Sunday, June 14, 2009

Connie Moretti Rocks SDGS Meeting with Two Great Presentations

I love to watch great speakers tell their story and keep the audience actively interested and learning. That happened today at the San Diego Genealogical Society meeting. The program speaker was Connie Moretti from Redondo Beach talking about Geographic Finding Aids in the first session and Understanding Land Records in the second session. The talk summaries and Connie's CV are in my post SDGS Meeting on Saturday features Connie Moretti.

I enjoyed meeting Connie, only briefly, before her first talk and then we chatted some more between the talks. What a delightful lady. Several people commented about her clear and informative presentation style and she blamed it on having been a fifth grade teacher. In my opinion, "Professor" Connie really knows her stuff about Maps and Land Records!

Both talks were a blend of describing traditional (paper) and online (digital) resources, amply illustrated by annotated examples in her presentation. She often showed a handwritten record from a microfilm image, then underlined some text and transcribed it on the margin of the screen using her PowerPoint skills. Very effective.

In the Geographic Finding Aids talk, Connie discussed Gazetteers, Atlases and Maps. Her handout listed Computer Tools (e.g., Street Atlas USA CDROM, AniMap Plus CDROM, US Cities Galore software), Internet sites (e.g., Google Earth, Bing Maps, Earthpoint, Linkpendium) and Print Resources (e.g., Dollarhide's Census Map Guide, Migration Routes and Best Research Centers books, Walking with Your Ancestors, many more). Some of my "takeaways" from this talk included:

* You need to know the County where the ancestors lived when records were recorded. County boundaries changed, especially in colonial and early statehood years.
* Use maps to identify family and friends. People relocated in groups and did business with familiar people. Study these groups using land records.
* The "legal location" (where records were recorded) and the "social location" (where the family went to church, joined clubs, met friends) may be in different places due to geographic considerations.
* "Kissing distance" was about five miles - a beau woulds walk or ride as much as five miles each way to see his beauty. Or she might have been on the next farm over.
* When you go on vacation to your ancestral area, look for repositories that might hold family records (especially vertical files with surname folders!), find family cemeteries and churches, and enjoy historical and living history sites. Stay at a historical Bed and Breakfast if you can.

The second talk on Understanding Land Records had a lot of detail as Connie explained the basic information found in deeds, the types of deeds, some deed terminology, the different grantor and grantee deed index formats, and the two different USA land survey systems (Rectangular Survey with Range, Township, Section in most states west of the Original 13 States; or Metes and Bounds in the 13 original states plus parts of Kentucky and Tennessee). This is all very complicated for most people, but Connie seemed to stay on top of the details. For each concept, she used visual examples to illustrate her points.

The "takeaways" for me from this talk included:

* I didn't know that there were so many different types of indexes! She mentioned and described the Liber, Vowel, Burr, Campbell, Paul, Russell and Cott indexing systems, and blamed the plethora of systems on the salesmen peddling them to unsuspecting county clerks. She said to make sure to check the front of the deed indexes to determine the indexing system being used.
* 90% of the families in the USA from 1790 to 1860 owned land, and 75% owned land between 1860 and 1900. Land ownership was a primary reason to immigrate to the USA.
* Tax lists can be used to determine relative wealth of a family by comparing their taxed property to others in the community.
* Land records may be the only surviving records in some counties where the courthouse burned because they had to reconstitute the land records from deeds held by landowners in order to gather property taxes.
* Land records are a wealth of information because they help identify land holdings, relatives and neighbors.
* There is an online deed platting site at and a Deed Mapper Software and Platted Deeds Pool at

I had to leave a bit early before the end of the second talk so I missed the last 15 minutes of Connie's talk and her parting words.

This is a very difficult subject to present in an understandable way and hold interest. Using the visual aids of the handwritten record, underlining phrases and then showing the transcription worked extremely well!

In my humble opinion, this was an A-plus presentation - in content, visuals and presenting style - that all serious genealogy researchers should see.


Natalie Cottrill said...

It sounds like a wonderful presentation. However, I would tend to disagree with this statement - "90% of the families in the USA from 1790 to 1860 owned land." Many Caucasians did not own land at this time, and instead rented land or leased their homes. In addition, the entire Native American population was not permitted to own land at all during this period. We shouldn't forget the many thousands of enslaved African Americans who, from 1790 to 1866, did not own land, either.

Chris said...

The presentation handout has some very good links and is available at the SDGS website. There is a link in the right hand column.

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting a meeting summary Randy, I couldn't attend because I caught the "after school, summer cold". At the SDGS library they have the Animap computer program.

Mary said...

Thanks for the tip on the online deed mapping tools....can't wait to play!