Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Virginia Land Survey Books: Finding Invisible People

I've been sorting through the ever increasing number of digitized records now available at (all of the records with a camera by them are digitized). I recently discovered the Survey Books, sometimes referred to as Plat Maps Books. When I saw the catalog reference I initially thought "well I'll take a look", but I don't think it will tell me anything. These books aren't plat map books showing neighbors property. These show individual surveys for land grants. I was wanting to see the names of property line neighbors, so wasn't that excited about these books.

I could not view these Virginia survey books at home; some digitized films are viewable from anywhere and some not. Most of the Virginia records are not viewable everywhere, but only at an LDS Family History Center or Library. These survey books are only viewable at a Family History Center or Library. I found these in the catalog on a Saturday when my local FHC was closed. I headed over there Monday to take a look.

I checked Virginia Land Survey books associated with the counties my ancestors lived in. Two of the books were indexed, making my search easier. One book wasn't. My initial index search turned up nothing for my surnames. I then noticed that there were more books attached to each film digitized. Looking at the additional books I had a big breakthrough!  I found a John McPike had a land survey dated 1755. I have been researching that exact area for around 18 years and never saw a John McPike on any records. Actually I've been searching the area for Wrays and Thurmans, ancestors of my great-grandfather William Forgey. I had no idea until very recently that my great-grandmother, Isis Browning, also had ancestors who once lived in the same area, namely Bedford County, Virginia (now Franklin County, VA). I had found a land grant for Isis Browning's great-grandparents, William and Obedience McPike, fairly recently, putting them in that area in 1780. The 1780 grant was for the same land described in John McPike's survey, 304 acres in Bedford County, Virginia on both sides of the Blackwater river. Since we assume William McPike was born about 1750 John McPike may have been his father? Now I have a new person to trace, and a much earlier timeframe for the McPikes in America. We had thought they had come to America around 1770 from Northern Ireland. Now we know they were here in 1755.

John McPike 1755 Land Survey Bedford County, Virginia (Now Franklin), both sides of the Blackwater River
The John McPike survey also clears something up. I was surprised that William McPike, who was living in Tennessee in 1779, would leave Tennessee then head to Virginia and buy a 304 acre land grant in 1780, soon after returning to Tennessee? I'm now thinking he returned and filed for the grant after the death of John. The land was probably pretty much played out by that time, so William returned to Tennessee.

I actually found a land survey for William McPike dated April 1778. He transferred this land, apparently soon after the survey, to Alexander Ferguson. He then appears to migrate to Tennessee where he files for a land grant in 1779.

William McPike 1778 Bedford County, Virginia
Now I know the importance of these survey books. They tell us who lived in an area, and give us an idea of where the land was located. They may be the only surviving record of a person. I know my family filed surveys which they never proceeded to get a grant for. Looking through the surveys you may find more people with the same surname that you never knew about. You may also find your ancestors in a county you never knew they were in. These surveys go back to colonial days, making them, sometimes, the only record source in some areas early on. The earliest survey books I've run across so far go back to 1729 in Caroline County, Virginia. I'm sure some books have been lost to fire etc., but many have survived giving us a better picture of who was living in an area in colonial and early American times, and information on migrations.
I've learned you never know what you might find in a record, never prejudge.
Head over to your nearest LDS Family History Center and take a look, if you haven't already? You can check their catalog for online offerings, before your trip over there, here:


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