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A Kentucky Land Title Mess

Last week I wrote about my ancestor Thomas Reed’s land acquisitions in Illinois. Before he arrived there when he was in his mid-40’s, he had lived in Kentucky. He had land there, too.

Thomas was part of an extended family of Reeds in rural Shelby, later Spencer, County, Kentucky. All the men had farms.

Thomas’ ownership arrangement was unusual. He and his brothers Caleb and John together acquired an undivided tract of 311 acres in 1817. They were to pay for it in 4 installments, but payment terms were not specified.

Later court and land records state that the brothers proceeded to divide the land among themselves into unequal parcels. They never formalized this agreement.

Nature has a way of confounding these loose land titles. In subsequent years, Caleb Reed and the grantors all died. Somehow the men’s father became involved by “holding a bond” from a third party.

I have yet to figure out exactly what was going on here.

By the 1830’s, it became time to straighten out this mess. The father had moved to Indiana and transferred the bond to Thomas Reed. John and Thomas and their widowed sister-in-law wanted to leave Kentucky, too.

In order to sell the land, they needed to bring a court case to regularize the land title. The County Commissioners interviewed the parties and determined that the Reeds had fulfilled the terms of their deal to purchase the tract. The informal land division among the brothers had been fair.

The Court took the Commissioners’ recommendation and vested title in the Reeds. They turned around and sold their holdings to a neighbor.

This entire episode could have been avoided if the Reeds had signed and recorded appropriate documentation as they went along. I wonder how much it cost them to get a quiet title to the tract they had purchased.

It was interesting to note that the Reeds seemed to have been on good terms with one another all along. This would have been even messier if they had been fighting amongst themselves.


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