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.
- FamilySearch Wiki: United States Land and Property
- The Source, 3rd. ed. : Land and Property
- (The first page is general; links to more specific information on the box, right side of page)
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.
- Learn more
- Land described by metes and bounds.
- the system of "Metes and Bounds"
- Platting metes and bounds
- About.com: Metes, Bounds & Meanders: Platting the Land of Your Ancestors
- About.com: Land Platting Made Easy (it's not!)
- Where Two White Oaks Used to Grow -- a case study. I link to it despite the white on bright blue text because it is worth reading.
- New England town lots.
- Described in this article: New England Town Research
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.
- Tips for using the BLM Site
- Here is a YouTube video on using the BLM Records "a brief video on how to search, plot the land description on a map & finding neighboring people." (10 minutes)
- Search for first purchases of land in public land states,
- download an image of the original patent, and
- tells you how order the associated case files
- Learn More
- 1606-1732 land grants (or charters) were madeby the British Crown to the colonies. 1607 to the Revolution, the colonies transferred the land to individuals.
1785 Land Ordinance of 1785 started the transfer of land from the federal govenment to individuals
- 1787 Northwest Ordinance, creating the Northwest Territory
- 1803 Louisiana Purchase (added over 500 million acres to public-domain lands)
- 1820 Federal land could be purchased for $1.25 an acre
- 1850 Donation Land Claim Act
- Blacke. Staking out the Northwest: Donation Land Claims 2001 (audiotape for sale)
- Homestead Act of 1862 (repealed in 1976, excepting 10 year extension for Alaska)
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
- Lesson on bounty lands
- About.com Bounty Land Warrants
- Article on Revolutionary War Bounty lands
- Land Warrants for Military Service in the War of 1812
- Military Tract of 1812 (Wikipedia article)
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)
- One book that I often recommend is Val Greenwood's Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy, Genealogical Publishing Co. and it is covers land records especially well. He devotes 3 chapters to the subject: Ch. 18 Government Land: Colonial and American; ch. 19 Local Land Records; and ch. 20. Abstracting Wills and Deeds.
- For more a more thorough guide to the topic, use Hone. Land and Property Research in the United States. (find in a library)
- You can also take a 4-lesson (free) online instructional guide to Land and Property Research in the U.S. based on this book.
- Directline software provides several pages of Land Records Reference.
Online articles include
- Analyzing Deeds for Useful Clues
- Davenport. Taking the Mystery Out of Land Records.
- Gormley. Homesteaders Left Marks on Land and Paper
- Neill. Milling Around For Leads
- Neill. Where Did the Farm Go?
Cyndi's List topic: Land Records, Deeds, Homesteads, Etc.
This page last updated April 13, 2013
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