Did you know?
Some “Virginia” legalities–in Northwest Territory Deeds: In all states formed from the Northwest Territory after 1803, the new Federal laws regulating local records decreed that the wife’s name appear on Grantor Deeds showing that she consented to the sale of the property. No dower relinquishment was required. And no further court action was required to ensure that the title was clear. (PGS-JL/AU 1987:7)
The Old Northwest Territory was Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Recall that in Virginia, the English system of property documentation required “Turff and Twigg” which was a handful of dirt and the original document of title transfer from the Crown or the original, legal owner–while standing on the property in question. Virginia laws protected the privacy of the owner from the scrutiny of the government. As long as the grantee was in line to inherit the property in the normal course of events, no formal document of title transfer was necessary.
See Harold B. Gill, Jr. and George M. Curtis, III, “Virginia Colonial Probate Policies and the Pre-Conditions for Economic History,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 87 (Jun 1979): 68-73.
Recall that in North Carolina, under the same English legal system of property documentation, transfer of property required that the wife be separately examined by the court to get her permission to transfer the title. After all, if her husband died without a will, her dower right gave her 1/3 of that property. If the land in question was her inheritance from a father or grandfather, her name appeared as a sellor/grantor with her husband to show that she gave permission to the sale.
See Jo White Linn, “Tips for Genealogists Using Land Records,” Rowan County Register. Available from the author, PO Box 1948, Salisbury NC 28144 or at your nearest genealogy library. And Margaret Hoffmann, An Intermediate Short, Short Course in the Use of Some North Carolina Records in Genealogical Research. 1990. Available from the author, PO Box 446, Roanoke Rapids NC 27870.
The New England residents in the Northwest Territory wanted no question and no additional follow-up in the courts to clear their property titles. Although they too, adopted much of the English legal system, when it came to property title they were adamant that their original Puritan legal view held–wives signed the deed up front.
If there is no wife as a signatory–do not assume that she is deceased. There are several legal reasons why her signature may not be there. The most common is that the husband or some other interested male is acting in the place of the court to distribute property or to sell it for the benefit of the estate. One of the most common is to provide for the interests of the children.
You see, the wife is not the heir of her husband. She has a legal right to a portion of his property to support herself. This right may be provided for prior to her marriage–usually with a marriage contract. Her dower right could also be awarded in advance through the efforts of her nearest male relative. Or her right may be protected by the court at the time of sale or transfer of title by court order.
You need to examine all the property records in question, including the court minute books, to determine what is happening. Sometimes, if a formal court document is not found or was not recorded, a legal commission may be appointed to clear the title and those records are often in a separate book in the courthouse or the state archives.
When it comes to property title, our ancestors were tidier than we often give them credit for.
I am amazed that even today, before a condemnation of property for the public good and use, how many public hearings are held. These are announced in the newspaper and by public fliers posted in public venues. Some are hand delivered door to door. And you can bet on it–dower releases are acquired. Your favorite genealogy expert of choice, Arlene Eakle http://www.arleneeakle.com
PS If you know of or are compiling a directory of early settlers or an aid to finding hard-to-find ancestors in any of the Southern states, please let me know. We need all the help we can get!