Federal Land Records

Based on what my grandpa told me and backed up by the Moffat Clan Genealogy site, I had some level of certainty that my direct ancestor Robert Moffett (1764-1849)  lived and perhaps even owned land in Ohio in the first half of the 1800’s. In fact, the notes on Robert’s page at the Moffat Clan Genealogy site mention land and tax records. Based on the timeframe there was a decent likelihood that he was an early purchaser from the Federal land grants for what became the state of Ohio.

The Bureau of Land Management has a great online resource that allows you to search land records. I tried the way I spell my name first. While I found some purchasers listed, I did not see a Robert. So I tried varying the spelling slightly, first by dropping the 2nd “t”,  and found this:

And there was Robert.Or, at least, A Robert. But is this the right Robert? The one from my direct family line?

Clicking on the link gives you a lot of details:a Township number ,a range number and Aliquots. If you know how to use those figures you can determine where the land sat. Further links provide a PDF of the land grant and, even better, a digital map:

And there we are. A real place on a real map. A map that suddenly made my ancestors feel so much more real to me. 

This all matches details Moffat Genealogy as well as some letters in the blue suitcase, so I felt fairly sure that this Robert of Rose Township was indeed my Robert. I suddenly had fantasies of drivnig out there, finding the old family farm and stomping around on the same grounds my ancestors lived on. This was just the start of learning about Robert and his life in Ohio.

Spero Meliora 


Surprising Sources

I’ve been slowly working on a post about land records, but I can’t help but share a very different tidbit first.

Labor Day weekend my wife and I were looking for things to do, and she remembered the Virginia Scottish Games were taking place in The Plains, Virginia. It was a beautiful, cool day—-very unusual for early September in Virginia—and we decided to take full advantage. 

Along with all the vendors, the sword fighting demos and long parades of Scottish Terriers, there was an area of booths representing different Scottish Clans. Moffat, much to my surprsie, was represented there. 

I met some kind folks there who shared some tidbits about life in Scotland many centuries ago. I’ve been so focused on the piece of my immediate family that I haven’t read much about the pre-USA days. They shared some details about the hard life of the Reivers and told me a little more about the connection to Clan Stewart. Our own tartan is based loosley on the Stewart Black tartan and was designed that way to show allegiance Clan Moffat had towards Clan Stewart.

One of the guys there pointed me to the books of Alistair Moffat, a journalist and author who’s written a good number of books about the history of Scotland, particularly of the various Reiver clans like the Moffats. Just goes to show you never know when you’ll stumble across a great resource. Sometimes it’s deep in the stacks of a library while others can come in a field on a nice, cool September day.

Spero Meliora

Long lost family

I was working at the public service desk at my library today and a mother and young son walked up to hand in a Summer Reading form. I took the form like I took the 30 others that morning and then looked down at his name.

“There’s no way your last name is really Moffett,” I said.

“What? ” the mom asked, “Why?”

“Because that’s my last name, too,” I replied. 

The mom looked at me wth a touch of skepticism. “Spelled the same way?”

“Spelled the right way,”  I replied.

We chatted briefly, and I found out they recently moved to the area. She didn’t know much about the family history, so I asked her to mention it to her husband and let him know I’d love to share Moffett family lore if he wanted to. Chances are slim we’re directly related, but you never know.

While not uncommon, the name Moffett is not so common around here that I meet very many who carry it. I went to high school with a brother and sister with the last name of Moffett, and        right after college I worked at an art musuem led by a Moffett. But if I discount Scottish heritage events and my own immediate family I don’t think I’ve met any others since 1998. Whether or not anything comes from today’s meeting doesn’t matter—it was just exciting for me to make that little connection today in my own library.

Spero Meliora 


My grandfather was the family historian, or at least the closest thing we had. He felt passionate about being a Moffett and being Scottish American.Many, many of my memories of him revolve around Scottish-ness and family heritage in some way. Whether it was his array of tie pins shaped like the Moffett family crest, heading out to the Scottish Walk in Old Town Alexandria, sharing stories about people he corresponded with “in the Clan” or just drinking Scotch it all meant a lot to him. While I never pursued the history much myself, I always enjoyed hearing my Grandpa talk about it.  So when he passed in 2006 it really left a void in my life. 

I was already working in libraries when he passed away. I used it as an excuse to start playing around with some of the resources I had easy access to, mostly the public library versions of Ancestry and Heritage Quest. I also looked at the family trees posted to the Moffat Clan Genealogy site. While helpful, the librarian in me questioned the lack of citations and, quite frankly, doubted the accuracy of some of the things listed for my own family line. It was all a bit overwhelming, though, and I never wrote anything down. I felt alone in the research and didn’t really know what to do with any of it. 

And then, one day, my Dad handed me this suitcase.

“Here,” he said, “I think this would be better off in your hands than mine.”

Granted, he and his wife were getting ready to move to a new house and eager to unload things. But he could have simply tossed it away and I am so glad he didn’t.

I opened up the suitcase and found a treasure trove. Newspaper clippings, photographs, funeral announcements, random bits of ephemera and even my Grandpa’s own stab at a family tree. He even had some letters from other members of the family hoping to help in the research by sharing their own stories and including what they knew to be true about the family. There was so much material, but not really in any order whatsoever.

Maybe it’s the smell of old paper, maybe it’s seeing things written in his own hand. But gong through that suitcase, even still, maks me feel closer to my Grandpa. Everytime I make a new discovery there’s a small part of me that hopes he knows what I’ve discovered or verified.  

The posts here will cover what I’ve already learned and, hopefully, help me collect some of the pieces together in a different way.  My brain tends to crave a narrative and piecing things together in this way should really help me deepen my understanding about my particular line of Moffetts. 

Spero Meliora