We collect deeds for our ancestors to help place them in a certain place at a certain time. There is, however, one aspect of “following the land” in Kentucky (and other state-land states – Connecticut, Delaware, George, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia ) that makes it a bit challenging. The land descriptions are written in metes and bounds. Here’s an example:

Beginning at a stake and five Beech painters running thence North 38½W 197 poles to a white hickory beam and Maple on the Bank of the River thence up the same buiding thence North43E 44 poles north55E 37 poles to an ash on the river Bank connect to a military survey of 1100 acres of which the aforesaid tract is a part thence with an original line of the military survey South 34E89 ½ poles to a stake thence South7½E 100 poles to an elm Claudius Busters corner thence north67E48 poles to a stake thence South52E 28 poles to a small sugar tree near a beech marked JMS thence South58½W 92 poles to the beginning…

Not exactly what we are expecting when we are trying to map out land locations. Several years ago, I wrote a post showing how to draw a map of a parcel of land using these descriptions. You can find that here. Using some software like Deed Mapper to draw your maps? You need a list of coordinates like this in order to do that.

But I don’t necessarily want to draw out every land description in each deed that I find. So I turned to my favorite piece of software – Excel. I decided to just list the “codes” for each boundary line. That way, I could pretty quickly determine if pieces of land were a match.

The first column of numbers are the directions and the second column are the number of poles.

Once I started filling in additional deeds, I decided I needed a way to also keep track of when land was sold and to who. This particular deed had a follow-up deed later showing that the boundary line markers had been changed, so that went into the document as well. But interestingly enough, future deeds did not use these new coordinates.

  • I like to use the empty cells to add any notes that I might want to add. Sometimes, these notes only make sense to me, so that is something that I need to keep in mind if I am going to share this document with a fellow researcher. For example, in the image below, I have a note showing the relationship of John Cook’s wife to Talitha Ellis. What I didn’t add was that Talitha was the wife of Elias’s brother, George A. She was my 3x great-grandmother, so I certainly recognize the relationship, but others may not.
  • I change the color of the information cell when the land passes out of my family’s line.
  • The cells with underlined information are linked to the correct page in FamilySearch where the deed can be found. One click takes me directly to the FamilySearch sign-in page and then immediately to the correct image.
  • I can also add notes using the Excel comments feature. For example, you can see the red triangle on the right side of this image in the cell that says 37. I added a comment to indicate that I had copied the information correctly, it was not a typo. That saves me time from going back to look at a deed again when I notice that something is different. Whenever my cursor hovers over the red triangle, I can read the note.
  • When I’m working with more than 1 person with the same name, I can use colors to help me keep track of who is who once I have assigned a deed to a specific person. I might be able to figure out who owned the land based on a watercourse that was mentioned, or the name of a neighbor or witness. In my Elias Smith examples, I might use green for Elias (1853) and blue for Elias (1885).
  • Keeping the information in the Excel format can also help me out when mapping a parcel of land just doesn’t make sense. In this example, you can see that the person copying the land description from a previous deed skipped one line of the boundary.
  • Can’t read part of the deed due to a rip or smear? This method can help you figure it out. Notice the line below the red box in the image above. The person who wrote that deed had written a number and then written another number on top of it. I originally transcribed it as S20E, but after entering the information in Excel, I could see that it should have been S23E.
  • There have also been instances when I wanted to include tax list information to help me figure out family relationships or to see which person was gaining land in the tax lists after finding a new deed. Because of that, I added columns to keep track of who’s name a tract of land was Conveyed, Surveyed, and Patented in. This information can also help me determine which deed belongs to a specific person. When adding tax information to my spreadsheet, I just have to be aware that the headers at the top don’t apply.

Setting up a spreadsheet like this can seem overwhelming at first because if your ancestor purchased and sold a lot of land, it’s a lot of information to enter. But it is so helpful when keeping track of where the land went, I can’t imagine doing it any other way.

I’ve placed this spreadsheet in my Google Drive and you can access it here. As with all of the documents that I’m sharing, it is a work in progress and may change over time.