The Settlement Deed Helps Settle Relationships, by Michael John Neill

Ireland landscape.JPGThis article is the third in a series on “Identifying Your Family,” in which a series of census records were analyzed to estimate the number of children in the Augusta and Melinda Newman family. Previous articles are at:

A comparison of census records is only the beginning point in completing the family structure. This week we continue our look at the children of Augusta and Melinda Newman by comparing our census conclusions with other records.

Our analysis in “Identifying Your Family” concluded that there were nine children in Augusta’s family (eight boys and one girl), with one boy likely dying in the 1840s. As many of the children were out of the home by the every-name 1850 census, several children remained unnamed and unidentified after our analysis. In this case it was decided to view records of Augusta’s estate settlement in order to more completely determine the family structure.

Augusta Newman’s probate file fails to specifically mention any heirs besides his wife. The names of other Newmans appear in the file, but no relationships are stated. The only documents potentially providing a list of Augusta’s heirs are a series of three deeds apparently executed in 1864 by his widow, Melinda, and other family members after his death as a means of selling his farm.

These three deeds mention a total of sixteen individuals as apparent owners of Augusta’s property; all but two have the last name Newman. None are specifically named as Augusta’s children. The question is, which heirs are related to Augusta by birth and which heirs are related to Augusta by marriage? Not all of the sellers can be his children.

The sellers on the deed are Melinda, Joseph, Jesse, John, Zilpha, Thomas, Mary Ann, Mahala, William S., Rebecca, Edward, and Sarah Ann Newman; and James and Cassandra Symmonds. It is fairly clear James and Cassandra are a pair, but a more complete reading of the document needs to be done to determine other relationships.

Why is the kinship not clearly stated? The sellers already knew and the buyer was likely a neighbor who knew the family. In a case such as this, adding all the relationships to the deed was probably seen as unnecessary. After all, the deed’s purpose was to transfer title, not create a genealogical record to be used a century and a half later.

While the actual deeds themselves provided few husband and wife connections, the deed acknowledgements (made before a notary in the county where at least one seller lived, and recorded immediately after the deed itself in the deed record) helped to complete the picture of husbands and wives. A complete reading of the deeds indicated there were seven married couples, meaning that seven of the deeds’ signers were heirs by virtue of their marriage to another heir. Out of the sixteen sellers listed on the deeds, that leaves nine who were heirs and not spouses of heirs. Given that seller Melinda Newman was Augusta’s widow, that leaves eight sellers on the deed who were heirs of Augusta.

They are likely his children, but nothing so far has indicated that they all are (some sellers could be grandchildren). That the sellers are all Augusta’s children is an assumption we may make, but one that we need to remember we made in case later records run contrary to that statement.

The following could either be coupled or singled out from the three deeds:

Melinda Newman
Joseph Newman
Jesse and Henrietta Newman
John and Zilpha Newman
Thomas and Mary Ann Newman
David and Mahala Newman
William S. and Rebecca Newman
Edward and Sarah Ann Newman
James and Cassandra Symmonds

From our previous census analysis, Melinda appears to be the widow and David, Jesse, and Joseph appear to be sons listed with the Newmans in 1850 and 1860. The acknowledgements after the deeds indicated the county and state where each seller was living. Using this information and the husband and wife relationships, it was possible to locate each seller in at least the 1860 or the 1870 census.

While the sellers did move from the locations stated in the deed, they were clustered in White and Hendricks County, Indiana; Hancock County, Illinois; and Linn County, Iowa. All of these counties (except Hendricks) are listed as residences of sellers in the actual deeds drawn up in 1864. Based upon these census enumerations the Newman heirs listed on the deeds were born approximately as indicated below:

William S., 1818
Thomas, 1820
Cassandra, 1823
John, 1825
Edward, 1826
David, 1830
Jesse, 1838
Joseph, 1842

The 1860 and 1870 census enumerations for the sellers on the deed were analyzed separately from the previous census work done on Augusta’s records. This was because I was not yet certain they were the same family.

These years of birth from the people I found in the deed correspond fairly closely to the children inferred from the pre-1850 censuses for Augusta in our earlier article. These years of birth may also be slightly incorrect (they are based upon census ages after all). I should compare them to information obtained from additional records.
This list should be viewed as a working list of children for Augusta and Melinda and all dates of birth as approximate. Based upon these years of birth, Augusta and Melinda may have had additional children.

If Augusta Newman had any children other than those listed on the deed, they apparently died without issue before the deed was executed. If a child of Augusta’s were dead, but had children of their own, those children (grandchildren of Augusta) would be listed on the deed as additional sellers.

Our deed analysis gave us a number of children consistent with the census enumerations. This is good as discrepancies would only have raised more questions. We conclude this week with two closing comments.

The Purpose of the Document
Keep in mind the original intent of the document being analyzed. Deeds were drawn up to transfer a clear title from the sellers to the buyers. They were not necessarily done to create an accurate genealogy of the deceased landowner. Consequently children who predeceased the landowner and had no children of their own are usually not mentioned.

Census records were not created to accurately document relationships. They were created to count the population, list the individuals in a given household, and provide other statistical data.

Perform Some Analysis in a Vacuum
This may seem a little bit strange, but it can help to ferret out inconsistencies. Even if I have significant non-census data on a family, I analyze their census entries alone to see what conclusions I can reach.¬ This is especially true with pre-1850 censuses. It may be that the census indicates an additional child or some other anomaly not suggested in other records.

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Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is currently a member of the board of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS). He conducts seminars and lectures nationally on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including “Ancestry” Magazine. You can e-mail him at [email protected] or visit his website at, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

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7 thoughts on “The Settlement Deed Helps Settle Relationships, by Michael John Neill

  1. Dear Mr. Neill,
    I read with great interest your article on “The Settlement Deed…” and noted several parallels to my wife’s family history. Until about two years ago, Emmert family researchers were able to trace their lineage back to Leonhard Emmert (1832 -1900). Then with the discovery of a deed transfer from 1870 in Holmes County, Ohio, a new element was added to the family history. Leonhard Emmert of LaGrange County, Indiana, and John Emmert of Elkhart County (neighboring county), returned along with their wives to Holmes County, Ohio, to be legal representives for Thomas Emmert (deceased 1864) in the transfer of a deed for a lot in Winesburg, Ohio. The title of ownership was transferred to Thomas’ wife Sophia in lieu of $200 paid to them by her. She died the following year in 1871. John and Leonhard returned to their respective counties in Indiana and initiated some sort of legal affidavit assenting to the deed transfer made in Holmes County, and these affidavits were returned to Holmes County to complete the requirements of the deed transfer made there. Now all of this seems to show that the two brothers, John (the elder) and Leonhard were the sons of Thomas Emmert and that Sophia was either their mother or perhaps their step-mother. But we have not been able to get beyond these probabilities. The name Thomas does not appear among the early descendants of John and Leonhard, on the other hand the name Sophia does. Also, John and Leonhard appear to have had nothing to do with the probate of Sophia’s estate when she died in 1871, nor do they appear to have purchased any items from the estate. Too bad that legal documents of this type were not intended to include a genealogical record.
    Thanks for reading this. Roger Franke

  2. There is another practical reason whi relationships may have been left off the deed: cost. In the pre-photoprinting days, Deeds, Leases, Mortgages, and such legal instruments were copied into Record Books by professional typists, and before that by professional copiers. They charges by the word.Many of them tryed to pad the price by using several words/pharases of similar, but slightly different meaning that became standard: e.g., “that is, vis, to wit:”
    In retaliation, some attorneys dropped words elsewhere.

    P. T. Gilbert, Esq.

  3. The NEWMAN name in this article jumped out at me because I had been researching a NEWMAN family last week. I found them in Linn County IA, Cedar Rapids, to be specific, so that really made me sit up and take notice. I’m trying to return a photograph of Charles Ivan Peterson whose mother married John Newman (born c. 1871), probably a second marriage for both. Ivan was listed as John’s stepson in the 1920 census. John’s wife “Lula” was the daughter of Joseph and Mary Sacora of Oxford Township, Jones County, Iowa, which is east of Linn County. Now I’m wondering if John Newman’s ancestors are listed in the article. I’ll send this on to a Newman family genealogist.

  4. When I click on “Click Here for a printer-friendly version of this article”, I get a page of ads. I already have a World subscription—all I want is to print Michael’s article!!! Please!!!

  5. Haha. this is rlly funny bc my last name is newman and i am statedly related to most of these people.

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