Wednesday, November 13, 2013

19th Century Identity Theft?

What if....someone stole your land deed?

I was researching ancestors in Somerset, Pulaski County, KY, this week when I came across old deeds from 1825.

The old deeds look something like this one.

It reads in land lingo like this: "April the 22nd day, 1822 surveyed for Ivy Lankford, 50 acres of land by virtue of a Kentucky Land office warrant no. 8559 lying and being in the county on the waters of White Oak Creek beginning on a Black Oak and Hickory said Lankford's old corner on Stephen Combs old line N4W34 to a Black Oak his corner N51 E92 to a stake lying on Charles Buster's line, his line N34 W22 to a White Oak marker to a line..." 

Surveyors of the times drew the first maps, chainmen made measurements and drove stakes. They checked elevations and documented landmarks.

It's hard to imagine a life where lines are drawn and described by trees, shrubs, and creeks. What if a tree or shrub died? What if the creek flooded or rerouted itself? What if the Land Office burned down--there was no online copy in "the cloud" right?

A land feud would ensue.

What if the recorder misspelled a name, or spilled an ink blot over a critical identifying part of the document? What if a deed is lost? or stolen? 

Was there 19th century identity theft?


Blog post by Anne Love-
Writer of Historical Romance inspired by her family roots. 
Nurse Practitioner by day. 
Wife, mother, writer by night. 
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  1. Interesting....

    On another note, my oldest son was born in Somerset, KY! :)

    1. Cool Ladette. I hope to visit there some day!

  2. Wow, now that is a lot to think about. One great reason for our technology age!

    1. And yet, if you think about it, it's pretty amazing that a hard copy of these 200 year old deeds still exists. I hope we can say the same about our digital age in 200 years.

  3. Hmm. Interesting. How did the deeds get into the hands of the owner(s). Like, when the deed is first given to him/her, would it be possible for the owner to read it, in the company of an official, to make sure everything is legit?

    I'm not much of a historical buff - which is why I shy away from writing historicals, but, I do read them all the time!

    I do have another question, and my question is related to your identity theft question. Back in historical times, how did you prove who you were? I'm assuming they didn't have official birth certificates? I believe social security numbers were not used until Teddy Roosevelt's time? So, how can a person prove who they are in the first place. Once born, did the parents register you at the local official office of some sort? Some lived on frontiers, not near a town, so, I'd think identity theft would've been easy back then?

    Sorry to ramble, but, just had to throw that out there! Great blog post!

    1. Great question Cecelia. Vital statistics such as births, marriages, and deaths were often recorded in the Family Bible first, and at the local parish. But as states gained statehood, they began keeping probate records of their own. If one needed to prove their identity, such as with pension claims after a war, they were required to have an affidavit--they had to provide several witnesses to testify who the person was, and how they knew them. These were often relatives or neighbors.

  4. You have my imagination spinning in full suspense mode!!! LOL no worries. Won't steal the idea.

  5. Any time I'm digging through census data, I consider the possibility of record-writer error. (Not to mention, the handwriting can be hard to read.) A birth date, a place of birth, any of those details could be off a little and completely throw my genealogy research into chaos. As always, it reminds me how important little details can be.

    1. Exactly Halee. Our digitized, legal world of today wouldn't stand for such errors.


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