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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 4/23/2003

Mortgages, Signatures and Geometry

Last week's column closed with a reference to an 1878 mortgage located using a tract index, a finding aid frequently encountered in public land states.

This document was particularly interesting to me as the lender and borrowers were related to each other and to me. The lender was my ancestor, Johann Ufkes, and one of the borrowers was his sister, Christina Habben. Typically, I don't pay a great deal of attention to mortgages, especially as these documents do not always provide one with a great deal of information. However, I made a copy of the entire record for later analysis.

Sometimes mortgages will be interfiled with other deeds. In this case, there was a separate series of books containing mortgages. Today, typically all land records are filed in the same series of records. This was not always the case and in this specific situation, I suspect that it was because it was easier for the recorder to use books with "boilerplates" containing typical mortgage language, typical warrantee deed language and typical quitclaim deed language. This boilerplate made making an official copy of the document easier.

It's Not Really The Real Thing
Given the date this mortgage was recorded (1878), the copy of the mortgage in the mortgage book is not a copy in the sense we typically think of today (a photocopy or digital copy). It is a handwritten rendering by the clerk. The clerk's job was to copy the document in the record books as accurately as possible, but mistake are always possible (after all clerks are human). While Rolf and Christina Habben apparently signed the actual mortgage, the "signatures" at the bottom of the page of the record book are not actually theirs, but rather the clerk's copying of their names. In the margin of this mortgage book is an interesting item that does contain an actual signature.

If all goes as according to plan, those who borrow money against property pay off the debt and obtain clear title to the property put forth as collateral. Sometimes this payoff is noted by the creation and filing of a "release" of the mortgage as a separate document. In this record typically the holder of the loan indicates that the loan has been extinguished and that the loan holder no longer has any claim to the property, which was put up as collateral. These releases may be filed with the other deeds, or in a separate series of books along with the other land records. That is not what happened with the Ufkes-Habben mortgage. Instead there's a notation made on the record of the mortgage itself.

Read The Edges
There on the edge of the document was a notation that was worth reading.

Apparently on 29 October 1879 the Habbens had paid the loan in full. This final payment is noted on the left margin of the copy of the mortgage, almost in the binding and easy to overlook. At the end of the two-sentence statement releasing the Habbens from the terms of the mortgage, John has actually signed his name. These comments and John's signature served in lieu of a separate legal statement (and might have been cheaper than creating and recording a separate release of mortgage). It was also more fortunate for me as this provided another actual copy of John's signature. And I also know that on 29 October 1879, the mortgage book was opened to the very page I was reading and that my ancestor had signed his name in the book.

Of course the mortgage also listed the interest rate (10 percent) and the amount borrowed ($430). The length of term was not stated, but the Habbens paid the amount within a year.

The Property Itself
There is another aspect of this document that is interesting. The property is described in metes and bounds. Most (but not all) property in public land states is described in terms of townships, sections and the subsequent aliquot parts of those sections. However, there are times in public land states where resorting to metes and bounds descriptions (at least partially) are necessary. The metes and bounds description is necessary in this case because the property is not a "nice" part of a section or quarter section. Consequently the property had to be described using its boundaries, while using a corner of a section as a beginning point of reference.

Starting At A Red Sand Stone Corner On The Road...
Those who have researched in state land states (generally located in the eastern portion of the United States) are used to land descriptions wherein each "line" or boundary of the property is described using angle measurements, lengths, and a variety of reference points (trees, rocks, and watercourses are popular). Many properties in public land states can be described without using a metes and bounds measurement because of the township and section system that is used. However sometimes it is not possible to describe property in these states completely using only parts of a section. That is the case with this piece of property.

Part of the description of the real estate reads as follows:
"Beginning at a red sand stone corner in the road 12 chains and 27 links west of corner of said quarter section, thence running south 10 minutes east 27.5 chains"

The ten minutes has to do with an angle measurement—not the amount of time it took to locate the document. The 27.5 chains is a measurement of length, not an indication that the log chain had a half a piece missing. These and other measurement terms are discussed in more detail on the following sites:

Land Record Reference—from DeedMapper

Land Surveying Measurement Conversions

Overview of the Public Land Survey System

We're not going to go into the specifics of drawing the property here in the Daily News. It will suffice to say that this description had to do two things

  • Tell how to get to the "beginning point" of the property using the corner of the section as an initial point of reference.
  • Describe all the boundaries of the piece of property.

    Those boundaries are what indicate the outline or shape of the property. Some parcels can have quite a few boundaries, which makes visualizing the property virtually impossible.

    How To Draw It Out?
    One can use a protractor and a straight edge after a little review of plane geometry. While this method is fun (personal opinion), it can be time consuming and requires patience. There are programs that will draw the property out given the description.

    I use a program called DeedMapper by Direct Line Software to plat out properties described in metes and bounds. The program is relatively easy to use and offers several features for those working on more in-depth problems than this mortgage reference. There are many genealogical uses of this program, which typically fall into the following categories:

  • Mapping an individual property to see how it "looks"
  • Mapping out a series of properties for an individual over a period of time
  • Mapping out an estate division when several heirs are all given their part of the real estate
  • Mapping out a neighborhood (typically done by mapping out land patents). This is one of the more popular uses of the program.

    Our problem falls into the first category and is certainly the best kind of problem for the novice to platting property from metes and bounds descriptions. Mapping out an entire neighborhood can be very involved and time-consuming project.

    What Did It Look Like?
    I knew based upon the metes and bounds description of the property that it was not a nice rectangular shape. After all, rectangles have four sides and this description indicated the property had twice that many "edges." When it was all said and done, the property basically looked like a rectangle with a wedge cut out of the bottom.

    Why Plat Out One Property?
    Platting out the property allowed me to see where it fit exactly within the section. Did it serve any other major purposes? At this point, no. However, there are two things to consider:

  • Was the property the Habbens originally purchased the same as the one in the mortgage? Looking for additional references in the tract index for the quarter section under study will hopefully answer this question. It is possible they only mortgaged part of the property they owned. Platting all these properties will help us see how they fit together and how the Habbens farm changed in size over time.

  • If one has never platted property in metes and bounds starting with a "simple" piece of property greatly aids in the learning process and is less of a test on one's patience.

    Those who want to see what the property looked like can view the plat and a scan of the original deed.

    In upcoming columns, we'll address additional concerns with land descriptions given in metes and bounds.

    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 the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him or visit his website at:, but he regrets that he is unable to assist
    with personal research.

    Copyright 2003, Inc

    Used by the author on his website with permission.

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