Friday, November 25, 2016

Going to the Courthouse - Land Records - Case Study

Volumes of land records piled high on a counter in the vault in a county courthouse can be a monumentally boring thing.  Or they can bring a family history to life.  Let me give an example of how I found them to put flesh on the bones of my family's history.

By 1921, my grandfather David D. Fast #112786 (1884-1974) was 37 years old, single, and owned a section of good farm land near Hooker, Oklahoma.  On 28 February 1921, he borrowed $10,000 from C. H. Bailey of Hutchinson, Kansas, something that I found in the land records at the Texas County courthouse (Mortgage, D. D. Fast to C. H. Bailey, 28 February 1921, Texas County, Oklahoma, Deed Book 96:128, County Clerk's Office, Courthouse, Guymon).  When I showed the mortgage to my uncle, he said Grandpa used that money to buy new John Deere farm equipment; and here is a picture from a local history book showing my grandfather using that equipment to harvest wheat.
Source:  Hardesty History (Hardesty, Okla.: Hardesty Extension Homemakers Group, 1973) 2.
He never paid off the loan, instead paying the interest yearly and rolling it over in 1926.  By this time he was married with four children.  When the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl hit, he couldn't pay the mortgage; and on 4 August 1931, he sold his section of farm land, which included the family home to the same C. H. Bailey, apparently for a bargain price.  My dad had been born on 10 July 1931, less than a month before the family lost the farm, so it must have been an incredibly stressful time.  Here is a copy of the deed, which I found in the courthouse, when Grandpa had to sell his farm:
Warranty deed, D. D. & Elizabeth Fast to C. H. Bailey, 4 August 1931, Texas County, Oklahoma, Deed Book 170:366, County Clerk's Office, Courthouse, Guymon.
My grandfather lost the farm equipment as well, and the family moved about ten miles away to an old house near Hardesty, Oklahoma, built in the 1880s of blocks cut from soft chalk rock.  My oldest aunt remembers the family belongings piled into a horse-drawn wagon while the family drove their car to the "new" home, known as the Rock House.  The following years of the Great Depression were incredibly trying with four small children and another one on the way and not enough food or coal to heat with.

But my grandfather was an indomitable optimist, and he managed to save a few head of cattle out of the debacle.  He had always wanted to be a rancher instead of a farmer and had made a few attempts to get into ranching.  But now he had no choice since he needed to make a living and all he had left were a few cattle.  He rented some ranch land around the Rock House and eventually built up a good herd.  By the 1950s, he owned 680 acres of excellent ranch land and rented another 1320 acres.  At the age of 78 in 1962, when most men his age were retired or already dead, he built his dream home on his ranch. He lived in it another 12 years, until he died in 1974 at age 90.

Here is the deed, again from the courthouse, for the first 80 acres of land that he bought in 1947, the first time that he had owned real estate in 16 years:
Warranty deed, Minnie Binkley to D. D. & Elizabeth Fast, 27 May 1947, Texas County, Oklahoma, Deed Book 277:451, County Clerk's Office, Courthouse, Guymon.
 Why was it important to find the mortgages and deed in the courthouse?  My aunt had written up her recollections in an excellent family history, but she was a young girl at the time and didn't know many of the financial and business details.  When I showed them to her and to my uncle, it sparked memories of the farm equipment, the bill collectors, and the move to the Rock House.  Neither of them had known exactly why their father had lost the farm, the amount borrowed, the many years spent rolling over the loan without repaying it, and exactly when it had been foreclosed.  But combining documents and memories added to the family history that my aunt had already done.

Courthouse documents alone can be fashioned into an interesting story if you think what it must have been like to experience the events that they represent.  And adding memories and family histories to the mix can make it truly exciting.


  1. Steve, I have tried to publish you a message three times lol and I keep screwing it up and it erases it, so I am going to explain the details over the phone. I have your grand fathers bank slips from when he went to pay his bill to C.H Bailey and they are stamped as well from the bank except for one where I am guessing he sold the land by then. I also have a half of a check from the National bank of Oklahoma dated 1916 and down at the bottom is David Fast and Kathrina Fast names, I figured that would be interesting to you since her name was not on the other documents you posted. I am maybe thinking that she is someone who came from Russia, because of the spelling of her name and you that said your grand father was single. I have not researched her so I am not sure. I found your blog researching all of these documents and so it's a good thing you wrote it lol! It took me a few days to track him to you and I got to learn a lot about Oklahoma in the old days. I don't want to post my cell on a public page, so go on to face book when you get time and you will see a request from a bakery and that's me, well it's my wife's page, but shoot her a message of what's the best way to reach you. All of the documents are in perfect shape and time has not taken a toll on them. I would say they are in perfect shape to be honest and they even have C.H baily signature on the back of them. I think you and your entire family will enjoy having them back and holding the very bank slips he held. While I am waiting to hear from you, Do these two names ring a bell: C.H Babcock, Herburt Hogan. These next names are from the 1800's era Sheppard and Mary something jerry or ierry and she is from East Cumberland and I am guessing that GA. I can't make out the last name very well. I have some other documents I found and those names are on them. They where in a separate stack, but some had Oklahoma and Texas addresses, I enjoyed your blog and seeing that picture of your grand father. It's the first time I have ever been able to see who the original owner face to something I collected over the years. I often wonder when I am collecting antique about who they used to belong to and what story they would tell if they could, so that was pretty awesome. I guess when you research someone online long enough you almost feel like you know them personally. I am really impressed with him after reading about him on other sites and your blog as well. Thanks, Adam and God Bless

    1. Adam, this is so amazing! Thanks for connecting. I sent a message on Facebook to your wife's bakery page.