The Historic Records Center holds the land records from 1742 to 1942. These records are arranged chronologically by the date of recordation. In addition to the land records recorded (see research note below), early deed books contain bills of sale for personal property (including slaves), commissions from the governor, bonds taken out for public office, powers of attorney, apprenticeship indentures, deeds of manumission, and other contracts.
Information on Virginia Land Records
The most commonly recorded deed is a deed of bargain and sale, in which one individual sells property, usually land, but occasionally personal property, to another individual. Such deeds show the names of the grantor and grantee, the residence of both parties, a description of what is being sold, the consideration (or price), the location of the tract of land, the tract’s boundaries, and any limitations on the property being sold. The deed was signed by the grantor, and possibly his wife or anyone else having a claim to the property, and by at least two witnesses.
Deeds of lease and release are often found in the Northern Neck and older counties. The lease, listing a nominal sum, is followed by the release noting the actual sale price. The lease may predate the release by a day, a week, or even a year. Together the two documents make up a legal deed and should not be confused with a simple lease to rent land. Deeds of gift transfer property, either real or personal, from one individual to another. They often use the wording “for love and affection.” The degree of kinship, if any, between the grantor and grantee is sometimes stated. Tripartite deeds are mortgages or deeds of trust where one party is indebted to another and transfers or mortgages property to a third party to secure the debt. On presentation to the court, deeds were proved and recorded. If the deed was not witnessed, the grantor acknowledged the deed in open court.
Under Virginia law, women relinquished their dower rights to real property being sold. If the wife of the grantor or whoever held the dower claim did not appear in court to relinquish her right, the court appointed two or more individuals to go to her and inquire privately if she did indeed understand and approve of the sale. Such relinquishments were not always recorded with the deeds. They often were recorded later in the deed books and are sometimes found in other record books. Without such dower relinquishment, the purchaser did not have clear title to the property.
Slaves in Virginia were considered personal property and consequently were not usually sold by deed. They were, however, often transferred in deeds of gift or were listed as property in mortgages and deeds of trust. In the event that a slave was emancipated prior to the owner’s death, a deed of manumission was recorded with the court.
The following deed books are missing: F-1, H-1, J-1, N-1, V-1, C-2, D-2, F-2, I-2, K-2, N-2, Q-2, and T-2. In addition, some deed books are incomplete. Missing records are indicated in the Deed Book Index.