Your Guide to Finding and Using Land Records

* "State" or "Public" Land State? * Important Dates * *Terminology *
Deed Records * Software * Further Reading *
* More Links *

Some basic information
Land records are the best kept records in the United States, but not all land transactions were recorded.  Further, a  land transaction may get recorded far after the date of the actual transaction, sometimes just before the land is about to be again sold. Land transactions are often recorded when an estate is probated.

Is the state you are researching a "state" land state or a "public land state"?

State Land States: The original 13 states; also Kentucky, Maine, New York, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, West Virgin. Land descriptions were by metes and bounds or town lots (New England).

Land was issued from the state to an individual upon an application, a warrant issued for the survey, the survey completed and a patent issued to the new owner.

Public Land (or public domain) States: land was transferred to the federal government by all other states; described by meridian, section, township and range.

First lands were sold by the federal government through a system of land offices. Records of hese first purchases of the land are maintained by the Bureau of Land Management.

Important dates

Some terminology :

Bounty Lands: a grant of land from a government as a reward to repay citizens for service of their country, usually military service. These could be granted by either the state government or the federal government.

Here are a few brief articles that talk about bounty lands

Deed: the transfer of the land between individuals.   First transfers,i.e. from the government to an individual are usually kept separately from the deed transfers.

Grantor/Grantee seller/buyer. Indexes are usually in two parts, grantor to grantee and grantee from grantor.

Land Grant or Land Patent: the transfer of title from a government to individuals.

Metes & Bounds --distances measured in chains, links, rods and poles. Deeds often name adjoining neighbors.

Public Land Survey System -- commonly used terms

Deed Records -- subsequent to the initial purchase described above.

  • Land records are kept at the county level EXCEPT: Louisiana keeps them at the parish or county level; Rhode Island and Vermont at the town level.
    • Indexing is often not in a straightforward alphabet. You must learn to use courthouse indexes.
      • Grantor/Grantee indexes
  • More information:


Deed Mapper (Direct Line Software)

Further Reading

Online articles include

Cyndi's List topic: Land Records, Deeds, Homesteads, Etc.

This page last updated April 13, 2013

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