doing the Witcher family history. It began when he was stationed in Colorado with the Air Force.
He had spare time after his daily duties, and he would go to the National Archives Center nearby. He recalled searching hour after hour through reels of census microfilm.
Later he spent time in Washington, D.C., where he had access to the National Archives. There he stayed on his feet all day carrying and looking at huge books of all kinds. All of this resulted in “The Witcher Family book,” a copy of which is housed in the CCGS library.
Research today is much easier, Witcher said, because so much is online and available from home to anyone with a computer. One can join the Georgia Superior Court Authority and access deeds from all counties in Georgia.
Other states probably have similar sites.
Witcher said some of the information that is in deeds can also be found in probate court, but deeds can provide relationships that cannot be found elsewhere. The first example he gave is one most experienced researchers have seen before – and that is the deed of gift of land or a slave to a son, named in the deed, for “love and affection.”
Other deeds might list all of the children, giving married names of the daughters at times. They might also tell where each lived. This can lead to someone who had “gone missing from the local picture” as he or she might be listed as being from a particular county and/or state.
Witcher read from an old law book and noted the wording in the deeds of today read pretty much like those of 1835. He laughingly said there was always four times the number of words needed because lawyers were involved.
He read an example of an affidavit required to prove land ownership because of a break in title. Many times, land passed from generation to generation requires such a document because ‘‘everybody knew who owned the property” and deeds were never recorded.
Witcher said he told one client that he did not have a clear title to his own property and he got angry. It turned out the man had a box full of deeds under the bed that never had been recorded. Witcher did the filing for him and cleared the issue with no affidavit required.
One time an affidavit was required was when the Shell family in Turin could not prove ownership of the land where they had lived for generations because the Turin bank where the deeds were held in a safety deposit box was robbed and those deeds were taken along with monies stolen.
If there was not a will, affidavits from people who knew those involved would give a long history of father, mother – and even sometimes grandparents – who owned the land and children who were selling the land.
In one case the children were each selling their portion of 60 acres gotten as heirs after their father and then mother died. Without a will, they had to prove they were the lawful heirs.
Sometimes deeds list slaves – sometimes by names – or livestock such as cattle and horses as security. Sometimes deeds will refer to the occupation of a slave, which can be helpful information to African Americans researching their history before 1865.
Witcher read one document where the woman giving the information stated that she was the wife of William Heard, the only wife of William Heard – listing their date of marriage and stating they were married until he died. She further states that they had no children and she was his only heir.
Another listed the death date of children who had predeceased their parents.