Buried Deeds — Part 16 ( A Meghan Bode Mystery)

Meghan is among Saturday’s first arrivals at the Library of Virginia. Rick has taken John to his karate lessons and has promised to clean out the garage before she gets home.

She heads straight to the microfilm drawers on the second floor and searches the wills’ index rolls for Abraham and Isaac Walker. Between 1700 and 1780, three Isaacs and four Abrahams left wills in the county. A smile rises to her lips. Without seeing the book written by Evelyn’s grandmother, Meghan has no way to determine how good a researcher she was. But Meghan’s projects require keen skills with historic records. She trusts her own abilities.

Before leaving the index rolls, she checks for Evelyn’s great-great-great grandfather, also named Isaac.

You’d think they were Dutch, not English, she muses. The research she’s done on Rick’s Dutch ancestors revealed standard naming patterns across the family. Brothers and sisters all gave their children the same names, making it hard to untangle siblings from cousins in later generations. Weekend hobbyists often jump to the wrong connections.

She starts with the most recent Isaac, who died in 1872. He was Evelyn’s great-great-great grandfather. There’s no mention of Wyndham Thicket in his will. That fits what Evelyn told her. This Isaac Walker, like so many others, had to sell the plantation after the Civil War because of economic hardship.

Meghan turns to the wills of the four Abraham Walkers. She narrows the list to two who could be this Isaac’s father. The dates for both men are similar. One, aged 70, wrote his will just days before his death in 1823. The other was 50 when he wrote his five years before his death in 1810. The two men had been born within two years of one another.

The clerk who transcribed 70-year-old Abraham Walker’s will had poor penmanship and was likely tight with money. The ink is heavily faded, probably watered down to make it last longer. Much of the document is unreadable. Meghan deciphers enough words to learn this Abraham was a widower who left his plantation, Wyndham Thicket, to “my ..ar …..n, Isaac Walker, whose dwelling lies next to mine.” A few personal items and one hundred dollars were left to his only grandchild, Anne, daughter of Abraham’s deceased daughter, Elizabeth.

Whose dwelling lies next to mine? What an odd way to phrase it, Meghan thinks. And Isaac should’ve had children by 1823. And what are the two words before his name?

Meghan bets Evelyn’s grandmother stopped her research here, translating the faded scrawl as “dear son.” But Meghan knows better. She reads the will of the “other” Abraham Walker. Different handwriting suggests a different clerk, and he didn’t thin his ink. The words are clear, and Meghan’s sore eyes have a chance to recover.

“To my beloved son, Isaac, I leave the plantation on which I now dwell, called Wyndham Manor.”

Meghan reads the will again. Wyndham Manor? Where was that?

She’ll check deeds after a quick lunch. First she finishes with the wills of the three Isaacs. One makes no mention of a son named Abraham, but the others do. One leaves Wyndham Thicket to his son. The other leaves Wyndham Manor to his. And Meghan catches a break. That last Isaac included some additional information, describing Wyndham Manor as land “which I purchased from my cousin Isaac Walker of Wyndham Thicket.”

Lunch forgotten, she heads back to the microfilm drawers.

The flowery prose and colonial handwriting in the wills would confuse most people. But they would be an easy read compared to the deeds that Meghan chases down that afternoon.

Using Isaac Walker of Wyndham Manor’s will of 1793 as a starting point, she searches the grantee index for his land purchases before that date. She finds the sale record in 1764. It takes a few hundred words, but the deed states that Wyndham Manor lay adjacent to the south line of Wyndham Thicket.

Three hours later, Meghan has untangled the property’s history. Wyndham Thicket and Wyndham Manor were two early land grants purchased by the grandfather of the two Isaacs. They remained separate plantations until Evelyn’s great-great-great grandfather inherited Wyndham Thicket. Meghan suspects Evelyn’s grandmother never saw, or ignored, the revised property boundaries he recorded with the county. A deed instrument dated March 15, 1824, shows Isaac combined Wyndham Thicket, Wyndham Manor, and two other properties into a single plantation called Wyndham Thicket.

Meghan packs up her photocopies and finally has lunch after three o’clock. Her head is splitting, but she feels better than she has in days. She’ll review her notes and call Evelyn tomorrow with the good news.

I hope you’ll stay tuned for Part 17 next Tuesday.

New to the Meghan Bode Mysteries? You can catch up with her first complete story and the previous installments of Buried Deeds with this link.

45 thoughts on “Buried Deeds — Part 16 ( A Meghan Bode Mystery)

    • It’s both. 🙂 I’ve done a lot of research on my family, but skill with historic records such as deeds and wills is important when dealing with historic archaeological sites. Primary records like deeds can provide specific information about who lived on a site at a certain time while the archaeology fleshes out the story with real artifacts used by the occupants.

      Like

  1. Meghan is really getting her teeth into this. My bipeds started researching a family tree and found it very time-consuming once they got back a few generations, as the same names kept being used – good to know Meghan has the same trouble!

    Like

    • Some families seemed to recycle the same names every generation! And when siblings and cousins are all doing the same thing, it can be a nightmare to untangle the relationships, can’t it? I have some Dutch ancestors who did exactly that, and boy is it tough getting hold of the “right” Jacob in the “right” generation!

      Like

  2. Gosh, I don’t think anyone could pay me enough to be a geneaologist. I read some of my mother’s books, and the language can get very cumbersome. How interesting about the Dutch. I didn’t know that. Is there a particular reason the families used the same names across generations?

    Like

    • I’d have put you all to sleep if I’d used wording from the metes and bounds property descriptions in the deeds. “Commencing at a black oak at the corner with Wyndham Thicket….” 😉 It’s easier with the Township/Range system that was developed after the Revolution for the “western” lands beyond the 13 colonies. I have to do some deed research in Fairfax for a work project on Thursday, and I’m sure I’ll get a headache. 😉

      The naming patterns are often a cultural/religious tradition. The Dutch did this during colonial times. I have a Dutch line where the go-to names for boys were Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If you had more than three boys, then there was some variation. So when brothers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all name their sons with these names, and they live in the same area, you see where confusion sets in!

      Like

  3. I’m still with you, but I confess I had trouble following the genealogy. I’m not sure what the “good news” is, though I can guess that probably Evelyn’s line is different from the one that Megan has been excavating?

    Like

    • This episode was meant to make readers think carefully. So I expect a number of readers share your experience with it. Serious research like this is often difficult, with confusing names and conflicting evidence. Chasing down the past is rarely a straightforward task. A lot of people think they know who their ancestors are, but they’ve likely got some of them wrong.

      Despite the difficulty, you’ve made a good interpretation. 🙂

      Like

  4. JM, your fictional writing shows your own strenghts in terms of history and knowing your stuff about what went on during these time periods. How did you know that about the watering down of the ink on a signature? Have you looked into your own family tree? The reason why this reads so true is because you know what you’re talking about. I also really like Meghan, she’s smart yet we see her in “ordinary” situations as well as her vulnerabilities. Look forward to the next chapter!

    Like

    • I’ve done years of research on my own family. 😉 And in reading genealogical reference books I learned the watering down was fairly common. Sometimes the courthouse officials were tight with money. Sometimes, ink was just hard to come by so they stretched their supplies as much as possible. That’s one reason why some records are so faded. We take far more for granted these days than we usually realize.

      Combine faded ink with bad handwriting, and it’s easy to misinterpret what a document says! Now Meghan needs to break down and reveal the last bits of the story. 😉

      Like

  5. This is what makes reading good (researched) historical fiction such fun – so many twists and turns – and so many fascination little tidbits of facts ( that will be reaccessed during other book reads)
    But toss all in the mix, you can’t deflect attention from this: “my ..ar …..n, Isaac” …hmmmm and “dwelling next to mine”. (and the contrast of the wills’ ink reflecting wealth of the client…)
    Keeping an eye on you, Meagan…rested eyes (giggles)

    Like

    • This section was probably harder to follow than most of the story so far. But I wanted readers to get a real feel for how complicated historic research can be. It’s easy to latch onto the wrong ancestor if we’re not careful. Any genealogists in the audience might already suspect what that “..ar …..n” could really be. 😉

      Now, if you see Meghan, please remind her that I need her help to finish this story!

      Like

  6. This is a surprise, but one of those I find acceptable in a story. She had to look for the story and the surprise. Many times in stories I don’t care for, the “surprise” is something I would never have thought of because it just appears; it doesn’t grow from the tale like this does. Wonderful!
    Scott

    Like

    • Yes, we should avoid those “deus ex machina” moments as much as possible. I think this works because as you say, it grows from the story since we knew from the beginning how important the idea of family history is to Evelyn. In real life, even though I’m confident about the research I’ve done on my family, I would tell others to verify the work themselves and not just accept my research.

      Now where is that girl to help wrap this thing up?!

      Like

    • I have. 🙂 I’ve tracked some of my lines to the early 1700s here in North America and some of my husband’s to the 1600s in Belgium. Most of his ancestors were Catholic, and that church has kept great birth, marriage, and death records for centuries. Others, not so much, which can be frustrating.

      Like

    • Thanks, Dianne! Years of tracing my own family as well as research for historic period sites certainly made it easier. If you thought this was the hardest section to follow in the story, that was intentional. 😉 I wanted to give readers an idea of how complicated the work can be. 🙂

      Like

    • Hopefully, I didn’t put anyone to sleep. 😉 I know searching through old records isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But I wanted to give readers that realistic feel. I’ll be doing some similar research on Thursday for the day job. Fingers crossed it will be more straightforward than what Meghan’s dealing with!

      Like

  7. You’re right, it was more challenging to read and follow than any of the other installments, but in a good way. I was right there with Meghan trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. And especially trying to figure out the missing letters 🙂 very nicely done JM!!

    Like

    • Thanks, Arlene. 🙂 I promise this one was the most challenging installment. I’d bet Meghan’s more efficient than I am, although I can move at a good clip when needed—like tomorrow when I’m doing the work on the clock for a professional project. 🙂 Now I just need Meghan’s help to write up the last bits of the story!

      Like

    • If I can just find the time to really write it! 🙂 The day job has gotten busier, and I have to go to Fairfax tomorrow to do project-related deed and will research. That means less time to spend writing with Meghan. 😦

      Like

  8. It’s always fun to get those realistic details in there. I could practically smell the dust of untouched records. I can’t wait to see how it all turns out!

    Like

  9. Aha, so there were TWO properties! And multiple Abraham Walkers! Hmmm…… I haven’t a clue what happens next but I’m looking forward to it…

    I too love your genealogy bits in this story. I’ve run into a lot of this stuff too, as I’m sure many others have. I have at least 4 ancestors named Patrick Reilly. They were all cousins. Very annoying. I laughed at the part about the Dutch naming conventions. Bless them, they were so organized. But the whole surname vs. patronym thing with them still confuses me a lot. And reading the parts about Meghan reading the will, etc, reminds me of reading will transcriptions, census records, The handwriting. Good lord, the spidery, ink-faded handwriting. How many hours have YOU gotten bleary eyed looking at microfilm?

    Like

    • Thousands? I’ve lost track. 🙂 I was over in Fairfax today, doing chain of title research for a historic period site we’re testing. The first part of the morning was looking at modern digitized deeds on the courthouse’s computer system. Then it was over to the historic records annex to look at original deed, tax and will books from the 1800s. It’s really an interesting juxtaposition of new and old. And much more interesting when it’s my own family, but it’s not a bad way to spend a work day, either.

      Oh, yeah. Patrick Reilly. I doubt I’ll ever get far with my Irish lines. There’s just a few John Donnellys and John Collins in that part of the world!

      Like

    • Thank you so much! I see some maturity coming to my writing with these Meghan stories. I’m hoping to work that into the last rounds of revisions for my WIPs. It would make them stronger stories, and that’s always a good thing.

      Like

  10. This is a very cool entry into the ongoing mystery of Wyndham Thicket’s history. I quite enjoyed “watching” Meghan unravel all that prose. I also appreciated the recap at the end of this chapter. Normally, I like extrapolating information for myself, but, with the density of the clues and conclusions, I think the summation is a good choice. It also helps me see just how awesome Meghan is at the records part of her job. 🙂

    Nicely done!

    Like

    • I knew this could be a difficult installment for readers. Not everyone is familiar with historic records such as wills and deeds or chain-of-title research. Some readers might not have any interest in their own family histories, and this information might be as clear as mud to them. But this is important to the story, and I wanted readers to get a feel for how difficult the research can be. If I was writing for archaeologists who specialize in historic archaeology, no recap would be needed. But I hope I have a wider audience. 😉 So I tried to let the reader know that what Meghan found was likely good news for Evelyn.

      I wouldn’t do too much of this “real” detail work in a novella or novel. But I think a little taste “brings it home” for readers. And Meghan’s darn good at this kind of puzzle solving. I think an archaeologist’s skills with piecing together clues from the past are very like those used by detectives to solve crimes. That’s probably one reason why the pairing of an archaeologist and detective isn’t uncommon in fiction, both written and televised.

      Like

Comments are closed.