I’ll bet you wish you had an uncle like mine.
I’m talking about my great-great-great-great-uncle actually, James Rawlins Sr., who had some very definitive opinions regarding his final resting place. I quote from his 1843 will: “I desire my body to be decently buried in a piece of ground now used as a burying ground in the North West corner on the North half of the West half of the North West quarter of Section Eighteen in Township Twelve North of Range Twelve West of the third principal meridian, being the same tract on which I now reside in Greene County.”
We have three Greene county atlases in the U.S. County Land Ownership Maps collection on Ancestry.com. The earliest is 1893, 50 years after James’s time, but a timeline for James mentioned a burial ground in Patterson, so I thought I might find a cemetery. And how is this for luck: the 1893 atlas listed township, ranges, and meridian in bold at the top of the page.
According to the atlas, Patterson was in township 12, but the ranges were XIII & XIV West. I was too far west. I flipped back a couple of pages. There were Ranges XI & XII West…there was section 18…there was the northwest corner. But no cemetery. After 50 years, the graves of James and his wife (who would die one week after he did in August 1843) lay, I presumed, in a corner of a plot now owned by an E.M. Husted.
The good news for those of you who don’t have an Uncle James leaving behind GPS coordinates to the family plot is that the County Land Ownership collection at Ancestry.com has just been indexed by name. In this case, of course, the index wouldn’t have helped me find James, who wasn’t there to find—but it led me right to his grandson, P. A. Rawlins, who, it turns out, owned 200 acres on the west edge of section 17, just next door.
And apparently the entire family was not lured to the open spaces of Texas or the valleys of the mountains; Rawlin(g)ses owned land in Morgan County, too, and Shelby and Montgomery and Jo Daviess, to name a few.
You can learn more about the history of county land ownership atlases and how to use them to find your own family farm—or your great-uncle’s grave—at a new landing page by clicking here.